By Sanford Pinsker
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Extra resources for Bearing the bad news: contemporary American literature and culture
In some cases, I've straightened their ties, buffed their shoes, or made them spit out their chewing gum, but I think Flem would want me to let 'em rip. After all, many of them celebrate that sense of humor which, as other essays point out, we probably need more now than ever before. Page 1 LITERARY CULTURE, THE WAY IT WAS The fiftieth anniversary of Philip Rahv's justly famous, enormously influential article "Paleface and Redskin" struck me as an occasion to reflect on the literary scene as Rahv saw it in 1939 as well as on the ways his schema of deeply divided temperaments might be extended, modified, or overturned in our own time.
It's history. It's poetry. Indeed, there will probably come that dreaded day when a bathrobed, bumpy-chested avatar of Mr. Spencer will stare back at me from the mirror. And no doubt I will find him a good deal more sympathetically drawn than I did when I first encountered him reeking of Vicks Nose Drops and made to carry the symbolic role of Sickness Personified. Teaching Holden's saga in Belgium (under the auspices of a Fulbright grant), I was struck by ironies better than I could have concocted myself, ironies that surely would have made even a Salinger smile.
Roth, on the other hand, is genuinely divided between wanting to have his satiric egg cookies and hoping that those who have been lambasted will bless his food. Where, then, does all this get us in terms of our age's palefaces and redskins? Have Rahv's categoriesonce such vivid emblems of fundamental oppositionbecome so merged, so homogeneous, that only those who prefer their literature "neat" would continue to use them? After all, what is the point of making an elaborate case that John Updike, a WASP troubled by sexuality and puritanical guilt, represents the paleface, and that Norman Mailer, a professional rebel who sounds his barbaric yawp over the assembled throng at meetings of PEN, represents the redskin?