Through the history of American magazines—movingly told of in a review by Eli Siegel—can we know the human mind better, including our own? And through two poems (one about Napoleon), can we see the world more truly and like it more? Yes! Read “Literature, the World, & Aesthetic Realism,” the new issue of The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known.
The commentary by editor Ellen Reiss begins:
Dear Unknown Friends:
From the late 1920s through the mid ’30s, Eli Siegel wrote many book reviews. There were those, for example, that appeared frequently between 1931 and ’35 in the noted Scribner’s Magazine. We reprint here his review in The Book League Monthly, August 1930, of a book on the history of American magazines.
In those early reviews by Mr. Siegel we see some of the tremendous scope and depth of his knowledge. He discussed novels, biographies, books on history and America, literary criticism and mind. Whatever the subject, whoever the author reviewed—whether someone famous, like Theodore Dreiser, or someone little known—the reviews have, for all their brevity, Eli Siegel’s greatness as critic. They have his discernment, his oneness of clarity and subtlety, passion and ease.
Along with containing some of the important criticism in America, they also contain some of this nation’s important prose. As Eli Siegel comments on a book, his own writing is beautiful. I quote, as an example, sentences from his Scribner’s review, March 1934, of the novel Passion’s Pilgrims. He says of the author, Jules Romains:
He has been interested in the changing shadows on a wall and the transmutations of twentieth-century industry. He has observed the stupefying manoeuvres of sex and money. He has tried to get into the inside of a man meaning to make a million francs in real-estate and of a woman meaning to be correct in love.
And take the first sentence of the review reprinted here, of F.L. Mott’s History of American Magazines. It’s short: “Mr. Mott’s book is a history of the American mind as it expressed itself in magazines.” Well, I think that sentence is important as both style and perception. Eli Siegel in 1930 is seeing the book (its author hadn’t seen it this way) as showing something of what mind itself is, and America is: it’s “a history of the American mind as it expressed itself in magazines.” I could take up the sentence as rhythm, and as vowel and consonantal delicate musical drama, to show that it is a oneness of stir, even sizzle, and repose. It is alive. The sentence in the second paragraph beginning “And Poe…” has some of the life of Poe, the feeling of Poe as self—his bewilderment, his fame and sinking—in its phrases and the way they come together. It is a little composition of literary history and striving and puzzled self, in a single rich and succinct musical statement: “And Poe went his sad, up-and-down, and semi-meteoric way from one magazine to another, editing five and trying, forlornly, to own one.” >> Read more