Friday, June 02, 2006

I'm Not Sure If You'll Like This

Some might find this interminably snobbish, but for me, James Wolcott's review of The Complete New Yorker is a tour de force. I'm not quite sure where to begin, so why not my old stand-by: the war that changed everything:

Even more than the Depression, World War II was the mature making of The New Yorker. For the duration of the war its offices were understaffed, and paper rationing reduced the magazine to a flimsy likeness of itself, provoking Ross to grumble to the gods, “I have been Christ-like in my patience.” My hazy notion of the The New Yorker in the war years was that the indefatigable A. J. Liebling was practically a one-man band, barreling across Europe and reporting the Allied effort with his customary gusto as Janet Flanner (GenĂȘt) recorded the plight of occupied France and the refugee situation. Liebling’s dispatches were certainly rich, ornate, and plentiful, but until I plunged into disk seven (covering 1937–1947) I hadn’t realized the full range of The New Yorker’s war correspondents, whose ranks included Brendan Gill (the versatile bon vivant who served at various times as theater critic, film critic, book reviewer, and architectural observer), Daniel Lang (later the author of Casualties of War, the tragic account of the rape-murder of a Vietnamese girl by American soldiers that would become the basis for Brian De Palma’s most uncharacteristic film), E. J. Kahn, Jr. (of whom we will hear more), and a kid named Roger Angell, who has been publishing in The New Yorker for an astonishing sixty-two years with no evidence of flagging. The young men who returned to New York and The New Yorker and reentered civilian life had seen and experienced things during military service that didn’t dispose them to carrying on as before and narrowing their perspective to a strip of midtown Manhattan. They were more serious and subdued than their predecessors; the world was more serious. It was the genius of The New Yorker that it recognized this evolutionary shift and, instead of making incremental adjustments at a stately pace, launched a preemptive strike on its readers’ expectations.
If you have the time and even a nodding interest in 20th century American intellectual history, read the whole thing.

If you want more from The New Yorker-World War II angle, I heartily recommend E.J. Kahn, G.I. Jungle: An American soldier in Australia and New Guinea.

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