The first time Richard Schickel railed against the blogosphere, I honestly thought the discussion, if you could bring yourself to call it that, would end right there, since Schickel admitted that he doesn’t even read blogs. Apparently, however, admitting your ignorance on a subject isn’t enough to disqualify you from writing for the LA Times op-ed section about it, because Schickel is at it again—ostensibly reacting to that NYT piece hyping the blogger/reviewer conflict.
Say this for Schickel: He isn’t coy in declaring that “criticism… is, or should be, an elite enterprise” that “requires disciplined taste, historical and theoretical knowledge and a fairly deep sense of the author’s (or filmmaker’s or painter’s) entire body of work.” In doing so, he casually smears the reputation of one prodigious blogger, “a former quality-control manager for a car parts maker” that he doesn’t deign to name. Well, we know Dan Wickett and the Emerging Writers Network, and even if we didn’t have a tenuous social connection to Dan, I’d feel pretty comfortable telling you he’s contributed plenty to contemporary literary culture, championing new talent not just through reviews but by launching a non-profit press and collaborating with literary journals, while Schickel, when he isn’t cranking out reviews and articles for Time at a rate that makes his criticism of Wickett for publishing 95 reviews in 12 months verge on hypocrisy, largely spends his days propping up Hollywood corpses with clip-laden documentaries for basic cable. (As I’ve said before, I’m not begrudging the guy his talent, but, frankly, as good as his bio of Elia Kazan is, and it is good, a reasonably decent argument could be made that its subject is overrated to precisely the same degree Schickel claims Philip K. Dick and Cornell Woolrich are.)
Also, it’s worth noting just how tired and old much of Schickel’s argument is. “The act of writing for print, with its implication of permanence, concentrates the mind most wonderfully,” he writes. “It imposes on writer and reader a sense of responsibility that mere yammering does not.” Jeez—we can remember back when Gore Vidal was claiming “the word processor is erasing literature” because the ability to revise on the fly rather than type an entire page or scrawl in longhand broke a writer’s concentration, right around the time Sven Brikerts declared that the Internet would destroy the art of reading and kill books dead. If tired retreads of ’90s cyber-hysteria are the best the LA Times op-ed editors can come up with on their own, maybe they should have thought twice before rejecting Brian Grazer’s take on the section.