Fictionistas

Weiss and Pollitt

Fictionistas

Weiss and Pollitt

Fictionistas
New books dissected over email.
Sept. 24 1998 5:35 PM

Weiss and Pollitt

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Dear Katha,

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What do I think of that? I think you're right.

I bow to the sweep and precision of your argument so much that I want to interject, "No wonder Claire Bloom was so goddamn passive." Will I stand up for Roth? No. You've called on the Joe Lieberman in me....

Now does your point, which I completely failed to see while I was reading the book the first time, diminish I Married a Communist? A little, not much. Obviously, I read in a gendered manner. I think you do, too, inasmuch as you are so impatient with the stuff I find so rewarding, the alte kake male Jewish voices. (by the way, I think the title, while it sound great, is actually terrible because you think it's going to be Eve's story. It isn't)

I don't have much use for Gornick's comparison, as you represent it. I don't care about Wells or Gissing. Now and then I read James. So the only writer I, as a late 20th century grazer, find interesting in that group purveys, by your lights, negative images of women. And then, to conflate life and art, which I like to do, I think that James was homosexual, likely repressed (as my wife said to me last year, pressing The Aspern Papers on me, the voice is completely gay), and that made for an interesting literary sensibility. What I gather about Roth's Private Life is that he was no picnic as a mate and when I try to characterize his sensibility, I think of words like irritable, energetic, self-obsessed, Jewish, post-Korean War, very male (yeah, even phallocentric).

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What I'm driving at in a convoluted way is how much of Roth's misogyny comes out of the egotism, and whether making art doesn't require so much egotism that it inevitably leaves the Other poorly represented. Alas, I read boy-books and when I think of my favorite writers, in the last year's reading or so, it's not a pretty picture. Hem (horror show), Lawrence (trouble), Shakespeare (problematic), Salinger (GIRLZ ONLY!), Melville (AWOL on women), Naipaul (no pal)....

But then I think of younger writers and it's not so simple. Barthelme, Carver, Murakami, Ian MacEwan--their women are full characters.

I think it's generational, and Gornick's selection ("major"--I don't care) draws from a generation unschooled by feminists. Roth is highly traditional in a lot of ways that are somewhat predictable, given when he came off the assembly line. So your analysis, while bracing, isn't a complete surprise.

Notice no women writers among my faves. But my favorite living fictionista is a woman. The next time a book of hers comes, and God knows it's been too long, I'll run to the stores. Rachel Ingalls. Out of print everywhere. Have you read the poetic Mrs. Caliban or the majestic hallucinogenic Binstead's Safari? I don't understand why this American living in England isn't a literary hero, why she's so undersung. She has delivered some of my greatest reading pleasure.

Where are you, Rachel!?!

Philip Weiss is a novelist and a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine. Katha Pollitt is associate editor at The Nation. Her most recent book is Reasonable Creatures: Essays on Women and Feminism. This week they discuss Philip Roth's I Married a Communist (Houghton-Mifflin; 336 pages; $26).