Criticism of the Parched

William Deresiewicz Reviews How Fiction Works by James Wood

Is there no current liberatory criticism, no viable alternative to the status quo criticism of fiction and other literature as William Deresiewicz claims in the Nation magazine?: “The very idea of heroic criticism, like that of heroic art, is…no longer credible” given “the abandonment of the political dimension of radical critique over the past several decades” and “any sense that politics and culture are connected, or that their criticism should be connected….” 

Actually, some liberatory criticism is being produced in the academy let alone elsewhere, especially online, along with some other liberatory lit as well. Considerable progress has been made in criticism in recent decades, especially originating largely outside of commercial critical circles, given the work of Edward Said, for example, among others.

Dominant criticism is too much impoverished Deresiewicz notes but far more impoverished than he touches on. This long into the age of the internet in particular, to not look readily beyond the dominant journals and magazines for other current critical tendencies is to be remiss, at the least, to perpetuate the grip of the closeted approach to literature decried in the article, especially since about the only alternative presented is the limited too often biased or retrograde dominant criticism of decades past. Even as Deresiewicz claims James Wood’s example would lead criticism into a desert, his own article already leaves readers there, for not only does Deresiewicz bury contemporary liberatory criticism, he buries such criticism of the past, a tendency in American criticism more vital, more crucial than the bulk of the critical tradition he cites. 

He elides accomplished critic Maxwell Geismar, the increasingly progressive Geismar who wrote at the same time as the dominant critics Deresiewicz lauds (“the New York critics”), Geismar who was for a time no stranger to the pages of the Nation but has subsequently been written out of history, along with much of the roots, current realities, and possibilities of liberatory lit. Deresiewicz finds himself with Wood and the New York critics among the dominant lit dunes of their own making.

Some of the ground Deresiewicz covers in his review was plowed previously and in more depth at “Fiction Gutted – The Establishment and the Novel” (also briefly more recently at “Of ‘Two Paths for the Novel’ by Zadie Smith“) and elsewhere on this site, in critiques that also show the otherwise limited nature of the views by Deresiewicz. This far the establishment says, and then this tiny little bit farther, and no more…until some future additional miniscule adjustment.

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