Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Saturday, February 20, 2016

THERE ARE NO SECOND ACTS IN AMERICAN LIVES

This famous line by F. Scott Fitzgerald is often applied to American literature, a thought that crossed my mind when the news came in of the passing of Harper Lee.  One thinks as well of Ralph Ellison, J. D. Salinger, Joseph Heller.  Why is it that so many truly gifted American writers produce one great early work and then seem not to be able to follow it up with a lifetime of first rate novels?  There are of course many who do:  Melville, Twain, Cooper, Wharton, Mailer, et al.

In my admittedly scanty knowledge of European literature, this seems not to be true of the English, the French, or the Germans. Am I correct?

Any ideas?

5 comments:

s. wallerstein said...

I don't think it's a national thing. It's a question of personality.

Some writers just have one great book inside them or they repeat the same books again and again. How many times did Henry Miller write The Tropic of Cancer?

In German Thomas Mann wrote a series of novels, each one from different than the previous one, Buddenbrooks, the Magic Mountain, Doctor Faustus, etc., while Kafka wrote the same book over and over again.

In Latin America Vargas Llosa has written a series of great books, while Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a man of one super masterpiece, 100 Years of Solitude.



Wallace Stevens said...

I agree that this is not a national thing. Some writers only have one good book in them--there is nothing in Fitzgerald that surpasses Gatsby. (Then again, there is very little in anyone else that surpasses Gatsby either!) And I would argue that Flaubert never wrote anything as good as Madame Bovary. And Stendahl's the "Red and the Black" is his only fully-achieved work--"The Charterhouse of Parma" splinters and shreds in the last quarter, notwithstanding its brilliant beginning. The there are people like Philip Roth, successful and published for many years, who suddenly move into an entirely new, profound direction, better than anything that they had done before, as Roth did in the nineties: Sabbath's Theatre, American Pastoral, I Married a Communist, The Human Stain, Operation Shylock.

Wallace Stevens said...

A propos of the Lecture series, I came across this article today,by pure coincidence. Highly relevant--it looks like ideologically-driven, romanticised views of hunter-gatherers continue:

http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/the-surprisingly-sticky-tale-of-the-hadza-and-the-honeyguide-bird

Charles Pigden said...

Well 'Good as Gold' isn't as good as 'Catch 22' but I would say that it is still pretty good. Or would you disagree?

s. wallerstein said...

Wallace Stevens,

I agree with your evaluation of The Great Gatsby. If I had to recommend an American novel to someone who had never read one and would never read another, I'd suggest The Great Gatsby.