I am not inclined to read book reviews —in large part because American media venues have so degraded the enterprise that I have found very little to be learned by attending to what seems to pass for literary criticism (except maybe the airing of various grudges and petty jealousies). Occasionally I do find something worth reading, as in the recent New Yorker publication of Martin Amis’s enthusiastic appraisal of Don Delillo and his recent (and first) story collection.
Now I have stumbled across (well okay I have Katherine Powers to thank for pointing the way) a superb survey of Christopher Hitchens by the inestimable George Scialabba. Hitchens, a thinker to be reckoned with is in excellent hands—clearly Mr.Scialabba is familiar with both Hitchen’s literary efforts( a prodigious oeuvre) and his evolving politics as well as maintaining an even handed view of Hitch as a public figure. The essay ends quoting William Hazlitt on Edmund Burke:
Burke was an acute and accomplished man of letters—an ingenious political essayist. … He had the power of throwing true or false weights into the scales of political casuistry, but not firmness of mind enough (or shall we say, honesty enough) to hold the balance. When he took a side, his vanity or his spleen more frequently gave the casting vote than his judgment; and the fieriness of his zeal was in exact proportion to the levity of his understanding, and the want of conscious sincerity.
To which Scialabba appends, “Whether or not one finds this true of Burke, it is Hitchens to the life.
By the way,The Modern Predicament (Pressed Wafer)George’s (if I may be so familiar) new opus is one of the subjects I hope to take up in conversation with the author in the coming year or in the fullness of time.
Here’a an insightful snapshot of George Scialabba by Scot McLemme
… it is about time someone brought out a collection of Scialabba’s work. That it’s only happening now (15 years after the National Book Critics Circle gave him its first award for excellence in reviewing) is a sign that things are not quite right in the world of belles lettres. He writes in what William Hazlitt — the patron saint of generalist essayists — called the “the familiar style,” and he is sometimes disarmingly explicit about the difficulties, even the pain, he experiences in trying to resolve cultural contradictions. That is no way to create the aura of mystery and mastery so crucial for awesome intellectual authority.
Currently reading Bloodland by Alan Glynn (Picador)