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The Case of Ring Lardner

- Abstract

It is a disconcerting feature of much American literary art that either it’s so closely bound up with the world of popular entertainment that the boundaries between are not easy to fix, or else—as of poetry, say (Ogden Nash allowed as an exception)—it has no relation to that world at all. In France, England, other countries, there is both less reciprocity and more. A man like Noel Coward seeks his level quicker, after initial hesitation (in a play like The Vortex), and -though an artist like Cocteau may operate also as an entertainer, no doubt is raised, by him or by anyone else, about his being an artist. The arts are less glumly separated from the life of the more or less educated citizenry, and at the same time their status is clearer. Here, matters are more ambiguous. A thing like Norman Corwin’s On a Note of Triumph is not only praised by Walter Winchell and sells at least fifty thousand copies; it is also hailed, with happy illiteracy, in the New York Times Book Review (“Even if he had written this one, five or ten years after V-E Day its values would be the same. His writing has some of the quality of universal truth.”) and woofed up by Carl Sandburg, an actual poet, as “vast . . . terrific . . . certainly one of the great all-time American poems.” We might be in Palmer Stadium. Pictures fly around of Mr. Corwin portentous, brooding like Beethoven, and—God’s truth—his thoughtless concoction was declared to be “the Eroica of this historic year.”

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