On Gene Dattel’s Reckoning with Race, book reviews of today & book reviews of old.
Recent links of note:
Race and America’s Soul
Myron Magnet, City Journal
Gene Dattel’s new book, Reckoning with Race: America’s Failure (Encounter Books), incisively tackles the long history of race relations in America, focusing on the intellectual underpinnings of black liberation and civil rights movements, as well as the under-discussed history of northern racism and discrimination that was particularly injurious to blacks. Dattel insists that the white racial attitudes conventionally ascribed to only the South in fact extended far north of the Mason Dixon line. This sets the stage for a gloomy account of current racial questions that plague social theorists. Myron Magnet, Editor-at-large at City Journal, gets to the crucial point in his detailed review of Dattel’s book: “Racism and black social pathology . . . exist in such a dialectical tangle that in the twentieth century it became impossible to untwist cause and effect.” Reckoning with Race is worth reading in full, but, in the meantime, Magnet’s review serves as a just standby.
When did fiction become so dangerous?
Lionel Shriver, The Spectator
Lionel Shriver’s recent column in The Spectator tracks a harmful trend within literary reviewing. Established already are the practices of assigning book reviews according to a strict diversity litmus test and of gratuitously naming the race, orientation, and creed of each character within the review. More “troubling,” however, is a new development out of Kirkus Reviews that demonstrates the tendency of the politically correct Left both to stifle speech and (as we pointed out in November’s Notes & Comments) to devour its own. A recent “young adult” novel whose main character is an Iranian academic was recently reviewed positively on Kirkus by an “observant [female] Muslim of color,” but after online commenters discovered the novel’s “white-savior narrative,” the review was taken down, rewritten more critically, and reposted without the “Kirkus star” so desired by authors and publishers. The episode begs us to ask: if a magazine so willfully capitulates to its mob-like online commentators, what authority does it then hold as a voice of criticism?
Edgar Allan Poe’s Hatchet Jobs
Mark Athitakis, Humanities
In light of the above, Mark Athitakis’s article on Edgar Allan Poe’s excoriating literary criticism might have us pining for the days in which authors were not as beholden to “party line” as they are now. But Athitakis is quick to note that the world in which Poe lived was no Eden-like meritocracy of letters. Poe was known for his almost unilaterally critical reviews of his contemporaries, unconcerned with the fact that it would cost him essential editing and publishing opportunities (the man was almost constantly in crippling debt). But, as Athitakis notes, Poe himself was no icon of moral clarity: evidence suggests he frequently anonymously published glowing reviews of his own stories, plagiarized early in his career, and practiced a bitter and charmless criticism that failed to uphold any sort of elevated standard of clarity. Far from a mere hit-piece on a beloved poet and story writer, however, Athitakis’s essay is commendable for its look at a deeply interesting period in American letters.
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