02 January 2010

Katie Roiphe says young American male writers are pussies (sort of)

Compared with the new purity, the self-conscious paralysis, the self-regarding ambivalence, Updike’s notion of sex as an “imaginative quest” has a certain vanished grandeur. The fluidity of Updike’s Tarbox, with its boozy volleyball games and adulterous couples copulating al fresco, has disappeared into the Starbucks lattes and minivans of our current suburbs, and our towns and cities are more solid, our marriages safer; we have landed upon a more conservative time. Why, then, should we be bothered by our literary lions’ continuing obsession with sex? Why should it threaten our insistent modern cynicism, our stern belief that sex is no cure for what David Foster Wallace called “ontological despair”? Why don’t we look at these older writers, who want to defeat death with sex, with the same fondness as we do the inventors of the first, failed airplanes, who stood on the tarmac with their unwieldy, impossible machines, and looked up at the sky?

You should read the whole thing -- she's, of course, more literal and subtle than my headline would imply. But she manages to slice up Eggers and Foer with an elegant stiletto.

In DFW's case, his incomprehension of Tarbox could be a result of the anti-depressives he was taking. A common, well-documented side effect is impotence and loss of interest in sex. I dont' know what the other guys' excuses are, although she offers up some plausible ideas.


  1. eh, she's way off. A completely delusional reading of DFW's essay on Updike and sex and Infinite Jest, and of course DFW wrote explicitly about porn and sex. She omits what DFW says about Updike in his essay (which the Rumpus rebuttal picks up on) and she ignores so much of Infinite Jest's play with Onanism (O.N.A.N. etc.), the retreat into veils and the loss of bodies and the presence of voice/entertainment/desire projected into the sphere of corporate entertainment (porn, etc.). She ignore Joelle Van Dyne completely, and Don Gately's massive sexuality and physicality. Does IJ express anxiety about sex/coupling/connection/etc.? sure, but it's clear why; it doesn't sublimate it all whacky like "Lost in Translation" does. Further, her essay doesn't discuss film and the place "screen culture" plays in these shifts (as DFW did in various essays) and where desire/orgasm gets "placed/located/interpolated" in a screen culture.

    For me, DFW et al are more in line with William Gaddis than the Updike/Roth line, which isn't really about sex so much as power and sexual anxiety.


  2. You're very convincing, Sr. Johnson. The Awl article was especially good and informative. And you've set a fine example by responding with a thoughtful comment to a flippant post.

  3. thanks Tanya (we're ganging up on your tim)! One thing missing in the discussion is the Wallace fiction/non-fiction "break." From a certain angle, I'm failing to differentiate his fiction from his non-fiction (DFW's)...but that'll have to rest for the time.