I've been thinking a bit this weekend about Steve's recent post at This Space, in which he approvingly notes Gary Indiana's less than favorable view of Clive James in the Village Voice. (For some strange reason, Liz Lopatto seems to want to make it seem like Steve is poking at me, but I think he's really poking at James. At any rate, my bow is so riddled, I'd scarcely notice.)
I'm not quite as keen on the Indiana piece as Steve is. Yes, James is pretty abrupt with Sartre and Celine. OK. The man has written millions of words of criticism - if this is the most for which we can call him to account, he's probably in pretty good shape. (Even Indiana notes that he's quite fun to read.)
But the point that struck me more was the notion that James can't "interrogate his own broad assumptions and prejudices." That's probably not an entirely unfair appraisal (although "won't" seems more likely than "can't") but I am moved to ask - who really does this? Don't we all, to a greater or lesser degree, live in thrall to our own assumptions? Don't get me wrong - I am a genuine, huge fan of Stephen's work, I've been reading him religiously since his Spike days. But I don't really recall loads of examples of him challenging his own assumptions and prejudices, which become fairly easy to discern over time. (One might even argue that, in uncritically embracing a piece that essentially supports his views, Steve did a bit of what he chides James for.)
But that's no reason to stop reading him. Why would we forsake a smart, funny, thoughtful writer because he has his own hobbyhorses? And, to be clear, he's not the only one. There aren't many blogs - or writers - out there who really excels at that sort of vigorous self-examination and reappraisal because, frankly, it's not human nature. We make our beds and generally stay put - or at least within the vicinity. Otherwise, you'd see Ben Marcus championing realism and me touting the virtues of science fiction. (This isn't to suggest that I - and others - don't stay open to things that challenge our assumptions. But this notion of a wholesale renegotation of whatever it is that animates one, well, that's a rarer beast by far. Hell, one might argue that Hitchens has done so, and look at what a mess that's made.)
So I guess what I'm saying is, though the criticism is true to some degree, this all seems a rather slight peg on which to hang James out to dry. (I also note that it's generally the British who have less use for James than us Yanks; he's probably not suffering from overexposure on these shores.) Either way, let he who is without sin, etc.