Some Reads, Edits and Those Other Awards
If you haven't done so yet, do read:
Joseph Epstein,"Forgetting Edmund Wilson," Commentary, n.d., in which Epstein doubts Wilson's lasting significance, even as a literary critic;
Scott McLemee,"Thinking at the Limits," Inside Higher Ed, 7 December, on Louis Althusser; and
Margaret Soltan,"No Field, No Future," Inside Higher Ed, 6 December, on the lost sense of what being an English Department is.
Mark Grimsley has returned to his"Counterfactuals and Contingencies" theme at Blog Them Out of the Stone Age.
Caleb McDaniel is at work on his presentation at the American Historical Association convention and invites your comments.
I'm not much interested in his" critical whiteness studies," but there are some interesting issues in Seth Sandronsky,"An Interview with David Roediger," Political Affairs.net, 7 December.
Cliopatria lost interest in most of the other awards after The Cliopatria Awards were established. But she noticed that some of her friends are competing in Wizbang's The Weblog Awards. Among the history bloggers, Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo is competing for Best Blog, Orac's Respectful Insolence for Best New Blog, Pepys' Diary for Best UK Blog, Frog in a Well for Best Asian Blog, Belmont Club for Best of the Top 250 Blogs, and Political Theory Daily Review and ZenPundit for Best of the Top 1751-2500 Blogs. These are not endorsements, you understand, because Cliopatria also has friends among the non-historians. But, if you have time for such things, you are free to cast your vote anew every 24 hours until 15 December. Thanks to Ahistoricality for the tip.
Greg James Robinson - 12/8/2005
I do not consider that homophobia lies at the heart of Epstein's critique of Wilson, one of the most ferociously heterosexual of 20th centiry literary figures. I do find that Epstein judges Wilson's work based largely on his personal life and habits, and to a lesser extent his politics, which I consider to be a poor way of evaluating a critic's work. Furether, one of Epstein's knocks on Wilson is for overpraising the work of James Baldwin, on political grounds, and it is thus reasonable to question whether Epstein's own assessment of Baldwin's work is also influenced by political (or sexual) factors. Even if Baldwin entered a decline after the 1960s (and I have long felt a special affection for his last novel, the 1979 JUST ABOVE MY HEAD, a much underrated work) what is relevant for us and for Epstein is Baldwin's work as a whole, and the continuing importance of his earlier writings.
Ralph E. Luker - 12/8/2005
I still admire _To the Finland Station_ and _Patriotic Gore_, but I fail to see homophobia at the heart of Epstein's criticism of Wilson. Baldwin's reputation peaked in the early/mid-1960s and both his reputation and the quality of his work went into a substantial decline thereafter. It seems to me that the only point Epstein makes on the issue is that he thinks Wilson over-rated the quality of Baldwin's work, a judgment he shared with much of the literary establishment of his day. One might add that Epstein's judgment is shared by much of the literary establishment of our day. Epstein's judgment of Wilson might apply to himself, as well.
Greg James Robinson - 12/8/2005
Let me say it first: I am no fan of Joseph Epstein. I have not forgotten the man who called homosexuality "an affront to our rationality, living evidence of our despair of ever finding a sensible, an explainable design to the world" and who wrote that "If I had the power to do so, I would wish homosexuality off the face of the earth." (Substitute the word "Jews" and see how it reads--this week the Canadian political scene was hopping because the leader of the Bloc Québécois called on Quebec voters to make the Liberal Party disappear from Quebec in the next election, and he was forced to apologize publicly for this Nazi-like reference). But here I am, unfairly focusing on his monstrous (or silly)ideological pronouncements from the 1970s rather than the substance of his critical work. But then--surprise--this is what Epstein himself does. The gravamen of his attack on Wilson seems to be that Wilson was an alcoholic, a nasty person, and someone heavily influenced by the fashionable Marxist and Freudian tendancies of his age. It might mean that I would not want to have a personal relationship with Wilson); it is perfectly irrelevant to Wilson's power as a critic (unless arguably if one is discussing the literary value of Wilson's diaries, which Epstein does not mention).
I have no particular point of view on Wilson, since I do not read his literary criticism and the only work I know well is his delightfully revelatory PATRIOTIC GORE, on Civil War era propaganda. However, when Epstein says first that Wilson's criticism was generally composed of summaries of the work, and then adds that "political factors" caused Wilson to overrate the writings of James Baldwin, I wonder what he has in mind. James Baldwin's writings at their best have continuing relevance and enormous powe--and more than that are still read and appreciated. But then, James Baldwin is one of that group of people Epstein once wished off the face of the earth.
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