Staying Power

Staying Power

With the publication of The Sixties, the fifth consecutive compilation of Edmund Wilson’s journals, the author takes his place as one of the most thoroughly self-documented of American literary figures. This last volume, which begins in 1960 and ends with Wilson’s death in 1972, runs to over nine hundred pages. One might well ask: how much is too much? And one might fairly answer, without slighting the critic or his reputation: this much is enough.

To say this is to pay Wilson a backhanded compliment. It is to acknowledge that even at his most diaristic, his most ephemeral, he repays reading. For the Wilson we encounter is not Wilson the legendary reader and critic or Wilson the novelist and would-be playwright. The journals are the housing for what is left over from the other enterprises. They are not his reading log or his critical laboratory. Rather, entries are for what would appear to be the private record: reports of daily circumstances, travels, meetings with editors and fellow writers, life with friends and family, sexual preoccupations and (though quite rare by this point) adventures.

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Lima