wood the great


To call James Wood the finest literary critic writing in English today, as is commonplace, is to treat him like some sort of fancy terrier at Westminster. It both exaggerates and diminishes his importance. It exaggerates in its specious assignment of rank, an insult to Frank Kermode, Daniel Mendelsohn, Helen Vendler, Louis Menand and other fine critics. It diminishes insofar as its trophy is a consolation prize for being not only a dog but an ornamental one.

It would be better to say simply that Wood is among the very few contemporary writers of great consequence. There is, nevertheless, something to the desire to claim Wood’s incomparability. Not many people I know, upon returning home to find a new issue of the New York Review of Books, speed it open to discover without delay how Kermode has taken to the new Ezra Pound biography. But there is vast anecdotal evidence of subscribers to the New Yorker and the London Review of Books reading Wood’s essays huddled in entryways, coats and keys and umbrellas still in their hands. He has earned a rare and awesome cultural authority.

more from the LA Times here.