George W.S. Trow

For Jeff Unger:

I was sort of startled by tripping my way yesterday to the unexpected subject of George W.S. Trow, who turns out to be a figure of interest to me now. As they say, Who knew? I suspect I might not have liked him if I knew him personally (just a hunch) but from a distance he looks significant, however thoroughly his intellectual remains have been swept off the beach. The description of his big book about television, In the Context of No Context, or something to that effect, makes me want to read it or at least look at it. I found a long article about him in The Nationhttps://www.thenation.com/article/archive/george-trow-context-no-context-book-harpers-reviewing-social-media/, published just last year, so I guess he’s not entirely forgotten. The article posited that he wasn’t so much trumpeting his own pre-Tina Brown/Roseanne Barr literary aesthetic as superior so much as conceding it was inevitably being supplanted by the inescapable sensibility of TV. (Which itself would be supplanted or subsumed by social media.) It’s all a process, he was merely observing. Which is probably true but depressing all the same. 

However resigned he was to this cultural transformation in print, it sounds like he had a nervous breakdown and really just couldn’t find his way forward after leaving The New Yorker at a fairly young age. And who knows what else was going on in his personal life. But such a dramatic, even extreme retreat from the zeitgeist stands out as something hard to ignore, like a neon sign. How good was his prose? I’d have to revisit it, but safe to say he was no slouch. 

It occurs to me that if you were in Dallas, as you once were, we could convene a book group or one-off salon with a few others to discuss the meaning and influence of George W.S. Trow — or other topics. Exactly the sort of thing he was pointing out has been replaced by the surrogate intimacy of television. My own stab at irony for the day. Anyway, we’d have to wait til the coast is clear, which, despite the insane rantings of the salesman we call POTUS, is much further down the road.

About Sean Mitchell

SEAN MITCHELL is a journalist, critic and former staff writer at the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Herald Examiner and Dallas Times Herald. His articles and reviews have also appeared in The New York Times, New York Magazine, USA Today and other publications. He is the recipient of the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award for excellence in writing about music and the George Jean Nathan Award for distinguished drama criticism. Born in Bethlehem, Pa., he grew up in Dallas and is a graduate of St. Mark’s School of Texas and Brown University. He lives in Dallas.
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