Critical Mass is a treasure trove of sparkling, spiky prose and a fascinating portrait of our lives and cultural times over the past decades. In an age where a great deal of back scratching and softball pitching pass for criticism, James Wolcott’s fearless essays and reviews offer a bracing taste of the real critical thing.
"Forty Years of Astute, Opinionated Criticism"
"How lucky I was, arriving in New York just as everything was about to go to hell." That would be in the autumn of 1972, when a very young and green James Wolcott arrived from Maryland, full of literary dreams, equipped with a letter of introduction from Norman Mailer, and having no idea what was about to hit him. Landing at a time of accelerating municipal squalor and, paradoxically, gathering cultural energy in all spheres as "Downtown" became a category of art and life unto itself, he embarked upon his sentimental education, seventies New York style.
"The Seething Fantasia of 70s New York"
Novelist, essayist, memoirist, playwright, screenwriter, actor, sexual liberationist, traitor to his class, balloon-popper of the pious and pretentious, the country's last true man of letters (they should now retire the title), Gore Vidal belonged to the Greatest Generation of American authors, and was the last great one to go. (He died on July 31st, 2012 at the age of 86.) The triumphant arc of Vidal's literary career wasn't solely a mastery of language, though that never hurts.
On an extravagant evening in May 100 years ago, the scandalous premiere of The Rite of Spring rocked the epicenter of culture and fashion - Paris - and sent aftershocks across the world. Not bad for a ballet! But this was no traditional scamper in tulle and pink toe-shoes, but a bold provocation by a trinity of avant-garde genius: composer Igor Stravinsky, choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky (the first male god of dance), and impresario Serge Diaghilev, founder of the Ballet Russes.
They are coddled and well-groomed. They chase after the latest scandal and then run around in crazy circles, using the TV studio as their show ring and wee-wee pad. There is no controversy they can't trivialize, no issue they can't vulgarize. They obey their political masters and betray the trust of the audience with every bark. They're the attack poodles: a new breed of celebrity pundit.
"What a Difference a Decade Makes!"