Introduction

What is The New Yorker? I know it’s a great magazine and that it’s a tremendous source of pleasure in my life. But what exactly is it? This blog’s premise is that The New Yorker is a work of art, as worthy of comment and analysis as, say, Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Each week I review one or more aspects of the magazine’s latest issue. I suppose it’s possible to describe and analyze an entire issue, but I prefer to keep my reviews brief, and so I usually focus on just one or two pieces, to explore in each the signature style of its author. A piece by Matthew Trammell is not like a piece by James Wood, and neither is like a piece by Peter Schjeldahl. One could not mistake Finnegan for Frazier, or Lepore for Paumgarten, or Goodyear for Khatchadourian. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Daniel Soloman's "Industry, Ingenuity, and Fracture: On John McPhee"


Daniel Soloman, in his "Industry, Ingenuity, and Fracture: On John McPhee" (Los Angeles Review of Books, July 24, 2015), treats McPhee’s collective works as a “moral history.” He says, “McPhee’s work can, in fact, be read as a moral history of American society and its institutions.” Soloman appears addicted to the word “moral.” He uses it seven times in his piece: “moral history,” “moral core,” “moral burden,” “moral tale,” “moral story,” “moral consequences,” “moral question.” He seems to view McPhee’s work not as art but as a set of moral instructions. I disagree with this approach. It detaches the “messages” of McPhee’s stories from the only medium in which they can live, the medium of their language. Soloman refers to McPhee’s “impressive craft,” but expresses no delight in it. His method is insufficient to McPhee’s exquisite artistry.

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