OK, that’s an obvious headline. Almost cheap, I admit. But it got your attention, right?
Which, at the risk of getting a bit too meta, perfectly distills Dale Peck’s raison d’etre.
His recent squib at Mischief and Mayhem is a perfect summation of why he is utterly dispensable as a critic, as forgettable as he is flamboyant. He represents the worst of the Wieseltier School – the bitterness and the careless, self-defeating rage, without the learned humanity.
On the one hand, it’s probably unfair to hold his brief screed to formal critical standards, since Peck himself admits in the comments that the piece is “lazy”. And given the way he breathlessly updates his post to note a link from the New York Times, it seems he was less interested in substantive commentary and more excited about bomb throwing. (His back and forth about blurb requests just feels petty. Anyone who has spent five minutes in publishing is a bit more savvy about blurbs than that.)
Still, it’s worth asking the question, keeping in line with my earlier post about comments here – why does Peck feel an argument can’t be engaged with, without blanket character assassination? One may fairly disagree with Mendelsohn’s take – some of my readers here have. But a bit like this …
Daniel Mendelsohn—a Princeton-educated classicist who should never be allowed to write about anything more recent than, say, Suetonius. Frankly, I’m not sure he should be allowed to write about the classics either, but I don’t know enough Latin and Greek to say if he’s as wrong about them as he is about modern stuff. Because man is this guy wrong. Always. Every time. Completely off the mark.
… torpedoes any credibility the person making it might have. Anyone who spends five minutes in the NYRB will see that this is the sort of scorched earth idiocy that suggests that Peck’s true métier has all along been blogger, not critic.
Beyond the name calling, Peck’s post is shabby, subpar and, as he admits, lazy. He makes an assertion:
I think that, ultimately, is my problem with Mr. M.: he has no inkling of the problematic but fascinating phenomenon of the postmodern savvy audience—educated to the point of jadedness, suspicious but also sentimental, craving the thing it’s been taught to distrust
It’s an assertion that is both empty and exhausted. First, the term postmodern has been beaten so bloody, waved so relentlessly for decades, that I’m not sure anyone can agree on what it means any more. But Peck lazily relies on presumptions and associations, and then presumes that we will agree with him and see their truth and value. There’s so much assuming going on here, one’s head spins.
If Peck were interested in discussion, he might take a moment and explain this allegedly fascinating phenomenon. But that’s clearly not his game, and I suspect he knows if he were called to make a more substantive argument, he’d fall on his face. Once the insults are over, he runs out of gas.
(It’s also a favorite rhetorical brickbat of the aggrieved, that one who disagrees with us is always characterized as “missing the point.” As though “the point” was so obvious to begin with that any discussion is unnecessary. The term is always a tipoff to impending intellectual dishonesty.)
Obviously, I linked to the Mendelsohn piece earlier because it resonated with me, and confirmed my experience of watching the program. And the essay is considerably more nuanced than Peck’s sneering (or the Times's scandal-baiting) suggests. Still, it can and should be engaged with, and one hopes that more responsible, intelligent and insightful interlocutors will make themselves heard.