29 June 2008
The premise of the title is simple: in the late 1950s and through the 1960s, American letters was possessed of three very prominent Jews (both by background and thematically), amongst its authors of prose fiction. This triad consisted of Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, and Bernard Malamud.
Roth was the kid of this group. Malamud was born in 1914, Bellow in 1915, and both are now deceased. Roth came into the world in 1933 and amongst us still.
Roth criticized both of his elders in an essay in 1974, "Imagining Jews," which Miller quotes.
Roth said there that Malamud paints any of his Jewish characters as "innocent, passive, virtuous and this to the degree that he defines himself as or is defined by others as a Jew."
This gave to Malamud's work "the lineaments of moral allegory." Roth wants none of it.
Miller quarrels with this reading of the differences among the troika, but she doesn't doubt that there are important differences, and that in terms of the history of taste, they've so far worked in Roth's favor against Malamud.
I summarize all this because I enjoy listening to deep things being argued about, I suppose. I'm not sufficiently erudite to make any observations on Malamud here. And I've read only two of Roth's novels, so I won't pontificate on him either.
I would guess, though, that the tides of opinion will continue their movements which, being tidal, have ebbs as well as flows. Malamud, in short, will have his day.
Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.