TECHNOFILE 4

N"The culture-heroes of our liberal bourgeois civilisation are anti-liberal and anti-bourgeois; they are writers who are repetitive, obsessive, and impolite, who impress by force - not simply by their tone of personal authority and by their intellectual ardour, but by the sense of acute personal and intellectual extremity."

Yes, it's Susan Sontag, kicking off a review of Simone Weil's essays, pronouncing upon the age in the crackling air of the early Sixties. Oh, but those must have been the days! Our civilisation remains undoubtedly bourgeois and about as liberal as it was in 1963, though differently so. Now, however, we prefer our heroes not repetitive but merely repetitious, and therefore comfortably familiar. As for extremity, we have it in spades, but trainspotting is just a spectator sport.

The world was so much younger then, in the year of Beatlemania, of John F Kennedy's assassination, of the invention of sexual intercourse. Young shoulders bore old heads, though. Jonathan Miller was best known then as a satirist, one of Peter Cook's young co-stars on That Was The Week That Was. Along with Sontag, he was also a contributor to the first issue of the New York Review of Books. He dismissed John Updike's The Centaur in the tones of a Master or Warden, rather than a recent graduate. "At the centre of all that wearisome pedantry he has a neglected germ of literary imagination," said the future opera director of the future greatest living American novelist.

Grand it may be, but it remains fresh all the same. Now Miller and his fellow critics have been assumed into the Net, and the Web edition of the first New York Review of Books, February 1963, is an impressive demonstration that good criticism lasts. So have the names of the contributors, who included Gore Vidal, Norman Mailer, Robert Lowell, William Styron and W H Auden. James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time was hot. William Burroughs' Naked Lunch was new, and so was Alexander Solzhenitsyn's One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich.

Naturally, some of the terms and sensibilities are anachronistic. Baldwin and his unconvinced reviewer wrote of the "Negro". Mary McCarthy observed that in Naked Lunch "sex, while magnified - a common trait of homosexual literature - is a kind of mechanical mantrap baited with fresh meat". The remarkable thing about these pieces, though, is how untouched by passing fashion they are. They command respect because they remain useful. After Burroughs' eventual passing, we're left with an immense body of work: a Burroughs body provokes mixed and visceral reactions. In contemplating an obituary judgment, it helps to be pulled up short with a reminder that in the midst of his fantasies, Burroughs really meant all that deranged stuff about psychiatry, control and power. As McCarthy puts it, "for the first time in recent years, a talented writer means what he says to be taken and used literally, like an Rx prescription."

Another advantage of early reviews is that they are free from the influence of accumulated reputation. William Phillips was also unimpressed by cover shouts hailing Elias Canetti's Crowds and Power as, among other things, a "Twentieth Century Leviathan". He demolished it in a single paragraph, arguing that since Canetti's central insight was unexceptional - that there are rulers and the ruled - the project depended on how the idea was elaborated. This Canetti had failed to do, instead writing a sort of poem; "a bad poem, far too long, cluttered up with home-made jargon, and much too pretentious".

There's plenty more where that came from, and more on the way. The issue is a curtain-raiser for the progressive lodging of the NYRB's entire archive on the Web. The Review proposes to charge for access eventually, presumably because heavyweight writers have heavyweight agents. Snap it up while it's still free.

http://www.poptel.org.uk/technofile/

Review of THE KIDNAPPING OF EDGARDO MORTARA By David I Kertzer (Picador pounds 18.99)

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Just folk: The Unthanks

music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne with his Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rowan Atkinson is bringing out Mr Bean for Comic Relief

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project