|Renata Adler (Photo by Ron Galella)|
Monday, April 27, 2015
Garner Endorses Adler's Snark
Dwight Garner, in his "'After the Tall Timber,' Renata Adler's Collected Nonfiction" (The New York Times Sunday Book Review, April 23, 2015), says of Adler’s “House Critic,” “That essay holds up in large part, and I say this as a Kael admirer.” What does that mean? In what way does it “hold up”?
“House Critic,” originally titled "The Perils of Pauline" (The New York Review of Books, August 14, 1980), is Adler’s attempted evisceration of Pauline Kael’s great 1980 collection When the Lights Go Down. It’s full of false charges, e.g., “The degree of physical sadism in Mr. Kael’s work is, so far as I know, unique in expository prose,” “She has an underlying vocabulary of about nine favourite words,” “She has, in principle, four things she likes.” Its basic approach is the reduction of Kael's work to caricature. To say that it “holds up” is to endorse the nasty, bullying, ridiculing smear tactics of low snark. Garner says he's a Kael admirer. Praising Adler's execrable “House Critic” is a bizarre way of showing it.
Postscript: I'm not alone in finding “House Critic” toxic. David Denby, in his “Pauline Kael: A Great Critic and Her Circle” (included in his 2012 essay collection Do The Movies Have a Future?), calls “House Critic” “a notoriously wrongheaded piece.” Craig Seligman, in his Sontag & Kael (2004), calls it a “poisonous assessment.”