Via one of the editors of the book under attack comes this instant classic from Joseph Epstein, which I can only assume was designed to bait Berube into temporarily re-starting his blog. (Well, the book is sort of under attack; I think Epstein just downloaded the generic Cranky White Would-Be Highbrow screed and plugged in the name of the book vaguely under review.) I’m no grand poobah of literachoor, and I have no idea about whether the Cambridge History of the Novel is any good. But whatever its merits there’s no doubting the inadvertent entertainment value of Epstein’s witless recycling of the column Roger Kimball has written 10,000 times. Professors who actually think race, class and gender might be in any way relevant to the novel as the root of all literary evil? Check. Assertions without argument that works a limited generation of American critics consider to be canonical are all anyone needs to now? Check. Assertions that the only role of literary critics is to distinguish between “high” and “low”? Check. Bizarre assumptions that if there’s no consensus about the greatest literary works of the 20th century, this means critics are incompetent? Oh, yes.
But I must admit there’s a punchline that gives Epstein a hint of originality and makes it extra special. In the midst of the eleventy millionth attack on political correctness of the academy and the unwillingness of contemporary critics to appropriately consider Literary Merit, he asserts that nobody in the future will read Phillip Roth because his books have too much sex in them. Really. I can’t imagine why anybody would consider Epstein’s pronouncements of literary value as anything less than statements of unassailable truth.
…we won’t get new material, but we are offered a classic from Berube’s archives.