Selections from the first two issues of The New York Review of Books
Eckermann: I’m delighted that The New York Review of Books is still going strong after—what is it now? Fifty years?
Visitor: Twenty-five, actually.
Eckermann: It seems a lot longer.
Visitor: You appeared in one of the first issues, didn’t you, Mr. Eckermann?
Eckermann: Ja, as Goethe would say. Zwei Seelen wohnen, ach! in meiner Brust. But I am my own man now. I am free of Goethe; Wilson, too. E pluribus meum.
Visitor: Only there is no piece in The New York Review of Books of twenty-five years ago by anyone called Eckermann. There is a curiosity called “Every Man His Own Eckermann,” now reprinted in their Selections from the first two issues, a self-interview by Edmund Wilson, discussing music and painting, two subjects that he confessed he knew very little about.
Eckermann: That was me, if memory serves. As I recall, he—we—knew what we didn’t like. On Picasso we anticipated Stassinopoulos Huffington. Always avantgarde we were in the arts we knew nothing of. Back in Weimar, Wilson is our touchstone.
Visitor: But surely you…I mean Mr. Wilson can no longer contribute.
Eckermann: True. That is why, today, whenever I write art criticism, I often sign myself Susan Sontag.
Visitor: You, Mr. Eckermann, or your own man, wrote “Malthus to Balthus, or the Geometric Art of Silkscreen Reproduction?”
Eckermann: In a thousand years no one will know who wrote what or why or if at all. So let’s keep those questions moving right along. You would like to know my impression of a small volume called Selections, containing a number of pieces from the first two issues of The New York Review, which first appeared in 1963. At the time I said, or Wilson said—you see? it hardly matters—“The disappearance of the Times Sunday book section at the time of the printer’s strike only made us realize it had never existed.” Naturally, it sounds even better in the original German!
Visitor (quickly): In Selections there are eighteen critical pieces culled from the first two issues. They are written by F.W. Dupee, Dwight Macdonald, Robert Lowell, Mary McCarthy, Elizabeth Hardwick 1, W.H. Auden, Norman Mailer, John Berryman, Irving Howe, Gore Vidal, Alfred Kazin, Elizabeth Hardwick 2, William Styron, Jason Epstein, Allen Tate, Alfred Chester, Richard Wilbur, and Edmund Wilson, and there is a poem by Robert Lowell. What is your immediate impression…
Eckermann: Of seventeen contributors, eight have fled. Fallen from the perch. Crossed the shining river. Ridden on ahead. Granted, Auden and Berryman and Lowell took early trains but American poets are obliged to. It’s in the by-laws of their union, unlike European poets. Goethe was eighty-three when he cooled it, chatty to the last. But let us look on the bright side: the nine who are still with us are still robust and able to supply bookchat by the yard. Yet autres temps autres moeurs. I sometimes think that the long essai—attempt (I lapse now into English) may be too much for today’s reader, eager for large side-bars and…
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