Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Monday, May 03, 2021

 Post-World War Two American letters produced a lot of great writing, and Phillip Roth was responsible for quite a bit of it. He was also a powerful advocate for Eastern European writers, itself no small thing. Of course, in addition to these contributions his sexual politics and his personal life were both terrible. It is true that the same can be said for quite a few of his peers, and this raises the perennial question of how to  regard the work of terrible people. In Roth's case the stakes are raised: not only was Roth abusive but his biographer is arguably worse. W. W. Norton & Company has withdrawn the book from print and this troubles me a great deal. The pre-scandal reviews made it clear that Blake Bailey had complete access to the sort of material that a serious biographer needs, and pulling from shelves is bad for all future scholars. Frankly, it is probably also bad for the women that Bailey abused, since a successful book would generate royalties that might end up being awarded as damages. 

In the meanwhile, I am inclined to spend part of the summer re-reading Roth.

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