Saturday, June 6, 2009


Ross Posnock's Philip Roth's Rude Truth is that rare thing today: a work of literary criticism written by an academic that might be of interest to the general reader. More than that, it's a marvelously enjoyable book. This is a most Rothian work of Roth criticism: intelligent, witty, wide-ranging, surprising, audacious and, yes, ballsy. This book has more balls than a sporting goods store. It's not enough for our author to place Roth in a 'tradition' (constructed on the fly by said author) of literary 'immaturity' that includes such exalted figures as Emerson, William James, Musil, Adorno and Gombrowicz. No, Posnock isn't satisfied until he has invoked Stephen Toulmin's Cosmopolis and placed Roth's work in an Enlightenment counter-tradition of thinkers who drink from the capacious well of Montaigne instead of crucifying themselves on the Cartesian grid. Holy fucking shit! The guy who showed us young Alex Portnoy violating raw meat is a descendant of Montaigne? It seems so. Mickey Sabbath would surely approve. Hell, maybe Mickey is our modern Montaigne, singing an outrageously funny and filthy song of himself with roots that sink way past Whitman to tangle together in the fertile soil of Fontainebleau-era France. Stranger things have happened in literary history. And even when Posnock isn't constructing suitably audacious pedigrees for Roth's fiction, when he's doing the more mundane critical work of reading and interpretation, he is never less than illuminating--especially in his chapter-length considerations of Sabbath's Theater and The Human Stain. With this book, American literary criticism finally 'finds' Philip Roth, and Roth at last finds a critic worthy of his achievements. From now on, Roth criticism begins here.

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