Philip Roth vs John Updike

Steve Sailer writes:

I hadn’t planned to buy the new authorized biography of novelist Philip Roth, author of Portnoy’s Complaint and American Pastoral, because I am at best a lazy admirer of Roth, having read only a handful of books by the indefatigable novelist who died in 2017 at 85. But when I saw it on the bookstore shelf, I grabbed it because the biography is being permanently taken out of print by its own publisher, Norton, for #MeToo reasons.

Blake Bailey’s Philip Roth is already unavailable on Kindle. In the coming digital dark age, it may be prudent to have some physical books stashed in your basement so you can at least say, “These fragments I have shored against my ruins.”

Indeed, the only thing unexpected about the cancellation of the biography of Roth, a contender, alongside his friend and rival John Updike, for the title of The Great American Horndog, is that the justification wasn’t Roth’s own history of philandering but his biographer’s.

Now that Bailey has a best-seller, several women have come forward to announce that they had sex with their former eighth-grade English teacher, who had groomed them by assigning Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita to the class.

This would be shocking, except that the accusers all admit the encounters were years later when they were adults.

One thing you will learn from studying the lives of leading authors is that more than a few intelligent women can’t resist a literary genius.

Not that Bailey is an author in the class of Roth, much less Updike, but he is a lively writer. His 898-page authorized biography is a more fun read than the similarly massive new authorized biography of Tom Stoppard that I reviewed recently. Besides the difference in biographers, the gracious Stoppard is alive and still working with many famous people who would prefer not to be gossiped about, while the vengeful Roth is settling scores from the grave. Moreover, Stoppard is boyish while Roth was adolescent.

Comments at Steve Sailer:

* I have a legal proposal for these times: Contracts should from now on be written with the possibility in mind that someone may be deplatformed or cancelled.

So, for instance, if a university group wants to invite Charles Murray for a talk, he’d say, Great, let’s do it, but also demand that the fee plus any travel deposits, plus a sort of “restocking fee” for inconvenience be deposited in advance in escrow with a law firm or at least be contractually agreed to.

The same goes for bookings for comedians.

An author when he signs a contract should make sure that if for any reason whatsoever the book does not come out on schedule through no fault of his own, that he has the right to all edits and formatted publishing files and ebook files in order to be able to use them for publication via a new publisher or self-publishing.

* I’ve read a good dozen of Updike’s novels, and they’ve given me tremendous pleasure. Reading “Rabbit Is Rich” and “Toward the End of Time” (a late, obscure autobiographical book) made my heart sing. I remember reading the latter on a bus and, a couple of times, coming to passages so perfect that I had to close the book and just sit and savor the memory.

* “Groomed by Lolita” is a new one.

But this the usual stuff coming from the fairer sex.

a) At an early age: Having sex with [pack leader person] is just like extreme sports. Fuck yeah.
b) Years later: [former pack leader person] now has money. I didn’t enjoy it all that much. Come to think about it … HE USED ME AND SHOULD PAY!

Islam is right about women.

* The “years later” part always happens after the woman has hit the proverbial Wall. One of the magazines gathered all of the Cosby accusers into one photo and they were the saddest looking bunch of post-Wall females that you have ever seen.

As long as she has sexual currency in the bank, the adventuress is able to use it to obtain actual currency or whatever benefits come from associating with rich and powerful men. Young women are uniquely possessed of this ability in relation to heterosexual men. A (straight) rich or famous author or actor or captain of industry is not going to wine and dine and lavish his attention and gifts on a young man or an older woman or anyone else, but he will do so with the most empty headed young female as long as she is attractive looking and willing to offer sexual favors. The shrewd investress uses this currency to permanently snag a wealthy man, or at least a marriage certificate which can later be traded for half of the man’s assets.

But as sexual currency balance of the foolish adventuress approaches zero and she has nothing permanent to show for it, suddenly she realizes that she has been “exploited” and that is was wrong for her to have spent it in this way.

* It depends on whether the encounter was consensual. Many of the encounters alleged, esp. with Cosby and Weinstein and the lot, were not. Non-consensual have always been considered crimes by Western society, and for good reason.

But I see your point.

Consider the novel The Lover, made into a number of movies, most recently The Chinese Lover.

The novel is about a 15 1/2 (somehow the half is a big deal) year old French girl who has an affair with an older, richer, Chinese man in colonial Indochina. Over the years there has been much pointless speculation as to whether the novel was autobiographical, or else the fantasy of the authoress. But the point was that is was see as romantic for a mid-teen girl to be with an older man. The opposite encounter would be the movie Indochine, which romanticizes an encounter between a wealthy Viet schoolgirl and an older French officer.

In my middle aged years I noticed several 14-16 year old girls who would flirt with me sometimes to an extreme, even when my wife was nearby. They didn’t seem to care. Of course I did not risk divorce and prison. And I am fortunately too old for them these days.

My conclusion is that many of the jail bait girls in some of these notorious encounters were very willing participants, and very likely the instigators. It wasn’t that long ago when girls that age were considered of marriagable age, and were considered responsible for their actions. In fact, it wasn’t that long ago when feminists were insisting the age of consent be lowered to 14, saying that empowered the teenage girls or something like that.

I can never keep up. What is Girl Power today may be a Horrible Crime tomorrow.

* To show how much our culture has turned, remember the SHOWTIME series CALIFORNICATION starring David Duchovny? Duchovny plays a very Roth-seque novelist anti-hero (without the anti- , really) who unknowingly screws the 16 year old soon-to-be-stepdaughter of his ex-wife. While not endorsing the Duchovny character’s action per se, it is very much played for laughs and treated as an innocent mistake despite the potential nasty legal consequences. Indeed the fact that we are meant to be titillated and delighted by the whole situation, instead of sanctimoniously condemning it, is proven by the show’s somewhat gratuitous insertion of the actress playing the “16 year old” into sex scenes where her generous assets are on full and quite vivid display.

* The meaning of “consensual” itself depends on sexual politics. Extreme feminists say that all (heterosexual) sex is rape and consent is NEVER possible. Even less extreme ones require that consent be verbally and repeatedly announced by the female at every stage even though this is not how actual humans conduct relationships. In many recent cases, even though consent was clearly given at the time, the woman who has second thoughts later says that her consent was not valid, because she had (voluntarily) consumed alcohol (sometimes even just one drink) or drugs or was “pressured” into consenting or because she was of a lower social rank than the man or because she consented to one type of act but not to a different one or a variety of other bogus reasons which twist the meaning of the word “consent” beyond all recognition.

I recognize that having relations with a female who is unconscious because you have roofied her drink clearly crosses the line, but feminists are drawing the line at extremes much closer to the other end.

* Many years ago I interviewed Updike. Did it a couple of times, in fact. I can’t recall what we talked about but what I can recall is the feeling that I was in the presence of a freak. Glittering words, sentences and paragraphs just rolled out of the man, with only the slightest prompting. How many people can do that? It reminded me in a way of what a freakish thing a great singing voice is. I can barely get my voice in the neighborhood of the correct note; meanwhile really gifted singers are dancing off of precisely-intoned sixteenth notes. Same with Updike: intricate sentences, jewel-like word choices … All of it improvised in real time. My yaks with him also left me thinking that my main reservation about his work — that his verbal gift was too easy and facile, and that for all the verbal dazzle he often failed to really engage with his subject matter — was correct. Too many of the books of his that I read were like a lot of high-end embroidery lavished over a banal framework. I did like his short stories and art criticism a lot, though.

* It would not surprise me if most high-achieving white men are “workaholic bores”, at least during their productive years. I expect that, for example, Bill Gates spends 12 hours a day working on spending his money to save lives. This does not make for a happy marriage.

When women and minorities want to improve the “diversity” of an ostensibly desirable occupation, they may not realise that the successful white men they want to replace are happy with lives that most people would regard as one-dimensional.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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