Double Agent

Double Agent : The Critic and Society

3.33 (6 ratings by Goodreads)
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Description

The author provides a series of closely-linked essays on criticism in the 20th century, emphasizing the shift from journalistic and historical criticism - the "man of letters" tradition - to formal, academic and theoretical criticism. This is a development that comes full circle with the recent rediscovery by theorists of a number of cultural and historical approaches to literature that had been shunned in the 1960s and 1970s. At once a selective history of American criticism in this century and an overview of the tradition of social, historical and cultural criticism, this text aims to bring new light to the critical landscape.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 237 pages
  • 162.56 x 238.76 x 25.4mm | 566.99g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0195073991
  • 9780195073997

Review Text

A prescription for the insular excesses of contemporary criticism that goes wrong as early as its title, since Dickstein (Gates of Eden, 1989 - not reviewed) never explores the metaphor of critics as agents of two opposed powers, professing allegiances they do not feel. Few are likely to dispute Dickstein's familiar charge - that academic criticism has become increasingly remote from the experience, or even the competence, of educated nonspecialists. After examining the widening gulf between the babel of the academy and the narrowed prestige of book reviewers, Dickstein proposes a solution in the form of an alternative history or countertradition of cultural criticism (Matthew Arnold, Van Wyck Brooks, Lionel Trilling, Irving Howe, Philip Rahv, Alfred Kazin, and the discipline of American Studies), literary journalism (Francis Jeffrey, Edmund Wilson, F. W. Dupee), and belletristic survivors like Malcolm Cowley and - in two of his strongest and most surprising sections - H. L. Mencken and George Orwell. Appreciating and revising this humanistic tradition, Dickstein argues, offers the best hope for "recaptur[ing] the public space occupied by the independent man or woman of letters not only between the wars but throughout the nineteenth century." Dickstein's revival of this tradition is timely and welcome, though his own writing, lacking the nobility of Trilling's voice and the incisiveness of Kazin's, isn't its most effective advertisement, especially in its vague choice of positive terms ("Art belongs to a human world") and its search for painless consensus - as in a closing dialogue calling for a return to a new historicism that isn't quite New Historicism. A provocative survey of literary journalism, then, that's too ready to overlook the fact that genuine breakthroughs in thought are seldom achieved through compromise. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

About Morris Dickstein

About the Author: Morris Dickstein is best known for his book on the 1960s, Gates of Eden, which was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award and named one of the best books of the year by The New York Times Book Review. His essays and reviews have appeared frequently in journals ranging from the Times Book Review and the Times Literary Supplement to Critical Inquiry and Partisan Review. He teaches English and film at Queens College and at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, where he coordinates the American Studies program.show more

Rating details

6 ratings
3.33 out of 5 stars
5 17% (1)
4 33% (2)
3 17% (1)
2 33% (2)
1 0% (0)
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