cover image On Compromise: Art, Politics, and the Fate of an American Ideal

On Compromise: Art, Politics, and the Fate of an American Ideal

Rachel Greenwald Smith. Graywolf, $16 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-64445-060-4

Literary critic Smith (Affect and American Literature in the Age of Neoliberalism) explores the intersection of compromise, politics, and aesthetic movements in this insightful collection. Most of the essays are grounded in personal experience—in “Call and Response: An Introduction,” Smith writes of attending the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, D.C., on the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration and feeling as though she had “compromised on [her] distrust of mainstream white feminism” while still appreciating the solidarity she felt. This evolves into a critique of experimental “hybrid” works of contemporary literature, which she views as “compromise aesthetics” that maintains the status quo. In “Welcome to the Jungle,” she considers MFA programs as an exercise in compromise between the individualism inherent in art and the uniformity of an institution, and recaps recent criticism of Poetry magazine for its “tokenism,” wondering what a truly “open” magazine would look like (free from liberalism, which rewards competition and individualism). While some essays can meander, Greenwald Smith takes a commendably expansive view of the idea and practice of compromise, creating a nuanced look at a thorny subject. The result is a work of criticism as thoughtful as it is relevant. (Aug.)