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If You're Interested in Philip Roth...

...you may have heard that what is supposed to be a very important more-or-less-official biography of him was withdrawn at the moment of publication recently. The reason for this drastic action was that the biographer, Blake Bailey, has been accused of sexual abuse (and of course he must be guilty, or he wouldn't have been accused).

This news did not make much of an impression on me, since I've read very little of Roth--only an excerpt from Portnoy's Complaint at the time it was published in the late '60s. But shortly afterward the April issue of The New Criterion arrived, and it includes a very lengthy review of the biography, based, obviously, on an advance copy of the book. So here, if you're interested, is a look at what's in it. I thought this might be all the world would see, at least for some time, but I read today that a new publisher is taking it on. 


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I have read most of Roth's work, but was still on the fence over purchasing an 800-page biography. Then this news broke and I immediately ordered it on Amazon, so am now the proud owner of this tome. I read the first chapter and went through all of the photo sections already.

Here is what I found curious, and amusing. There is at least one photo of Roth with Mia Farrow; they were apparently neighbors and friends in Connecticut. The reason I am amused is that I bought the Woody Allen autobiography last year under very similar "cancel culture" circumstances. The book was released, there was brou-ha-ha over the author and accusations, the publisher acquiesced, etc.

Allen - Farrow - Roth - Bailey - LOL

But to be honest I don't find any of it that amusing, and really less so in the case of the Roth biography. Roth himself has not been accused of anything (and is dead), so should his authorized biography go unpublished and unread based on accusations against someone else?

Oh well. I try to ignore all of these things, but obviously have trouble doing so.

So you got the original publisher's edition? I thought it had actually been strangled at birth--never delivered to stores at all.

I guess there's a serious argument that a person could be such a monster that even a book by him that had nothing whatever to do with his monster-ness would be loathsome. But surely even in that case there ought to be some pretty definitive proof. And I wonder if the people demanding that this bio be withdrawn are ok with the works of de Sade being read--by anybody anywhere, to say nothing of being studied academically. I read some part of some book of his when I was in college (not part of course work, it was just around) and was completely horrified. Based on that experience I don't think the human race would be worse off if every copy of his work was destroyed. But that's the book itself. Suppose the man had written a set of beautiful love sonnets...I don't know....

Many people who've not read Sade think he was just another pornographer. Roger Shattuck, in his excellent Forbidden Knowledge, forever disavows one of that notion, with examples.

And it's interesting that Foucault, the darling of post-modernism and critical theory, was an avid fan of Georges Bataille, the philosopher/pornographer who was something of Sade's 20th century equivalent.

The question of horrible people who make beautiful art is quite the conundrum. Dreher recently had a piece on a famous designer whose rooms and houses were beautiful, but in life was quite the pervert. And Eric Gill is another example.

Gill is a particularly sickening example. de Sade's evil is obvious, but Gill... As I read that comment I could see on the bookshelf across the room Eric Gill's autobiography. Many times since the revelations about him appeared I've looked at that book, and the Speaight bio/appreciation which is full of beautiful illustrations, and wondered if I should get rid of them. Whatever the correct ethical answer to that question is, Gill is very, very troubling.

Many of the Sade fans seem to be those who think "transgression" is a good thing as long as the right people are offended. Shocking the bourgeoisie should have gone the way of the Model T a long time ago. It's kind of pitiful to see people still trying it.

And it's funny, because when something notably bad comes into view the very same people will immediately say, "Oh, what's the big deal? Things like this have been shocking the bourgeoisie for decades!"

It's a perfect example of that goalpost-shifting that goes on endlessly within certain types of "progressivism."

As you know that kind of thing happens constantly among the commenters on Dreher's blog. "Ha ha, they were shocked by Elvis, too." Etc

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