In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

204 Canadian Review of American Studies Revue canadienne d'etudes amencaines Hofstadter to Allan Bloom. This criticism aside, though, Barbed-Wire College remains a solid piece of historical scholarship. William H. Wiley York University Michael Kammen. The Lively Arts: Gilbert Seldes and the Transformation of Cultural Criticism in the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. Pp. x + 495. The Lively Arts, Michael Kammen's thirteenth monograph since 1968, is his first sustained venture into the cultural history of twentieth-century United States. Most of his previous work concentrated on colonial America, the revolution, and the constitution. Moreover, those works dealt mainly with politics, the constitution, and public memory though, at least since The People of Paradox (New York, Knopf, 1972)and A Season of Youth (New York, Knopf, 1978), he has sought to elucidate broad cultural conceptions surrounding political, constitutional, and historiographical themes. Each of the three previous books that I have read with care has struck me as impressive in the range of sources drawn upon, ambitious in the magnitude of the questions posed, and disappointing in the lack of interpretive precision. This latest work, an intellectual biography of the 'cultural critic' Gilbert Seldes, displays these earlier strengths and weaknesses again, sometimes in exaggerated fashion. The Lively Arts is a sprawling book whose ambition sometimes seems to be to summarize every book, article, and squib that Seldes ever wrote or broadcast, as well as everything written about him, and even some material not written about him. As a consequence, Seldes, the person, is drowned in a flood of words and the cultural transformation he is supposed to exemplify is more than adequately described, but left largely unexplained. Part of the problem is Seldes himself, As a journalist who made his living writing about culture-or at least a segment of it-his natural outlet, after he gave up his brief but important editorship of The Dial, where he published T. S. Eliot's "The Wasteland," were popular magazines like The Saturday Review of Literature, Saturday Evening Post, Esquire, and occasionally Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, and Harper's, and a host of other daily, weekly, and Book Reviews 205 monthly publications. He wrote well, though not as well as his occasional sparring partners and friends Edmund Wilson and Dwight Macdonald, on 'midcult' topics: popular literature, jazz, radio, comic strips, and a host of other cultural subjects. Among other things, he also devised a remarkably successful adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream entitled Swingin' the Dream and featuring Louis Armstrong as Bottom. His major intellectual preoccupation was with the place of culture, especially 'middlebrow' culture, in a democratic society. An exponent-sometimes a very chauvinistic one-of American 'exceptionalism,' he believed that one of the distinctive callings of the United States was to generate a democratic culture. Beginning with his first book, The 7 Lively Arts (New York, Sagamore Press, [1926] 1957) through Mainland (New York, 1936), The Great Audience (New York, Viking Press, 1950), and The Public Arts (New York, Simon and Schuster, 1956), he tried to understand and explain this American mission with greater or lesser clarity and consistency. His greatest success, in retrospect, was the first book, though The Great Audience, which tried to take account of the new mass media, was also a valuable contribution to the discussion of 'masscult' and 'midcult' that consumed so much intellectual energy in the 1950s. Seldes's weakness, which resulted in a certain superficiality in his writmg, was that he really lacked both a first class mind and (probably therefore) never really developed a firm set of his own cultural principles from which to asses the evolving culture of his time. Despite his Harvard education, his brushes with William James and George Sanatayana, his proclaimed admiration for Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein, and his friendship with Edmund Wilson and Marianne Moore, Seldes's 'populist' criticism remained mostly on the surface, reflecting more than analyzing. He seems in old age to have somewhat obliquely recognized this limitation. He wrote: "I've been, most of my professional life, a defender of the present. In other words, he was a journalist, not a critic. If Seldes is one part of the...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 204-206
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.