My old buddy Chris Hudson pointed out this article on Lithub by Stephen Marche, and I went and found that very 00s thing, the platform Review! The Platform review takes a tour d'horizon of, usually, fiction and tells you why the current scene sucks, It used to be the specialty of James Wood when he was at the unlamented TNR under Leon Wieseltier, the biggest poseur since Norman Podhoretz. You know, Leon? who also considered himself a chaser of women, usually the ones working at the TNR, which meant he was cancelled for a microsecond and then has come back with some well funded mag called Liberties, as in the liberty to chase your hot intern around your desk, or grope her at the bar after impressing her with who you know. Liberties will no doubt sponsor platform reviews, but I wonder if, this time around, the bait will find fishes.
James Wood made way for Dale Peck, whose platform reviews turned up the volume and were way more reactionary than James Wood's - so appropriate for the age of the Global war on tater-totism - or was that terrorism? My fave, in the series of platform reviews, was Zadie Smith's review in the NYRB of novels by Joseph O'Neill and Tom McCarthy called, fingerpointingly, two paths for the novel. Zadie Smith had been attacked, if that is the word, as a hysterical realist - a word that came out of James Wood's platform review of I think Delillo.
When I was a reviewer, I never had a chance to deliver a platform review. I sorta sigh for what could have been, even though I don't really have a view of what the novel should be. I do have a view as to what a minimansion should be, or a sports car, but not the novel. I do have a view, even , about what the platform review should be, and Stephen Marche's, try as it may, is too diffuse and too unfooted in any historical sense of literature to do. Much as I dislike Wood's taste in contemporary novels, I grant him a large background. But Marche is the kind of guy who evidently has never heard of Hemingway posing in liquor advertisements, or Lillian Hellman donning a mink for a mink advertisement, and so he thinks he's found the symbol of the age in poor Amanda Gorman, the woman who read the poem at Biden's inaugural:
"Amanda Gorman, after her reading at the inauguration of Joe Biden dressed in a magnificent Prada yellow coat, caused Google searches for “yellow coat” to increase 1,328 percent. She signed a modeling contract with IMG shortly after. The first thing a young poet needs to be heard today is not mastery of language nor the calling of a muse. It’s a look."
The calling of a muse - a muse, just you know one of them, maybe they prank call you, maybe its sextexting - and the idea that poets are so sunk in the lyric they don't have time to master the look (tell that to Ezra Pound, Marianne Moore, Robert Lowell, Jean Cocteau, Alan Ginsburg, etc. - there are very few modern poets who have not practiced a pose, found the right combination of clothing and hair and intensity to make a look. Which is not a criticism, simply a sociological banality) is a crock. I will say for Groman that she was alive at the stand, more than you can say for Robert Frost (another poet who decided to adopt the cranky farmer look) at JFK's inauguration - nor is her poem the sort of lousy bullshit that Ted Hughes used to pull out of his ass to celebrate the royalty when he was "Poet Laureate" of England.
Gorman, though, is necessary - even though she is a poet - to produce Marche's hook, which is that we've moved from hysterical realism to pose prose. Which of course leads us to posers, but Marche doesn't quite go there.
I do give Marche points for not so obviously chopping away with a dull blade, which was Dale Peck's forte. The fall from Wood to Peck was steep - a sort of hysterical reviewing gone overdrive. Of Marche's target, Sally Rooney, I have read one novel, and I liked it, although not enough to remember it and defend it. I don't think it is any more indicative of our "contemporaneity than Anna Burns Milkman, which had that bad magic vibe I love in a novel, plus the orality - much like James Kelman's How late it was...
I wonder if the platform-review is gonna make a comeback? I guess only time and Twitter will tell.