Daphne Merkin in the New York Times:
We live in singularly unsubtle times, when presidential candidates shout invective instead of delivering talking points and Twitter posts privilege catchiness over nuance. Then again, ours has never been a culture to value the reflective life — unlike in France, say, where public intellectuals hold political positions, or England, where Oxbridge dons form an aristocracy of the mind. Except for a brief period during the last century, from the 1930s through the 1960s or so, when an active intelligentsia (even the word sounds dated) loosely known as the New York Intellectuals formed around a clutch of publications including Partisan Review, The Nation and Commentary, and critics like Lionel Trilling, Dwight Macdonald and Mary McCarthy had a say on matters literary and political, we tend to give short shrift to intellection for its own sake, regarding it as something best corralled off in the academy.
And indeed, for the last 20 years, instead of thinkers, we have seen the rise of pundits, those ubiquitous opiners on the news of the day who take the short view of necessity. This trend has been bucked by a handful of serious-minded magazines with a spectacularly small readership and by the occasional erudite voice in newspapers like this one. Sensing a gap in the discourse, a group of young, mostly Harvard-educated writers started a publication called n+1 in 2004, which attempted to fill the void where Partisan Review and the like had once engaged in “the life of significant contention,” as Diana Trilling put it. Which brings us, happily, to the occasion of “Against Everything,” a new collection of essays by Mark Greif, an editor at n+1 (where most of these pieces first appeared) and a frequent contributor since its inception on widely disparate themes.