Paul Greenberg

What ever happened to the medium once known as Little Magazines? This country once had a select group of literary and political journals that represented the vanguard of American thought and art. Some were both literary and political. High Culture, it was called when there was still such a thing.

For example, the old and much-missed Partisan Review. Its first issue as an independent journal in 1937 included Delmore Schwartz's short story, "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities," a poem by Wallace Stevens, and pieces by Lionel Trilling, Sidney Hook and Edmund Wilson -- once names to conjure with.

Begun as the honest left's answer to Stalinism, the magazine's quality and independence scarcely wavered till it was overwhelmed by much more respectable publications with much less talented writers and editors. (Respectability is the death of thought.)

The Fugitive, that last redoubt of unreconstructed Southern letters in the 1920s, had editor-writers like John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate and Robert Penn Warren as it took its last stand in the 1920s.

As for the late Partisan Review, an era of tame criticism and lame taste consigned it to irrelevance long ago. Besides, once Soviet Communism had imploded, the magazine had lost its reason for being. Not even the sainted John Silber of Boston U., that unlikely combination of intellectual and college administrator, could save it from Progress.

A little magazine does remain here and there. On the right, William F. Buckley's National Review still stands athwart History yelling "Stop!" and, on the left, the New Republic is still worth reading even if its gaudy new typography and lay-out make it look like a society matron got up as a streetwalker.

But my favorite little magazine still standing, an almost lone voice of sanity and connection to past standards -- that is, high culture -- has to be the New Criterion, est. 1982 by Hilton Kramer, the late art critic and refugee from the ever-more-with-it, and ever more tedious, New York Times.

An item in the January issue of the magazine caught my sorrowful eye, for I'm of an age at which the obituaries are the first thing I check out in the morning paper. Just to know who's gone today. The dear departed in this case: Higher Ed.

The cause of death was the usual in modern, bureaucratized, obese and increasingly ossified academia: administrative bloat aggravated by diluted standards and the erosion of the core curriculum, the basis of liberal education.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.