Useful Critic

In response to:

With It from the June 4, 1970 issue

To the Editors:

Poor Richard Gilman! First Gore Vidal in Commentary—a bit of blood-curdling hilarity, oddly provoked by the reasonable writings of Gilman and Robert Brustein. And now Gilman’s book, The Confusion of Realms, has been blasted by Philip Rahv in the NYR [June 4]. Of course, Rahv is a sort of guerrilla general and I fear and respect him and would not willingly invite an encounter. I agree with his distaste for Gilman’s thoughts on black literature and think Rahv’s statement against the wish to see black literature as romantically removed from critical scrutiny and white understanding is as strong and brilliant as anyone could make it.

However, I do wish to dissent from the notion of Gilman as “trendy” and industriously “with it.” I have read him regularly throughout his career and I have found him independent, unexpected in opinion, rather stubborn, indeed, and generally conservative in taste. I was surprised to find him enthusiastic about Susan Sontag and I felt gratified by this because her work has been so meanly treated by critics here and in England. Rahv seems to suggest that Gilman’s praise would not entirely please Miss Sontag, that it is not the kind she would want. If that is true she is really a saint, wed to poverty.

Gilman’s appreciation of William Gass is important, I think, since it is a recognition of a truly brilliant new American writer. I also like his piece on “The Crisis of the Theatre.” It seems to me worthwhile to declare that he is a useful critic, that the literary and theatrical scene benefit largely from his work.

Elizabeth Hardwick

New York