If Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture is best known for its political, social, and historical reflections, that by no means implies any neglect of literature, nor does it imply that the distinction of Chronicles has not been felt in its treatment of literature, or indeed in its presentation of literature itself.
I think that any reader of Chronicles knows quite well that this journal has exempted itself from the modes of critical consideration of literature that are dominant today, in parallel with the political, social, and historical obsessions which have rigidified the national discourse into patterns as unwholesome as they are predictable. For years, the Book Review of the New York Times, for instance, has been assigning books written by “women” to “women” to review. And the gray eminences prefer that blacks review blacks and, now, that homosexuals review homosexuals as well. This is not so much a matter of “gender,” race, or “orientation” as it is simply a matter of a left-wing elite agenda which seeks power by politicizing culture, and that by fragmenting expression and even thought itself into a system of quotas. What you think depends on who you are; and who you are is defined by “political” categories identical to those pushed by the federal government, the political parties, and big business. Criticism, more often than not, is out the window. But in Chronicles, as I distinctly remember, two figures treated with reverential unction in their environment of New York—Mary Gordon and Harold Brodkey—were summarily dispatched. I forget who did the execution, but I do specifically recall thinking, “What great stuff! And only in Chronic Icicles!”
There’s a lot more to say about standards and about reviewing, but I want to use my limited space to get to another point altogether, one about the literary consciousness oiChronicles itself. This journal is edited by Thomas Fleming, who, among other achievements, is a classicist. His cultivated awareness of the past and of its literature and culture is a signal part of this journal as “a magazine of American culture.” The classics and the Bible stand behind this country’s history and mind, and behind the editor’s mind as well. This is reflected not only in his unique Perspectives, but also in the poetry that graces this journal.
What I am getting at is that Chronicles not only deals with literature of the past and present; it is itself literature. The essays of Samuel Francis collected serially in Principalities & Powers are of great value for what they say, but I think they are of even greater value for how they say it. Some of these have been collected in Beautiful Losers (University of Missouri Press), and taken as a whole, the work of Francis bears comparison with that of Hobbes, Hooker, Machiavelli, and Burke, in the sense that it is, in its grammatical poise, syntactical command, and rhetorical power, itself literature rather than political commentary, however substantial it may be.
And finally, a word about “the back of the book.” I know I am far from alone in looking forward to the last pages of most issues of Chronicles, not because I want my monthly treat to be over, but because these are usually The Hundredth Meridian by Chilton Williamson, Jr. In these stories or fables, real life in the West is treated as though it were fiction, and most resonantly so. This ultimate literary touch from a journalist, novelist, and historian is the final proof of Chronicles‘ commitment to, and embodiment of, literature. These poetic and gritty performances, beyond politics and society, set Chronicles apart from, and indeed above, any other such journal published in these United States.
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