Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Exile in Guyville

RE: Katie Roiphe's infograph-tastic essay on sex scenes in Philip Roth, John Updike, Norman Mailer vs. Benjamin Kunkel, Jonathan Franzen, David Foster Wallace, etc.:

Didn't Liz Phair already write this essay in 1993, when it was called Exile in Guyville? ("you might be shy and introspective / that's not part of my objective")

Let this also record my ambivalence about Liz Phair: is she the Katie Roiphe of the Lilith Fair set? The contrarianism has always seemed cynical, as though the self-conscious irony left even less room to maneuver than before; what was called honesty collapsed all interpretation into a bleak flatness.

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Anonymous Anonymous on Wed Jan 06, 07:55:00 PM:
Furthermore, I'd (of course) argue that she totally misreads DFW. First off, the quote from his essay is from a friend of his; his own thoughts on Updike are much more reverential, though not uncomplicated. He's not exculpating his generation from narcissism or anything, just saying that--exactly because of Updike and Roth and Mailer, etc--his generation of writers have to contend with a narcissism/nihilism/whatever that, while perhaps similar in existential origin, must now be directed towards something new.

Also, the passages she selects from Infinite Jest are from Ken Erdedy's jumbled stream-of-conscious ramblings while waiting for some weed. Probably not representative of every character in a 1000+ page book. But, even if you stick with poor ol' Erdedy, the point of his (and many other character's) suffering is that it is inward-facing and self-inflicted and imprisoning and so forth. His disinterest in sex is a symptom of this. I'd argue that among the most basic messages of the book is that we can only even begin to tolerate existence by resisting those terribly addictive things which cut us off from one another. Now, maybe there weren't juicy enough sex scenes for Ms. Roiphe, but man I find the relationship between Don Gately and Joelle Van Dyne heart- and brain- and kidneybreaking, and man I'd say pretty electrically charged in the sex department. Maybe not explicit, but maybe that's because DFW was a mature author who recognized that soul-damaged characters like those two are tentative and suspicious and probably even a little afraid of exactly what was going on between them.

Just a thought.
Anonymous Anonymous on Wed Jan 06, 08:00:00 PM:
Also, while DFW is DFW and his writing, while not unassailable, doesn't really need defending, isn't it a little unfair to through Kunkel and JSF (and I'd even say Chabon and Franzen, who are, you know, fine) into the mix against the elders? I mean, what's her point? Some hotshot of-the-moment dweeb who has written two books isn't as good as Phillip Roth?

Ross, again.
Blogger Alice on Wed Jan 06, 11:44:00 PM:
I think Roiphe's choices in marshaling Kunkel and JSF for her argument reveals that she's less interested in a making a nuanced critique of anyone's writing and more interested in rehearsing the same anti-feminist contrarianism that she's been writing for years. She's addressing her writing to her friend who threw out the new Roth novel, not so much to those guys (matched weirdly by her sloppy attribution of DFW's anecdote about Updike, in which he's reacting to a friend). She sets them up as straw men to knock down. Unsurprisingly, ambivalence, indecision, discomfort, etc. are easy to knock down. So while I'm tempted to throw out, say, A.M. Homes as a (female) counter-example to her claims, I think Roiphe is cherry-picking and flattening the readings on purpose, which is a curious way to respond to a humorless feminist you've accused of doing the same thing.