On the coat-tails of the lament of the death of pub culture, the W.S.J. reminds us of further cultural debasement.

It may be hard to imagine — given our current obsessions with television shows, movies, instant-messaging, Facebook and blogs — but literature was once at the center of American cultural life. In the middle of the 20th century, novels and poems, of varying quality and aspiration, were widely read and widely talked about. And literary merit was discussed and hotly debated by critics whose essays, in Garrick Davis’s words, “courted the educated public with their elegant prose.”

James Seaton reviews Praising it New: The Best of the New Criticism. He offers a very lucid appraisal of the book, with some commentary on the New Criticism and the differences the distinguish it from the Trilling-Wilson camp — and, perhaps, surprising, the similarities between the two. Read it.

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