an interview with PETER SCHJELDAHL

Earnest-Schjeldahl_webPeter Schjeldahl with Jarrett Earnest at The Brooklyn Rail:

Rail: One thing I noticed in your criticism of the ’70s and early ’80s: you made arguments against something that Robert Hughes had written, or some other prominent review. Before long that falls out of the writing. Was that because there were less people saying things you wanted to fight with, or—

Schjeldahl: That was ambition and antagonism. It was partly a sense of embattled vulnerability, which faded. I’m no longer the insecure kid that just ran into the room. Also I think it had to do with a trend in editorial judgment. It’s like magazines don’t like you reminding people of their competitors. I wish there was more reciprocal, name-citing argument—not name-calling, please. Critics being pissy about other critics is pathetic—as if anyone cares about our tender egos. At that time, I was antagonized by my elders, as I know I now antagonize young writers who want their turns at bat. It’s natural. I remember when Harold Rosenberg died, I felt a pang of guilt. I must have harbored a dark wish that he would.

Rail: You wanted him out of the way so that you didn’t have to deal with him?

Schjeldahl: I wanted to go toward the light and he was blocking it. But of course the big nemesis of us all was Clement Greenberg, and I’m reading him again—he’s great. An asshole on many levels and after the mid-’50s he ceased to be right about much of anything, but nobody in American history has been a more acute critic, who held himself to standards of evidence and logic that make everybody else seem like dilettantes. He had the strength and the weakness of his model, T. S. Eliot—a genius for analysis and a tic of overreaching, as the Voice of Culture. Greenberg’sArt and Culture has a hilarious title—there’s a tremendous lot about art but hardly a cogent word about culture in that entire book.

more here.