“It was hard to remember yesterday’s polemic, to determine whether today’s rebuttal was, in fact, an answer to it.”

March 8, 2013 § Leave a comment

Talent was blazing through the columns and onto the coffee tables. The physical-assault metaphor had taken over the reviews. “Guts,” never much of a word outside the hunting season, was a favorite noun in literary prose. People were said to have or to lack them, to perceive beauty and make moral distinctions in no other place. “Gut-busting” and “gut-wrenching” were accolades. “Nerve-shattering,” “eye-popping,” “bone-crunching” — the responsive critic was a crushed, impaled, electrocuted man. “Searing” was lukewarm. Anything merely spraining or toot-extracting would have been only a minor masterpiece. “Literally,” in every single case, meant figuratively; that is, not literally. This film will literally grab you by the throat. This book will literally knock you out of your chair. “Presently” always meant not soon but now.

Sometimes the assault mode took the form of peremptory orders. See it. Read it. Go at once. Sometimes it sidled  up disguised as musing, in unanswerable-question form. Shall I tell you how much I . . . Should I even attempt to describe . . . Or, should I say unequivocally . . . A favorite strategy was the paragraph-terminating: Right? Followed immediately by Wrong. This linear invitation to a mugging was considered a strategy of wit. Many sentences carried with them their own congratulations, Suffice it to say . . . or, The only word for it is . . . Whether it really sufficed to say, or whether there was, in fact, another word, the sentence, bowing and applauding to itself, ignored. There existed also an economical device, the inverted-comma sneer — the “plot,” or his “work,” or even “brave.” A word in quotation-marks carried a somehow unarguable derision, like “so-called” or “alleged.” It was hard to remember yesterday’s polemic, to determine whether today’s rebuttal was, in fact, an answer to it. Recalling arguments in order genuinely to refute them was an unrewarding exercise. A lot of bread, anyway, was buttered on the side of no distinction. God was not dead, but the Muse was extremely unwell.

— Renata Adler, Speedboat

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