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Peck, Peck, Peck

A quick update to last week’s comment on Dale Peck’s cranky outburst occasioned by his review of Rick Moody’s The Black Veil. Bill has continued the discussion on his site, usefully reminding us of B.R. Myers’ similar Summer 2001 screed published in the Atlantic, and directing us to Jonathan Yardley’s rather dull attempt at same.

Today, Salon gets into the action, with a Heather Caldwell article exploring a number of writers’ responses to the Peck piece and considering what makes for good literary criticism.

Sadly, we are nowhere mentioned.

Happily, the article includes the following quote, from a critic who “trounced Moody’s memoir in another publication” but who feels that the wholesale absence of credit given to the merits of such fiction render Peck’s critique meaningless:

“You have to reserve some language for Sept. 11, Adolf Hitler or, if you’re discussing art, Albert Speer,” says [Andrew] Solomon. “There can be a crisis in literature that warrants this urgency, but this isn’t it. Turning such frantic invective on writing that even in Peck’s view is nothing worse than banal and self-important is extremely irresponsible. I think Peck’s review tends to make literary discourse laughable rather than powerful, ridiculous rather than urgent.”

One salient question raised by this article is what Peck does like about literature, and why he feels he must so passionately defend it — a seemingly vital issue to which his anger permits him to give no time. The beauty of the screed is its use of the attack in the service of a higher value; here, there is no higher value espoused. Is Peck then guilty of a variant on the vacuity of which he accuses Moody, Eugenides, et al? Does that emptiness, as the Salon article hints, reveal the hidden motives of professional jealousy and infighting?


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