Department of preciousness, New Yorker style

There was as we recall a satirical takeoff of the New Yorker a decade or two ago, and the sheer ineffable authority the magazine gains from its pose of gentlemanly, raised-monocle distance from its topics can sometimes make its columns seem to satirize themselves (God forbid it should explicitly take sides on the sometimes earth shaking issues it covers – it never does, thus influencing readers more than ever).

Here’s a classic specimen of this utter lack of self consciousness as it carries preciousness to a rarified height where the air is too thin to retain a sense of humor about itself, perpetrated in its roundup of brief book reviews head Briefly Noted in its October 10, 2011.

Touch, by Henry Cole )(Farrar, Straus & Giroux $23), Like the messianic Walt Whitman (“I make holy whatever I touch”), Henri Cole has spent his career tallying ecstatic and multifarious encounters with physical reality. Such encounters permeate this sumptuous new collection of poems, in which Cole is to be found addressing a pig, a strand of seaweed, and even a mosquito. A characteristic tone of awed ingenuousness (“you gave me a nice bite; I hope I didn’t rip your wing off,/pushing you away”) is one Cole has leared from Blake and Bishop, though he also keeps an ear to the ground of contemporary speech, describing a torrential downpour as “rain on steroids”.” Cole is known for his hair-raising erotic intimacy (in an earlier volume , we get a glimpse of his “delicately striated, crepelike scrotum”), but these poems are emphatically universal. “How can I/defend myself against what I want?” Cole asks with voluptuous candor, and leaves it to us to infer the answer. He can’t , and neither can we.

One wonder who wrote this evidence of a divorce from reality that must be difficult to achieve with the most sheltered background deep in the bosom of the well financed upper-middle class that seems to be the target audience as well as the happy mentality of the staff. Perhaps some intern of bookish nature who has not ventured on the city street for very long except to commute from his or her tiny Williamsburg share.

In a world wracked with catastrophe and personal calamity one can only be grateful that there exists a backwater where the most precious sensibility can reign undisturbed.

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