“he lifted the cup”


There’s a YouTube video of the literary critic James Wood in his kitchen, drumming merrily on the tabletop, a coffee mug, and a plastic bucket of chocolates while his young daughter squeals in delight. He’s in a rumpled sweater, a fringe of hair hovers above his bright, balding head, and his face has the pallor of unbaked bread. It is difficult to reconcile his unassuming physical presence with the fever-pitched wrath that has been directed at his criticism. Indeed, he may be the most vilified literary critic alive. In The Nation, critic William Deresiewicz calls Wood “condescending” and “imperious” and warns that “if American criticism were to follow his lead, it would end up only in a desert.” Edmond Caldwell’s blog, “Contra James Wood,” is devoted solely to attacking Wood, whom he describes as a “symptom of a disease.” Vivian Gornick, in another broadside from The Nation, describes Wood as an “unhappily lapsed Christian … [who] worship[s] at the wrong literary altar.” In The New York Times, Walter Kirn’s bilious review of Wood’s book How Fiction Works frequently bypasses the text to attack Wood himself. In Kirn’s imagination, Wood speaks with “genteel condescension” and “flashes the Burberry lining of his jacket whenever he rises from his armchair to fetch another Harvard Classic.” Novelist Colson Whitehead followed up the hatchet job with a snarky piece in Harper’s in which a pompous windbag named James Root gushes inanely over the sentence “He lifted the cup.”

more from Nathan Ihara at the LA Weekly here.