If I remember right, The New Criterion opened its editorial offices on Monday, April 5, 1982. On April 6, as daffodils were beginning to appear in Central Park and the magazine’s small staff—including me—was learning to find its way to Fifty-Seventh Street and Park Avenue, New York was hit by a blizzard: high winds and roughly 10 inches of snow, an event so rare that record-book readers had to go back to 1915 to find comparable weather at that time of year.

Nature’s contrarianism seemed auspicious to me. The magazine was being founded, after all, to disrupt conventional patterns of thought—to upend a cozy cultural consensus, to restore rigor and purpose to arts criticism and critical thinking. A blast of cold air was needed, a shock to the system, a change of weather.

I had first heard of the magazine and its mission a few months before, at the Century...


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