In a still-relevant essay from 1971 called “Culture Now: Some Animadversions, Some Laughs,” Saul Bellow noted the proclivity of intellectuals and pundits to pronounce an all-encompassing death sentence with the pound of a judge’s gavel. Liberalism is dead. Literature is dead. Cinema is dead. America is dead. And so on. “[W]hat a lot of ideological burial parties the twentieth century has seen!” So, too, the 21st century, which got off to a crummy start and can’t seem to get galloping. This week alone we were informed that The Novel Is Dead (oh no, not again!) and that Twitter, if not dead yet, is feeling mite poorly and beginning to shuffle off to the bone yard (“A Eulogy for Twitter,” by Adrienne Lafrance and Robinson Meyer).
See, kids, this is why you need to pay heed to wise elders like Wolcott; they’re an invaluable source of context and history. Watching life scroll by on your phone screen, it can be easy to get the impression from one article after another that a trend too big for the cradle is as good as in the grave, and that this manic impatience of the chattering class is largely a product of our social media age. But here you have the necessary corrective from a man of letters with the jaded gaze of an unimpressed sphinx, reminding you that this, too, will not only pass but will be coming around again.