Portrait Of James Wood As Sid Vicious For Some Reason

by evanmcmurry

Dagoberto Gilb once warned a class I was in that “Grad school is the last time you’ll ever be called ‘dangerous’ for something you write.” Add to that the Los Angeles Review of Books:

James Wood is not the sort of critic who surveys artwork in awed hush, diligently obeying the Silence Please signs. He likes to get up close to consider the details and (you sometimes worry) oil the canvas with his fingers. A novelist himself, his criticism is often spurred by his own writerly instincts — a habit that occasionally lands him in incautious positions: his essay “Paul Auster’s Shallowness,” included in The Fun Stuff, opens with a long summary of an Auster novel that, as Wood eventually reveals, doesn’t actually exist: it is a parody, invented by Wood (“It is unfair, but diligently so: it reduces most of the familiar features of his work”). If this send-up of Auster’s complacent fiction wasn’t so mischievously effective, one might have grumbled in quiet about Wood’s fearlessness, his utter lack of propriety. Where are his manners?   

But then The Fun Stuff reminds us in its opening essay “Homage to Keith Moon” that “subtlety is not rebellion, and subtlety is not freedom, and sometimes it is rebellious freedom that one wants.” Though he wields a subtle, nuanced intelligence, Wood has often sailed close to the winds of rebellious freedom.

Gimme a fking break. James Wood is a great critic, and this review is largely correct about why. But let’s not pretend Professor Elbow Patches is wearing a leather jacket just because he wrote an essay about Keith Moon.