Double Agent: The Critic and Society

Morris Dickstein, Author
Morris Dickstein, Author Oxford University Press, USA $30 (240p) ISBN 978-0-19-507399-7
Reviewed on: 09/28/1992
Release date: 10/01/1992
Paperback - 244 pages - 978-0-19-511137-8
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Dickstein ( Gates of Eden ) here collects his essays, lectures and reviews in a look at ``socially oriented'' criticism and cultural studies ranging from the 19th century to today. However, the book's real focus is ``that heroic period'' of modern English and American criticism which, he says, lasted roughly from 1920 to 1960, when ``public'' critics and intellectuals practiced ``literary and journalistic traditions''xii viewed by the author as superior to today's ``blind alley'' of academic specialization.6 The book's first half sets the context for these writers in terms of Matthew Arnold's critical standards; the pathway opened by the New Criticism; and the ``almost forgotten'' journalism of a century ago, which serves for Dickstein as a model of future criticism. The second half consists of portraits of critics ``who could still imagine they had some nonprofessional readers'': Alfred Kazin, H. L. Mencken et al. While Dickstein fondly recalls ``a world where newspapermen could be more literate than most academics,'' he does not hesitate to enumerate the flaws of the writers (e.g., Mencken, Van Wyck Brooks) who inhabited this world. And his tendency to attack the ``reckless zeal'' of theoreticians is more than balanced by the most effective part of the work--a concluding ``dialogue'' that explores debates on current literary thought and more in a remarkably undidactic fashion. (Sept. )
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