The Dalkey Archive Press’s CONTEXT magazine “was started to create a context for reading modern and contemporary literature and addressing cultural issues,” according to an interview with the founder:

It is founded upon the rather perverse idea—perverse in terms of how books are treated in our culture—that books do not grow old. That is, they are forever being read by someone for the first time, or even the second or third time. But our culture tends to treat literature as though it is “timely” and therefore books are usually written about only when first published, or later when—at least some of them—get written about in scholarly ways, or what passes for scholarship. It’s also the case these days that individual writers do not get written about by critics. For instance, twenty-five years ago a serious writer who had, let’s say, three or four novels out, would already have a body of criticism written about the work, several articles and a book. That doesn’t happen any longer, partially as a result of what has gone on in academia. So it is even harder now than it was twenty-five years ago to find criticism about contemporary writers. CONTEXT is also concerned with a certain kind of literature and with establishing the historical context and tradition for this literature. When you read reviews in such places as the New York Times, there is a sense that this is the first novel that the reviewer has ever read, and inevitably the basis for liking the book and recommending it to readers is whether it has a good plot, likable characters, and tells us something that will be useful in our everyday lives. There is no sense that this particular novel has its place among—and should be evaluated against—a whole history of other novels.

The first article I clicked on was Dmitry Golynko-Volfson’s Letter from Russia, which gave me an informed discussion of recent novels by Pelevin, Sorokin, Limonov, and some writers I had never heard of, Alexander Goldstein, Mikhail Shishkin, the team of Linor Goralik and Stanislav Lvovskii, Sergei Nosov, the team of Aleksandar Garros and Alexei Evdokimov, and Zakhar Prilepin. I look forward to ransacking the rest of the archives.


  1. Bob Helling says:

    The part of this post that struck me was his statement of how things have changed in the last twenty-five years. I don’t follow literary criticism and so this is news to me. What has changed? Does it have anything to do with the internet and blogging? My first thought would be that there would be more criticism but maybe it is so diluted because of the lowered “barrier ot entry” that there is actually less professional criticism.
    Can somone enlighten me on this please?

  2. No, I think it has more to do with the increasing scarcity of periodicals that regularly run thoughtful, informed criticism. Once you get past the NYRB and the occasional article in the New Yorker and a few other general-circulation magazines, you’re down to the NYT and similar venues that don’t aspire to anything more than “whether it has a good plot, likable characters, and tells us something that will be useful in our everyday lives.” If anything, the internet has improved matters (cf. CONTEXT).

  3. jamessal says:

    the increasing scarcity of periodicals that regularly run thoughtful, informed criticism
    Were there many more twenty-five years ago?
    Thanks for the CONTEXT link, by the way; I’m gonna do some ransacking myself. (Seems perfect for someone who didn’t go to college.)

  4. (oops)

  5. Is this one of those squishy, unfalsifiable literary claims? No, it is also testable.
    You know, that would have been so much more fun if they’d continued by doing a careful statistical analysis and proving that 98.7% of all recorded authors were, in fact, dead.

  6. HAH!
    That’s what I get for being the sciency type – I just went “Cool! I like that.” Leave it to you humanities people to find the obvious joke.

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