Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Very interesting ...

... Cults | Mark Athitakis’ American Fiction Notes.

“Nazism and Soviet Communism…show us how far things can go in politics, as Masscult does in art. And let us not be too smug in this American temperate zone, unravaged by war and ideology.”

There you have encapsulated where Macdonald goes wrong. The art/ politics analogy simply doesn't work. Yes, art and artists can sell out politically. But art and politics do not, deep down, have very much in common at all. I had friends in college who were much taken with Macdonald - and he can be a very entertaining, even insightful writer. But he was nowhere near as good a thinker as he and his admirers seem to to think.


  1. Very interesting indeed, and thanks for bringing it to attention. I think you and Mark both make valid points in critique of Macdonald's views. It strikes me very much that a lot of his comments are rooted in his own class-anxiety. It's interesting to compare this sort of cultural analysis with McLuhan's, which overall is much cooler and observational, rather than prescriptive.

  2. In that essay, Macdonald protests the commercialization of artists, the manner in which they adopt personae and repeat themselves (often straying from their innate and variegated strengths) in order to satisfy market conditions. This is very much the politics of survival, where striving for upward mobility (even in a minute form) often causes the artist to capitulate or soften or sully her voice. I have seen many great artists give up because ideological assaults on the idiosyncratic and the truly original have made them "unmarketable."

    Yes, Macdonald could be needlessly prescriptive. But I don't think you could call a man who was able to stand toe-to-toe with William Buckley on a regular basis or who had the balls to offer one of the most notorious and pointed literary takedowns of the 20th century -- "Of Cozzens Possessed," a piece that actually killed James Gould Cozzens's career -- especially anxious. He was very much an anarchist who liked to provoke, who took disagreement as a badge of honor. He's the kind of critical provocateur you don't really see much today. Which is too bad, because the complacent critical landscape really could use a swift kick in the ass. Bona-fide tools like Mark Athitakis, who represent the complacent spoonfeeding and unoriginal viewpoints that Macdonald so loathed, will never understand that.