Notes on Notes

I was on Twitter today and I wondered if people tweet about not tweeting, the way that people used to blog about not blogging. And I have been myself thinking of drafting a blog post about my inability to regularly post a blog post, but then I thought christalmightywhocares. There’s nothing to blog about anyway.

But then, I thought of something to blog about, so here we go. I saw on the Atlantic magazine’s website today that Philip Roth had written them a letter disputing Joseph O’Neill’s claim that he had a “crack-up” in the mid-80s. The factual correction is interesting in and of itself. One could imagine the source of confusion, since Roth’s novel Operation Shylock, narrated by a fictional Philip Roth, talks about a breakdown resulting from taking the same true, factual medication Roth mentions in his letter. (Halcion.) On the one hand, you kind of nod your head primly at the fact-checking wrist-slap, but then think, Well isn’t this factual/fictional biographical confusion partly the point?

But more important than that, one reels at the idea that Roth is up there in New England reading Atlantic essays about himself. Did he actually read it? Was he tipped off? Or is it actually not that hard to imagine him reading the Atlantic? I imagine him writing, walking in the woods, lifting weights with dumbbells made of volumes of the OED, and, for some reason, doing a lot of bikram yoga.

I haven’t read the O’Neill essay, mainly because I’ve grown so crotchety and proprietary in my complicated affection for Roth’s books that I’m wary of reading additional criticism. (How’s that for being intellectually stubborn?) However, cynical defense mechanisms aside, I can recommend without reservation David Gooblar’s recent book The Major Phases of Philip Roth. I interviewed Gooblar about the book for the Quarterly Conversation. His book gives you the best kind of scholarly double-pleasure: it shines new light on Roth’s work while sending you speedily back to the books themselves. It’s scholarship as harmony, a dedicated major third humming above the source text.

One last note about that Atlantic piece: it’s illustrated with what must be one of the only pictures of the older Roth with visible beard stubble. He looks — with his stare, his slightly mussed hair, his stubble — old. I realize that he in fact is old, but it seems like the Atlantic is trying to highlight this with the photo. That is, it seems like they’re trying to make him look bad. Perhaps I’m just projecting but this seems to me in poor taste.

But what’s really in poor taste is how they handle the article’s URL. Here’s how they title the article: “Philip Roth Clears Up His ‘Crack-Up.'” But here’s the web address of the article:

Thank you, Atlantic Monthly, for keeping it classy. You must be so proud of yourself.

And with that, I return to my glacial pace of irregular blogging.