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R. A. Rubin

Was Trilling the critic that thought Joyce went mad after Portrait of an Artist As a Young Man? If academics in the humanities didn't have their students order tons of Joyce, I think his audience would be anywhere between four and forty four on a planet or 3 billion.


A lot to respond to here. Just one thing: Writers who direct their works toward rarefied audiences aren't necessarily losing readers. A good piece of plotty, accessible literary fiction is lucky if it sells 10,000 copies.

With facts like that, why not shoot for the rarefied audience? Sure, you may forego the tiny chance that your book will be Oprahed into a bestseller, but that's not really giving up much.



Interesting response to my post and Trilling. One thing I'm not sure if I made clear is that the occasion for Trilling's essay on the Little Magazine was the tenth anniversary of Partisan Review, a magazine which in the 1940s turned away from the Communist Party, though it retained a general left/socialist "tendency" (as people used to say back in the day). What excited Trilling about it was that many of the best 'serious' writers of his generation were also publishing short stories in it at the same time. It's worth noting that the literature he appreciated was finding its way into print in the midst of some pretty intense politics, though it was nevertheless distinct from political discourse per se.

Also, many of the people he's tangling with in the essays are critics, rather than writers. Even his essay on Eliot is really on Eliot's criticism ("Christianity and Culture"). He refers to Coleridge (a famous conservative) and Wordsworth (a recovering radical) in those essays without really reading their best literary texts. In a sense, then, I accept that his idea of complexity is somewhat limited as a tool for reading literture, because it is an idea primarily of politics.

Where I think he would probably rise to the bar you set would be in his essay on Wordsworth's "Intimations of Immortality." If you haven't taken a look at it lately, you should. It's one of the best 30 page pieces of straight-up close reading of a poem I've ever encountered.

Scott McLemee

Actually, PR broke with the Communist Party in the mid-1930s, at a time when this was a somewhat risky thing to do.

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