Tuesday, 11 April 2017

the count

The London Review of Books is, without a shred of irony, the closest I will ever have to a spirit animal, so I was utterly horrified by this letter in the last edition but one that I received. The writer of the letter is tracking space and prominence the LRB affords to men and women, and what she reports is utterly dire.

Horrified, and not just at the unforgivably bad gender balance across all measures (raw numbers of writers, raw numbers of authors reviewed, letter writers, total word count, length of individual articles and reviews, writers of weighty pieces on public sphere topics vs. writers of shorter domestic and personal pieces), but also horrified at myself, at not having noticed what is in fact completely plain to see, or paid attention, or, I guess, faced up to it as a problem.

I've subscribed to the LRB for over twenty years. You know yourself that the effectiveness, and pleasures, of good criticism are deepened when it's experienced in the context of an understanding about what the critic has done, read, thought and written in the past. Over time, if you engage consistently with a good journal, it becomes for you a kind of critical radio serial, with contributors becoming less like skilled writers merely doing a piece of work in reviewing this or that book, and more like a community of intimately known people who you can see thinking and responding and sometimes changing over time.

Through reading them over several years, writers like Jonathan Coe, Mary Beard, Colm Toibin, Terry Castle, Marina Warner, Jorie Graham, and Andrew O'Hagan, all known to me from their work elsewhere, have come to seem like live minds rather than just names associated with groups of texts. And the late Peter Campbell, Frank Kermode, and above all, the irreplaceable Jenny Diski, defined my sense of what it's possible for critics to do when criticism is taken seriously as an expressive form indivisible from the life of the critic's own mind and his or her art and experience.

So good, so necessary in so many ways, and yet, on this absolutely fundamental measure of how much it really gives a shit about matters of the most basic importance, the LRB fails. I would miss the journal most terribly if I stopped reading it, and yet, I don't know how I can continue.


Anonymous said...

I let my subscription lapse last year for financial reasons, so I missed this, but it's really upsetting.

lucy tartan said...