“In his other writings Taine is known for his attempt to provide a scientific account of literature, a project that has led him to be linked to sociological positivists, although there were important differences. In his view, the work of literature was the product of the author’s environment, and an analysis of that environment could yield a perfect understanding of that work; this stands in contrast with the view that the work of literature is the spontaneous creation of genius”
“Sure, if given the resources, a magazine like Dissent or n+1 could drive subs up with expensive direct-mail campaigns – the type of campaigns that subsidize the circulation numbers at these and almost every other “big magazine”. But I wouldn’t do this just so that we could end up more like them. Little magazines, I think, have a unique place in American culture. From The Dial on, they have centred their energies on criticism. This is, I think, their most effective medium – this slow and hard boring of holes, of slowly pushing public discourse to the Left.”
From: Optimism of intellect
“Brecht and Benjamin’s high standards derived from their view that the formal radicalism of literary modernism was an unavoidable precondition of socially effective criticism – a view that also explains the ease with which they were able to connect with the artistic avant-garde. It was important to maintain the resulting tension. Any “scientific” founding of criticism had to respect the “technical standard” of literature and make it productive, even if this clashed with the taste-based criticisms of the middle classes. The crisis in the 1920s and ’30s seemed to serve Brecht and Benjamin perfectly in their aim of confronting the “bourgeois” camp with the progressive elements inherent in their own literature, driving these beyond themselves, so to speak. Benjamin later wrote: “The journal was meant to contribute to the propaganda of dialectical materialism by applying it to questions that the bourgeois intelligentsia is forced to acknowledge as those most particularly characteristic of itself.””
“During the Great Depression, c.1930, Walter Benjamin and Bertolt Brecht sat down together to discuss plans for a journal (other leading figures in the project were Herbert Ihering, Bernard von Brentano, Ernst Bloch, Siegfried Kracauer, Alfred Kurella and Georg Lukács). The literary historian Erdmut Wizisla has rescued the plans for this ambitious project from oblivion. Krise und Kritik, the magazine’s working title, makes clear that Benjamin and Brecht were setting out to broaden the concept of criticism by assigning it a crucial mediating role between aesthetic commitment and worldly engagement. The criticism in their magazine was not supposed to remain confined to literature and the theatre, but rather would embrace all areas of life. Wizisla summarized the editorial discussions as follows: “Criticism, as envisaged by the participants in the discussions, was drastic, effective and consequential, a criticism which […] [in Brecht’s words] […] would be perceived in such a way that ‘politics is its continuation by other means’.””
“What’s the connection between criticism and curation?
They’re both about presenting a vision of the world. But something I didn’t realize until I participated in curation is that it’s actually way more idiosyncratic. When we curated the show at MOCA, I kept approaching it like a writer, thinking we gotta mention this and this. But Herb and Andrew, the curators at MOCA, were just like, “No, this is us. This is what we are doing. We don’t have to put it all in there. If we put it all in there it would be overwhelming and impossible for someone to walk through. Just pick what you want in the show, and that will be the show.” That was mind-blowing to me. Because as a writer, you’re always anticipating what someone might say you left out.”
“I had to laugh when, a few years ago, I came across an essay by Delmore Schwartz in which he (Schwartz) takes Edmund Wilson to task for Wilson’s shocking lack of interest in literary form. For Schwartz, form was integral to the meaning of a literary work; for Wilson, what mattered was not how books were written but what they were talking about, and how they affected the culture at large. His habit, always, was to place a book in its social and political context. This perspective allowed him to pursue a line of thought that let him speak of Proust and Dorothy Parker in the same sentence, or compare Max Eastman favorably with André Gide. For Schwartz, this was pure pain. For me, it was inexpressibly rewarding. And what could have been more natural than that the way I read was the way I would begin to write”