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Thursday, August 16, 2007 10:20 am
How does a change of scene fix a case of the critical blahs?
Posted by: Frank

That’s the question I had after reading the New York Observer article on James Wood’s move from the New Republic to the New Yorker, in which the critic states:

“In recent years… I had felt that I was repeating myself, that the pieces were becoming a bit automatic, a bit inevitable.”

If the beat stays the same, how does a change of scenery affect that feeling of inevitability? The Observer reports that Wood didn’t tell his New Republic editor about the move until after the deal with the New Yorker was done. So if the refreshing nature of the change has to do with the fact Wood will write more short pieces at his new gig, why didn’t he first run that possibility by TNR’s Leon Wieseltier?

Putting myself in Wood’s fancy shoes for a moment, I can easily imagine making the same move. What’s not to like about stepping onto the august stage of the New Yorker and getting paid, almost certainly, a lot more money to write about a dozen pieces a year?

But doesn’t his explanation for jumping ship seem just a wee bit disingenuous?

Wieseltier offers something of a be-careful-what-you-wish-for warning to his former critic: 

“It would be hard to comment on the difference between The New Republic’s audience and The New Yorker’s audience without sounding vain and snobbish. The pieces we publish, they’re more argumentative. They’re more agitated and more agitating. They make more fights. They’re more scholarly. We allow a touch of wildness. They’re certainly less polite. David believes that civility is a primary intellectual virtue. I believe it’s a secondary intellectual virtue, or no intellectual virtue at all.”

Remnick and Wood insist the critic won’t have to trim his claws. It’ll be interesting to see how this one plays out.



One Response to “How does a change of scene fix a case of the critical blahs?”
  1. Book Blog - Likely Stories, by Keir Graff - Booklist Online » Blog Archive » Says:

    [...] Writing about local resident James Wood (not to be confused with James Woods, me), the Boston Globe (”The Elegant Assassin,” by Christopher Shea) asks: But what does it mean that the most storied magazine in American history has aligned itself with a critic who essentially rejects the premises of a broad swath of contemporary American fiction? [...]

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