Welcome to Partisan, an arts and culture review that publishes criticism about everything from poetry to television, ballet to film. Partisan launches as the world of online journalism finds itself debating the merits of the “hot take.” Minted as a derisive term for journalistic bloviating, the definition of “hot take” now swallows up any piece of writing with an argument to make. Anyone with a Twitter account knows that more often than not, arguments are deemed to be failures now on categorical, rather than substantive, grounds. It’s a deflating irony that as technology brings us into contact with more voices than ever, and as those voices appear to insist upon the importance of dialogue, we are developing an allergy to one another’s thoughts.
Partisan will always choose snark over smarm—no finger-waggers need query. But what we prize most are pieces by contributors willing to take a clear, thoughtful position rather than walk back from an opinion they possess but are loath to commit to. The finger-waggers should relax: those with a spleen worth venting will be encouraged to train it on the product under assessment – book, movie, whatever – as opposed to the author. Much has been said, sometimes by Partisan’s own editors, about that seemingly endangered species, the so-called “negative review.” We won’t add too much more to that discussion here. But we will point out that it’s hard not to be amused by the spectacle of seemingly decent humans so exercised over what they believe to be a negative review they themselves not only sink into abuse, but direct their vilest froth at the reviewer’s character. Partisan wishes such people well, and hopes they will pitch the magazine.
In short, we believe the model for an arts or culture journalist isn’t the publicist or the professor, or even the reporter, but the dinner guest who knows her RSVP hinges on how entertainingly she conveys her thoughts. As William Logan has it, “Don’t think what you have to say is important. The way you say it is what’s important. What you have to say is rubbish." Partisan will have no house style, no programmatic tone contributors will be expected to affect; the voices you’ll discover here are bound only by a mutual (if instinctual) striving to be stylish, sharp, and idiosyncratic.
That said, readers can expect prose scrubbed of clichés from writers who can explain why a sentence like, “The body is a site upon which meaning is inscribed,” or a phrase like, “blurring the binary opposition,” deserves a blue pencil. Don’t get us wrong; we’re all for progressive ideals like, say, equitable access to universal healthcare. And we hope to give oxygen to a range of voices from different backgrounds and perspectives. This isn’t what is sometimes called a “safe space”; it’s a roof for writers who avoid such jargon to pursue difficult ideas and, as George Orwell put it, “let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around.”
Are we aware of the echo with the Partisan Review of yesteryear? Of course. Do we mean to recall that magazine, the way The New Criterion relays the baton from T. S. Eliot’s Criterion? What can we say? In our own small way, we hope to honour that great tradition of periodicals publishing pointed criticism. And we hope you will come back again.