Saturday, September 3, 2011

* "Globs and Gloobs" of Yale

. . ."Every man has the right to be stupid," Trotsky is supposed to have said, "but Comrade Macdonald abuses the privilege." (74)


. . . At Yale, he [Dwight Macdonald] wrote an editorial for the Yale Record  in which he called on English professor William Lyon Phelps, a campus fixture, not to teach Shakespeare, on the ground that, if Phelps thought it over, he would realize he was not competent to do so. The dean learned of the editorial before it was printed and suggested to MacDonald that he would be prudent to withdraw it. Macdonald invoked his right to free speech and the prohibition against prior restraint. The dean said that he had no intention of suppressing the editorial; he only wanted MacDonald to know that if he ran it he would be kicked out.  The editorial did not appear. The dean was one of the last people known to have persuaded Dwight MacDonald to keep an opinion to himself. (72)

. . . Macdonald thought that people were being tricked into buying this stuff [Big Issue books; "Book-of the Milennium Club;" Saturday Review magazine, World magazine] by being told that they ought to like it, or that it was good for them. He thought that, like kitsch, Midcult was a marketing phenomenon. It was culture manufactured for the aspiring sophisticate . (78)

. . .What alarmed Macdonald was that in the case of Midcult everyone seemed to be fooled --not only the readers but the writers, the editors, the publishers, and the reviewers . . . (As Macdonald pointed out, in 1961 alone the Adler Great Books set grossed  twenty-two million dollars.) (78)

Clem [Clement Greenberg] had many of the aspects of the old fashioned con man," MacDonald once said of Greenberg in an interview. I never knew that he knew anything about art and I'm not sure that he did know anything about art. But he had something that was very important: a moralistic approach to everything. He made people feel guilty if they didn't like Jackson Pollock."  This was unfair to Greenberg who was a genuine critic. And it was unfair to Pollock and Abstract Expressionism, a style of painting that Macdonald  never appreciated. ("Enormous globs and gloobs" as he described it in his preface to "Against the American Grain.") But it suggests the remorselessness of MacDonald's commitment to exposing the  self-promotion, self-satisfaction, and self-delusion that are always wrapped up in the business of making and appreciating art. That exposure is one of the foundational tasks of criticism, and Macdonald is one of its great exemplars. (78)

Dwight Macdonald's war on Midcult

Louis Menand

The New Yorker
September 5, 2011

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