The fragmentation of the reading public and the rise of in-bred mediocrity as practised and encouraged within the stale confines of the MFA seminar have both played a part.
But whatever the larger causes, the days when an editor had to choose between running a Terry Southern or Phillip Roth piece are history. So too the artistic essay without footnotes that graced the pages of the little journals before the institutionalization of intellectual life sometime between V-Day and Sputnik.
All of which makes the existence of earnest, non-academic journals today all the more important. One such journal is Prague’s own The Prague Review, now entering it’s fifth year. TPR has grown impressively over the years and now features internationally known poets, novelists and translators.
The latest issue continues with the Iberian interests of number 5 – which featured modern Portuguese poets – and offers a selection of criticism on and fiction from the so-called “generation of ’98,” the group of Spanish writers that spearheaded a search for national identity following the loss of empire in the Spanish-American war.
This “re-introduction” makes for fascinating reading, but perhaps the most memorable piece is actually by TPR editor D. Lazlo Conhaim, who pulls off a masterful impersonation of an elderly Spanish professor who once studied with 98er Don Miguel de Unamuno.
Conhaim’s tone is almost pitch perfect, and constitutes a first-rate piece of writing by any standard. It is precisely the kind of reflective, informal essay that one misses most in our semi-literate, overly academic culture of letters. Hats off to TPR for continuing to provide one of the only islands in town where an elegantly crafted English sentence can be savored like a lemon drop.
Now if they can only cut back on the poetry.