August 8, 2008

"Elegy"

An excerpt from my review in The American Conservative of the new film "Elegy," which is an adaptation of Philip Roth's short 2002 novel The Dying Animal:

Paradoxically but profitably, Hollywood assumed that America's youth wanted to spend May and June, the two months of the year with the nicest weather, inside watching blockbuster movies. Now that the dog days of summer are here, the big movies are trickling to a halt and art house films for adults are back.

You can't get much art housier than "Elegy," in which Sir Ben Kingsley ("Gandhi") portrays one of novelist Philip Roth's lesser alter egos, the lecherous literature professor David Kepesh.

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously asserted, "There are no second acts in American lives." This is often true for alcoholics, such as the many American writers who resorted to the bottle to restore temporarily the visual world's luminous glow, that green light at the end of the dock that shone for them when they were young and in their lyrical primes.

In contrast, a social novelist such as Roth can potentially keep getting better as he becomes older and wiser. Roth hit the bestseller lists in 1969 with Portnoy's Complaint, the definitive denunciation of "Jewish guilt" (which in Roth's book is the opposite of "white guilt" -- it's the nagging sense that you aren't ethnocentric enough). Then, Roth's career bogged down in experimental conceits.

Over the last decade and a half, from about the age of 60 onward, he's returned with a torrent of strong novels, allowing his fans to proclaim him America's Greatest Living Writer. Perhaps, although there's little mystery to Roth's talent. You can imagine that if you were twice as smart and ten times as hard-working, you too could do what Roth does.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

16 comments:

Born Again Democrat said...

Try though I might, I cannot find pleasure in Roth's novels. Like Barbara Streisand, his ego gets in the way of everything he does. Saul Bellow, on the other hand, I do enjoy in a light-hearted sort of way. His novels are like intellectual candy. Except for Mr. Sammler's Planet, which I do think is a truly great novel.

Curious that the Jews, who are so verbally talented, are unable to reach the highest levels of achievement in fiction or poetry, at least in English. Something about the native genius of the language eludes them.

anony-mouse said...

... if you were twice as smart and ten times as hardworking, you could do what Roth does.

Well?

Bill said...

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously asserted, "There are no second acts in American lives." This is often true for alcoholics, such as the many American writers who resorted to the bottle to restore temporarily the visual world's luminous glow, that green light at the end of the dock that shone for them when they were young and in their lyrical primes.

-S. Sailer


That's such a sorrowful sentiment. I'd rather think that for the Fitzgeralds of the world the glow was drowned in the bottle, sinking further and further into the depths of intoxication until it faded out of consciousness.

travis said...

Curious that the Jews, who are so verbally talented, are unable to reach the highest levels of achievement in fiction or poetry, at least in English. Something about the native genius of the language eludes them.

Surely you can't be serious. In the NY Times list of the best works of fiction in the last 25 years, no less than 7 books by Roth received votes (and Portnoy's Complaint was not even eligible!).

As to Steve's point about old age and authors, it's not just Roth who's still productive. Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men was translated into a Academy Awarding film. And his last novel, The Road, was selected for the Oprah Book Club, won the Pulitzer Prize and is now being made into a motion picture. Tom Wolfe is currently working on a novel about Miami.

Anonymous said...

I was going to post on Sailer's comment on drunken writers (it is Friday), but born again democrat brings up an interesting point, relatedly, vis a viz, jews can't drink. They get sick after 3 drinks, like Thai people are lactose intolerant. Some half-jews can drink, like Hitchens.

I tend to like non-english novelists for Art, but English-y is like Jew-y, in its distinctiveness. You can peg Larry David, Woody Allen or Kafka as Jews, or you can peg William Hazlitt, Samuel Johnson or John Derbyshire as Brits. I imagine there might be a genetic component to the way verbosity and thought processes are manifested, independent of culture? Maybe I'm wrong about the Brits, but they evolved the most verbally sophisticated culture out of nothing...out of a few million people. Could be wrong, the other European writers post-1500 were always *smart*, but the Brits were so insanely verbal, it's way notable. You can express thoughts more clearly, but that goes for Jew-y folly (marxist theory) or Brit-y folly (Moralistic treatises on braindead Manners.)

But it's probably a matter of taste, like a lot of life, i.e., sheer BS. But I basically only read Brits and Jews, in fiction, my impression is the legacy of the soap opera Brit novel is bunk and stupid, and the Jew-y academic horsebollocks is idiocy. Still, the races are "genius." I don't know if racial partitions are appropriate to the novel, or narrative art, but it's a respectable hypothesis?

Meanwhile, drunkenness kind of distinguishes the high IQ white writers. It's its own race. There's something to it. You shut down moral switches, put a nose to a grindstone.

Anonymous said...

I have no doubts left that I'm verbally-challenged. I..., well, don't exactly like literature. Not really. It bores me.

I LOVE movies, which are visual/dramatic. I LOVE music, which is an art of sonic distances (vertically: tones and harmony; horizontally: rhythm and melody -- both are punctuations in sonic space). But the only things I can read without becoming completely confused is stuff like... Borges. That's because he only writes stories of a few pages -- my limit span of verbal attention.


Nick-less

Henry Canaday said...

The Brits had to develop verbal dexterity as a kind of Mutually Assured Destruction deterrent against the Irish.

Anonymous said...

These are some pretty sweeping judgments. I mean, just how many European languages do you guys read? Wouldn't it take a few at least before you launch into summary judgments about the (supposed) verbosity of English writers?

Anonymous said...

Oy vey, not Steve's reductionist version of Jewish guilt again...

geronimo mctavish said...

anony-mouse - if you were half as clever as you think you are then...you might have something insightful to say.

testing99 said...

Steve --

The thing Hollywood doesn't get -- the youth market is GONE. It's not 1968 any more. There are 8 million more seniors than youth voters (17-26). CW's "Gossip Girl" gets lots of buzz but only 2 million viewers.

The collapse of pop music and lots of pop movies has at least as much to do with the demographics (baby bust) as anything else.

The summer popcorn movies have OLDER actors with more mature themes: Robert Downey Jr. and Christian Bale. That's where the money and action is.

Niche stuff like Elegy is not going to be profitable. Those movies cost too much and in a recession, won't generate enough income. You can't price it as a luxury good and there's not enough rich people anyway to buy them.

I expect the long march of high energy/food prices through the economy is going to make middle-brow entertainment come back. People will want cheap and emotionally satisfying entertainment, and the vast bulk of the consumers will be middle aged and older consumers. Youth market is just dead.

You wondered about why nothing after Rap has been created? Simple. No market for it. Demographics.

Torrington said...

The demographics are against youth marketing, but the egos of the marketers are for it, and Hollywood has always been only partly about business sense. That's why movies like "Passion of the Christ" are guaranteed seat fillers but studio poison.

Anonymous said...

Debbie Harry looks really old now, doesn't she?

Anonymous said...

"he Brits had to develop verbal dexterity as a kind of Mutually Assured Destruction deterrent against the Irish."

The general idea, except that it was the other way round. It was the Irish Joyce who, rewriting English, got acclaimed as the greatest English writer of the 20th century, by critical acclaim. Of course no one knows if that reputation will endure, now that the Irish have entered the First World.

Anonymous said...

Per the individual who said something about genius in English prose eluding those of the Jewish persuasion--strange thing to say. Anyway, I always think of Tom Stoppard and "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern" are dead. So brillian and original when I first read it at 17, and still brilliant and original and yet perfectly referential to the Bard.
I have always considered it one of the greatest works of English lit, plays or prose, in the 20th century. Stoppard, I do believe, is Jewish, though he was well into adulthood before he learned of it.

Anonymous said...

"The summer popcorn movies have OLDER actors with more mature themes: Robert Downey Jr. and Christian Bale. That's where the money and action is."

Well I am far from a 'boomer' (I'm twenty one), but both those films were awesome and there were a lot of kids at the Dark Knight, all boys though.

"The demographics are against youth marketing, but the egos of the marketers are for it, and Hollywood has always been only partly about business sense. That's why movies like "Passion of the Christ" are guaranteed seat fillers but studio poison."

I thought the Passion was one of those arty foreign language films that gets good reviews, only to have no viewers? I certainly didn't, but then I knew the ending.


SPOILER




























































The Eyeties bumped him off.