A Cant-free Voice

Read any Dwight Macdonald? If not you should. He’s a good one.

I take exception to all this.

But you can’t dine on clippings and the bones of old controversies, so what did his versatile output amount to after decades of pounding the typewriter? For years…Macdonald had been…frustrated, fatigued and plagued by the feeling that he had failed to climb the masthead of his talent by writing a major, original work – bringing out a real book, not just a basket of articles.

That’s a stupid opposition – a real book as opposed to a ‘basket’ of articles. As if there is some Platonic Ideal length, as if there is some magic that makes sixty thousand words on the same subject a Real Book while six ten-thousand word articles are a mere basket. Some articles are worth more than some books, and there is no magic ideal Platonic length. Ask Hazlitt, ask Orwell, ask Montaigne.

Well, at least he gets there in the end.

More of an odd-jobber and instigator, Macdonald harbored no creative cravings, courted no muse, left behind no masterpiece to keep his legacy warm at night…Yet sometimes the most important thing a critic leaves behind is a singular, wised-up, cant-free voice that is pure intelligence at play, and at its best Macdonald’s voice shoots off the page as if he were broadcasting live and cutting through the static.

Yes it does. That singular, wised-up, cant-free voice is more worth reading than a lot of full-length books I can think of, so fret not after the unwritten ‘masterpiece’.

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