ing—how writers work, how they definenthe purposes of their genre, what sourcesnof inspiration have been of particular importance—asnwell as a tidal wave of literaryngossip. The interview format, althoughnconducive to spontaneity and informalityn(an unveiling of the personalitynbehind the myths), risks elevating thenwitty and charming remark above thenmore prosaic extended argument. And,nfinally, the quality of the insight dependsnon the stature of the individualnauthor, which, of course, may nullify thenwhole enterprise. Here, for instance,namong the fifteen writers interviewed,nonly Archibald MacLeish, Pablo Nerudanand Isaac Bashevis Singer are noteworthy.nAnd they must keep companynwith the likes of Kingsley Amis and IrwinnShaw. Female representation is limitednto Joan Didion and Joyce Carol Oates.nMacLeish sets the standard againstnwhich our society’s fall from grace (innterms of literacy) must be judged:nI began to understand then, bynteaching a course in which I tried tonfind out for myself what poetry is,nwhat it really is. I began to understandnthat it is a part of a processnwhich extends beyond poetry butnwhich is most apparent in poetry, ofntrying to see human experience, tryingnto see ‘the world.’ ‘The world’nbeing what a man feels about thenworld. Now if you realize this—whatnthe purpose of your art is—you comento see that you are laboring at yournart not only to make works of art butnto make sense of your life—thosendark and bewildering moments ofnexperience. And to make sense of itnnot only for yourself. . . [Poems] arensteps in an attempt to stop time innterms of time so that it may be seen.nTo stop time, but to stop it on its ownnterms. Let man see it. Make it visiblento men. Therefore, whatever younleave behind you exists in terms ofnthose others who have read it, whonare aware of it, who were moved bynit.nA writer’ s attempts at this clarity of visionnare frustrated in countless ways. The cultnof personality, for one, overwhelms then321nChronicles of Culturenintentions of the artistic dialogue betweennwriter and reader, as MacLeishnsuggests:nThe tragedy—and it is a tragedy—ofnHemingway’s fame is that his lifenand his dramatization of himselfnhave been built up, not by him, ornlet me say, not altogether by him, tonsuch a point that the myth of thenman is more important than thenachievement—the work.nMuch evidence of this depressing selfpufferynexists on the very pages of Writersnat Work. One recoils, for example, at thenposmring of James Dickey with his tastelesslynmeanspirited tough-guy manner.nI don’t care much for Robert Frost,nand have never been able to understandnhis reputation. He says a goodnthing now and then, but with anstrange way of averting his eyes whilensaying it which may be profound andnmay be poppycock. If it werenthought that anything I wrote wasninfluenced by Robert Frost, I wouldntake that particular work of mine,nshred it, and flush it down the toilet,nhoping not to clog the pipes.nHyped on the image rather than the substance,nthe public lies in a fragmentedntrance which art is all too ready to reinforcenrather than to counter. As JohnnQieever describes it:nThere has been a genuine loss of serenity,nnot only in the reading public,nbut in all our lives. Patience, perhaps,nor even the ability to concentrate.nAt one point when televisionnfirst came in no one was publishingnan article that couldn’t be read duringna commercial.nWhen there is not time to do one’s ownnthinking, what is needed is the instantnauthority of pronouncement—the predigestednformat of textual response asninformation-processing and speed-reading,nnot as the reflective recursions ofnreading in slow motion.nThe critic-turned-reviewer hardlynhelps the situation when he speeds alongnnnthe surface of texts, sustaining easy prejudicesninstead of challenging them. Asncan be expected, the interviewed writersnare uneasy with the “accomplishments”nof critics.nYou have to understand that a critic,nin order to be a critic, always has tonhave his own pet theory about anwriter. He has to put you in somendefinite category, stuff you in a pigeonholen, and it doesn’ t make muchndifference to him if a great deal ofnyour work, or even most of it,nbelongs in another category entirely.nWhen this happens, whennwhat you’ve written doesn’t fallninto the critic’s chosen terrain, henignores it.nSuch a prejudging approach on the partnof the critic explains Joyce Carol Oates’snfrustration: “Critics sometimes appear tonbe addressing themselves to works othernthan those I remember writing.” Indeed,ncriticism appears to be more angame of one-upmanship in which thenclub atmosphere reigns supreme over anserious encounter with texts. Irwin Shawnspeaks of the deadening effect of hisnseason spent reviewing drama for ThenNew Republic:nIt wore out the pleasure of going tonthe theater. There’s an almost unavoidablenfeeling of smugness, ofnself-satisfaction, of teacher’s pettiness,nthat sinks into a critic’s bones,nand I was afraid of it. You see it in allnour newspapers and reviews.nThey’ve even gone so far as to dubnthis the Age of Criticism, and everyntime one of them comes out with anbook proving that Melville had anwart on his right nostril instead of onnhis left, as had been generally supposednup to then, all the other criticsnstart shivering in ecstasy and murmuringn’Saint-Beuve come again.’nThey’re so damned polite to eachnother they swallow the worst kind ofnpiddling nonsense from each othernas though it was sugar candy.nOverkill (envy?), perhaps, but unfortunatelynthe critic is encouraged to setn