The great cellist Pablo Casals, age ninety-three, recalled that “for the past eighty years I have started each day in the same manner. It is not,” he noted
a mechanical routine but something essential to my daily life. I go to the piano, and I play two preludes and fugues of Bach. I cannot think of doing otherwise. It is a sort of benediction on the house. But that is not its only meaning for me. It is a rediscovery of the world of which I have the joy of being a part. It fills me with an awareness of the wonder of life, with a feeling of the incredible marvel of being human.
I do not recall where I stumbled upon this moving recollection, but I remember thinking that kindling such joyous rediscoveries was a central part of our ambition at The New Criterion.
We conspicuously do not endeavor to celebrate the latest thing, only the distinguished and the worthwhile.
As a journal of criticism, The New Criterion is regularly employed in separating cultural sheep from anti-cultural goats. In this latitudinarian age, discriminating between good and bad, genuine and ersatz, is often a polemical employment. From its beginning more than forty years ago, The New Criterion distinguished itself from many other cultural reviews by the forthright and independent nature of its criticism. We conspicuously do not endeavor to celebrate the latest thing, only the distinguished and the worthwhile. Because that effort often involves calling attention to the many ways in which the meretricious has triumphed in the metabolism of cultural life, The New Criterion early on acquired a reputation for critical severity.
That reputation is, I am proud to acknowledge, eminently justified. But I suspect that it has tended to obscure the magazine’s ultimate raison d’être, which is closely allied with the joy and rediscoveries Casals memorializes. To a certain extent, criticism is a pathologist’s task. It begins with the negative: the imperfect, the failed, the fraudulent. But it does so in order to reveal the wondrous and captivating
Now that The New Criterion is well into its fifth decade of publication, it seems appropriate to emphasize the affirmative side of our endeavors. Let me begin with some practicalities. The good news—and this is very good news—is that you and other readers have this past year rallied to support The New Criterion in record numbers. Your financial vote of confidence enabled us to build on the achievements of our fortieth-anniversary season, during which we saw our print circulation reach an all-time high. Now that the end of June and, with it, the end of our fiscal year is nigh, I write with my final appeal of the season to solicit your help.
With your support, our Visiting Critic program has continued to go from strength to strength. This year we welcomed two Visiting Critics—Victor Davis Hanson, the classicist and military historian, and Joshua T. Katz, the noted linguist and advocate for open discourse. Victor and Joshua have contributed some of the most popular articles in our forty-first volume, including Victor’s “The uses & abuses of military history” (January 2023) and Joshua’s “The beginnings: first words, first lines, first stories” (November 2022), which he also delivered as our fourth annual Circle Lecture last fall to a full house. (The recorded lecture is available as a podcast and a video exclusive to our Circle members online.) In March, Joshua returned with “Names, pronouns & the law,” an extraordinary essay that is at once learned, amusing, and deeply serious. Meanwhile, this month Victor appears with “Silicon Valley’s moral bankruptcy,” a sobering anatomy of what has happened to the once-great state of California.
Looking ahead, we are delighted to announce that Wilfred M. McClay—Bill, to all of us—has agreed to join our masthead as Visiting Critic along with Victor for our 2023–24 season. Bill’s recent book Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story is well on its way to displacing Howard Zinn’s mephitic, anti-American People’s History of the United States, and we look forward to his contributions to our pages next season.
The dismal state of academia has been a recurrent subject for The New Criterion since our first issue in September 1982. But while the bad news keeps rolling in—ever worse, too, it seems—we are also pleased to register some important signs of renewal. Last fall, we conducted a symposium on “Affirmative action & the law,” which outlined several initiatives that may finally help dismantle the woke “diversity” industry that has done so much to damage education. This coming season, we are planning another symposium, this one on the new conservative dilemma—how conservatives can compete politically in an era of radicalism.
We have now welcomed ten Hilton Kramer fellows as colleagues at The New Criterion.
One ray of light when it comes to the next generation has been our Hilton Kramer Fellowship, which has enjoyed its tenth anniversary this season. The fellowship honors the life and career of our founding editor, Hilton Kramer, by giving an ambitious young person the chance to join our editorial staff and apprentice as a cultural critic for one year.
We have now welcomed ten Hilton Kramer fellows as colleagues at The New Criterion. Our fellows have gone on to appointments at The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, City Journal, and The American Spectator. Last but not least, several of them have joined our own masthead here as full-time editors. Indeed, a majority of our editorial staff is now drawn from the ranks of our Hilton Kramer fellows.
Perhaps you have caught some of the podcast series that James Panero, our Executive Editor, has broadcast to mark the H. K. Fellowship. To date, James has posted conversations with Benjamin Riley, our Managing Editor, whose new book, The Bridges of Robert Adam, is now available and can be yours, signed, for a commensurate donation; Robert Erickson, Associate Editor, who has been leading a remarkable classics reading group for my colleagues at The New Criterion and Encounter Books (so far we’ve read Herodotus, Hesiod, Aeschylus, Plutarch, Ovid, and Virgil); and Isaac Sligh, Associate Editor, a native of Tennessee who regularly travels in the Steppes and has become an expert on the culture of Georgia (the country). All are graduates of the Hilton Kramer Fellowship.
The initiatives you support here now extend well beyond the magazine page. Last November, Encounter Books published Where Next?: Western Civilization at the Crossroads, a gathering of essays from our fortieth volume by Allen C. Guelzo, James Hankins, James Panero, Andrew Roberts, myself, and others, which we celebrated at a book launch in New York with our Friends program of supporters.
We were pleased at this event to see a room packed as well with our Young Friends, a program for those under forty years of age that was designed to foster the next generation of New Criterion donors and readers. Mirabile dictu, it has seen remarkable growth over the last few years. To bring the calendar year to a close, we then gathered with supporters, authors, and friends at our world headquarters in Manhattan, where we celebrated our office Holiday Party with Encounter Books in another packed house on December 8.
The year 2023 opened with a flurry of activity. First came a Young Friends party featuring the English writer Harry Mount, whose latest book, Et tu Brute? The Best Latin Lines Ever, was just published in the United States. In March, we toasted the winner of the twenty-second New Criterion Poetry Prize, Brian Brodeur, in a gathering with supporters, authors, and poets in New York. (Make room on the shelf—we also offer both Harry and Brian’s books through this campaign.) In April, we presented our tenth Edmund Burke Award for Service to Culture and Society. Peter Thiel, the noted entrepreneur and thinker on issues technological and political, was our honoree, whom we celebrated at a black-tie dinner in New York. Our great thanks to all who supported this capstone event of our year.
I don’t have to tell you that there is an ever-growing need for honest cultural criticism in America today. As a reader of The New Criterion, you know this well. As our ambitious programs and reach continue to grow at a fast pace, so too must our fixed costs, compounded by recent inflation. Mailing and printing costs rise ever higher, and our growing suite of public initiatives contribute not only to our vibrant presence but also to our expenses.
My colleagues and I are deeply grateful for your help. As I have said in the past, our donors are not just financial supporters but also part of an extended family of collaborators. It is you who make possible our criticism and also the joy of those rediscovered worlds Pablo Casals evoked so poignantly.
Thank you again for your support. I hope you will once again be able to help us by contributing to our end-of-season campaign to raise $400,000 by June 30. It’s an ambitious goal, but with your help I believe we can reach it.
Roger Kimball, Editor & Publisher
P.S. Every tax-deductible donation to The New Criterion makes a difference. All donors will be acknowledged in our 2023 Annual Report.
For readers who are new to The New Criterion, consider joining our Supporters Circle with a donation of just $100 or more. Every Circle member will receive an invitation to our annual Circle Lecture as well as access to our online media library. I look forward to welcoming you to our ranks.
For donors at every level, we are pleased to offer some special thank-you gifts for your generosity: our boat bag; a selection of books; and, for the first time, a silk pocket square in the magazine’s spring colors, made in Japan by Seigo exclusively for The New Criterion. I know I will want them all. I hope you will feel the same.
The New Criterion is published by The Foundation for Cultural Review, 900 Broadway, New York, NY 10003, a nonprofit public foundation as described in Section 501 (c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code, EIN 13-3108424, which solicits and accepts contributions from a wide range of sources, including public and private foundations, corporations, and the general public. Contributions to The New Criterion are tax deductible according to the provisions of the Internal Revenue Code. All gifts in excess of $75 will be acknowledged with a written disclosure statement describing the “quid pro quo” deductibility under section 6115 of the Internal Revenue Code.
Donor Gift Selections
Choose one of these exclusive gifts from The New Criterion as a “thank you” for your generous support. See below for all options.
Start your morning with the stimulation you deserve: a copy of The New Criterion by your side and a mug full of coffee in your hand. We are happy to offer our supporters this fine New Criterion mug, emblazoned with our classic logo and, this year, our October-issue color. It’s our gift to you for a modest contribution to our efforts. Value: $8
Active literati need an easy way to cart books around town. We are pleased to offer our supporters our classic New Criterion boat bag once again. Made of sturdy, natural canvas, this bag features our classic logo, making clear your high-cultural preferences. Value: $15
Anniversary Boat Bag
While scarce supplies last, we are pleased to offer our supporters this sturdy, natural canvas bag featuring our fortieth-anniversary logo, making clear your high-cultural preferences. Value: $15
Spring Pocket Square
There is no better way to combine your excellent taste in cultural criticism with your sartorial panache than with our signature New Criterion pocket square. Manufactured in Japanese silk by Seigo exclusively for The New Criterion, this year’s design features our “spring” theme, with our March, April, May, and June colors, a perfect complement to our spring bow-tie pattern from years past. Value: $60
Some Problems with Autobiography
by Brian Brodeur
(hardcover, 88 pages)
Some Problems with Autobiography, Brian Brodeur’s fourth collection, and the winner of the twenty-second New Criterion Poetry Prize, grapples with the porous and fragmentary nature of midwestern American identity in poems that range across prosodic forms and hybrid genres. By turns self-mocking, meditative, and tragicomic, this book explores the perils of digital technologies, ecological uncertainties, and the inadequacy of language to convey our collective distress, asking how much pleasure and hardship the human heart can bear. Brodeur’s narrative poems feature a dramatis personae rare in contemporary poetry, including a Syrian refugee enrolled in a writing workshop, the wife of an accused serial killer shopping defense lawyers, a horny psychoanalyst confessing a dream, and a carpenter working for the Department of Education during New York City’s pandemic lockdown. From dramatic-monologue sonnets and narrative sestinas to discursive lyrics cast in Rubáiyát stanzas and Alcaic strophes, Some Problems with Autobiography brings ancient modes into startlingly contemporary contexts. Value: $25
The Bridges of Robert Adam: A Fanciful and Picturesque Tour
by Benjamin Riley
(hardcover, 156 pages)
The bridge has always stood as a transitional structure not purely a work of engineering, nor simply a work of architecture. Its functional requirements are more stringent than those of the average building; it not only must stand up; it must stand up, support those who cross it, and effectively span the space over which it stands. As Samuel Johnson said, “the first excellence of a bridge is strength . . . for a bridge that cannot stand, however beautiful, will boast its beauty but a little while.” The Scottish architect Robert Adam (1728–92) understood these precepts well, continually building bridges that were not just structurally sound, but also aesthetically pleasing. Unlike his contemporaries, Adam did not view bridges as mere skeletons upon which to apply ornament. Rather, he sought to achieve architectural totality, incorporating his bridge designs into greater architectural programs, thereby producing aesthetically pleasing and contextually specific designs. From the Pulteney Bridge in Bath to the ruined arch and viaduct at Culzean Castle in Ayrshire, in The Bridges of Robert Adam: A Fanciful and Picturesque Tour, Benjamin Riley, Managing Editor of The New Criterion, will take will take the reader across Britain, shedding new light on an understudied aspect of the great architect’s career. Value: $40