“New Yorker”: Pro & Con
To the Editor:
My warm congratulations to Hilton Kramer for his article “Harold Ross’s ‘New Yorker’” in your August number. I am sure Mr. Kramer will nevertheless take no offense if I note that the most apt characterization of the role of the New Yorker in American culture is still that contained in the two sentences which he quotes from Donat O’Donnell [“An important source of the New Yorker’s financial strength today is that great class which thinks itself entitled not merely to appear but actually to feel cultured, without undergoing any dull and painful preparation, such as being educated. The conquest of this class was Ross’s achievement”]. My own illustrations of the New Yorker technique—the air of languid boredom, the accuracy in small matters, the fundamental lack of understanding, and the subscription to conventional philistine values—would perhaps have been chosen from its political and international commentary and particularly from those Letters from everywhere. But I can make do with Mr. Kramer’s examples.
Washington, D. C.
To the Editor:
. . . The New Yorker has become a sort of intellectual’s scapegoat, to be attacked not directly, but as Mr. Kramer does, with faint praise and civil leer. I want only to ask what other magazine has . . . consistently given us writers like J. D. Salinger, John Updike, Mavis Gallant, Janet Flanner, E. B. White, and Mary McCarthy? . . . Mr. Kramer [characterizes] the life which “the New Yorker advertisements and editorial departments have held up for a generation as an ideal” [as a] “life of languid, expensive, effete pleasures.” Where does Hiroshima fit into this picture? Where the sternly moral criticism of Anthony West (how liberals winced at his attack on Orwell, one of the sacred cows of liberalism)? Where the sober, informative reporting of Berton Roueche, the poetic essays of E. B. White, the breathtaking digest of facts on radioactivity? . . .
Despite its defects, the New Yorker has a number of significant virtues, and would be harder to replace than some of the magazines which attack it with such bad humor and ill grace.
To the Editor:
I thoroughly enjoyed Hilton Kramer’s article, [but] I wonder whether Mr. Kramer’s method isn’t somewhat like looking too closely at a picture printed in a magazine . . . one gets only a blob of ugly dots. Move back . . . the picture is beautiful to behold.
Mr. Kramer remarks that Mr. Ross was not a very admirable man, personally or professionally. Maybe so, but it’s a hollow point. . . . The magazine early transcended Ross the man. Ross thought of the New Yorker as a movement, and movement it became, though of a kind Ross would not understand. . . .
Using the incident of Harold Winney, Mr. Kramer suggests that the New Yorker inspired the fantasy life of ease and comfort (“Sports cars, the race track, champagne, parties”). I don’t believe that the New Yorker inspired this kind of living any more than Lady Chatterley’s Lover inspired adultery. . . .
What Ross has inspired, along with, admittedly, a good deal of reporting in tired phrases and bored attitudes, is some of the finest writing in the English language . . . [on] sex, politics, religion; on science, sociology, education, and the whole range of human interests. Nothing can take away from this accomplishment. Not even Ross; not even Hilton Kramer.
To the Editor:
After reading Hilton Kramer’s attack—it could hardly be called a commentary—on the New Yorker and Harold Ross, I suppose I ought to feel ashamed. For not only do I look forward to the weekly version of that magazine, but I have also read and enjoyed James Thurber’s The Years with Ross. . . .
If I understand the article correctly, the New Yorker’s mania for technical perfection and complete factual accuracy . . . is clearly a bad thing, for, in Mr. Kramer’s words, “Only where there is a deep-seated ignorance, abetted by a phony desire to appear completely knowledgeable, is factual error or some minor fault of usage an unforgiveable sin.” . . . [Does this] imply that overstepping factual bounds is the mark of cultivation? From the shagginess of a good many “little” magazines in America, one is inclined to think these people feel a lack of concern with technical and factual matters is not merely a mark of cultivation, but the sign of a free spirit as well. . . . Mr. Kramer takes the New Yorker to task for what he feels to be its “phony and stilted” concept of sophistication; its refusal to discuss sex, politics, or religion, which Mr. Kramer feels to be the “guts” of sophistication. It was, of course, never the New Yorker’s intention to discuss these things, as Mr. Thurber’s book emphatically points out. After all, there are other journals for this . . . journals with completely different ends in mind. COMMENTARY is one. . . . There is some utter nonsense in the pages of the New Yorker. But there is also much that is extraordinarily fine. . . .
M. J. Epstein
Little Rock, Arkansas