Two cheers for the critic! Superannuated (perhaps, but still hanging on by a thread), woefully underpaid (most definitely), and charged with the thankless task of drowning other people’s kittens, the critic, says Francis Wheen in a recent Financial Times piece, can still tempt us to risk something different.
Back after a very long break with this beautiful passage from Marguerite Duras. Few observations about writing match this one for its force and insight.
“In life there comes a moment, and I believe that it’s unavoidable, that one cannot escape it, when everything is put in doubt: marriage, friends, especially friends of the couple. Not children. Children are never put in doubt. And this doubt grows around one. This doubt is alone, it is the doubt of solitude. It is born of solitude. We can already speak the word. I believe that most people couldn’t stand what I’m saying here, that they’d run away from it. This might be the reason why everyone is not a writer. Yes. That’s the difference. That is the truth. No other. Doubt equals writing. So it also equals the writer.”
Years ago, when I first started reading the quality literary and political reviews, I kept coming across the name George Scialabba. As I quickly discovered, his essays and reviews were thought provoking and sharply turned. Since then, George has been a model. I can’t say that I share his fondness for the likes of Noam Chomksy, but Scialabba is a member of no party or faction. Like one of his (and my) heroes Irving Howe, George is a social democrat with an independent streak.
“What Are Intellectuals Good For?” (Pressed Wafer, $15) collects almost twenty years worth of Scialabba’s stuff, and there is much here to relish: a bracingly unreverential look at Edward Said (two cheers for that), and a devastating appraisal of Christopher Hitchens, to name just two notable pieces. Scott McLemee, another model man of letters, provides a very fine introduction. I’ll keep this anthology close to hand.