New York Review of Books & L’Indice Celebrate Anniversaries With Panel Discussion
On January 9th, 2014, the respective 50th and 30th anniversaries of the New York Review of Books and its Italian counterpart, L’Indice, 5 renowned scholars participated in a panel discussion at the Italian Cultural Institute of New York. The setting was intimate, with perhaps 100 people packed into a small room. In fact, it was a bit too intimate; guests arriving at the start of the lecture were forced to stand outside the doorway, peering through in a struggle to see and hear the speakers. Despite being packed to capacity, determined audience members made the best of the situation, gradually filing into the room to seize vacated chairs. Following a Q&A session at the conclusion of the discussion, attendees were invited to enjoy wine, sparkling water and Italian snacks in an elegant reception.
From 6:00 to 8:00 PM, Robert Silvers, Gian Giacomo Migone, Victoria de Grazia, Eric Foner and Mark Lilla delved into the rich histories of the publications, outlining the distinct editorial visions that set them apart from other literary journals. Both magazines adopted an irreverent approach to literary criticism, questioning established values to offer a truly unique perspective and voice in their reviews. While undeniably opinionated, it was the philosophy of these magazines to avoid allowing political or ideological concerns to interfere with the fundamental purpose of a book review: to describe and analyze the material. This, more than anything, made the publications unique among a sea of rivals often more interested in promoting their own ideas than critiquing the work of others.
In the latter part of the discussion, the scholars lamented that their form of in-depth, objective literary analysis is being supplanted, as the internet fills the role once fulfilled by print publications. Amazon, for instance, offers readers with no scholarly background a forum to post their own book reviews. Twitter, in the space of a mere 140 characters, has distilled in-depth literary criticisms to pithy remarks. The scholars were far from curmudgeonly, accepting, even extolling the contributions of these new technologies to the art form. However, they expressed a tinge of concern about the millenial generation’s short attention spans and aversion to extended contemplation of ideas. That being said, the overriding theme of their discussion was one of hope and curiosity about how literary criticism will progress in the years ahead.