You may remember Katie Roiphe's connect-the-dots polemic "The Naked and the Conflicted," which grabbed the cover of The New York Times Book Review last week. Roiphe argued that the current generation of white male novelists (Chabon, Foster Wallace, Franzen, Eggers) are more timid in writing about sex than the previous generation of white male novelists (Roth, Bellow, Updike, Mailer).
Why, in this age, the discussion should be narrowed to white male novelists is anyone's guess. But then Roiphe is the writer who, in "The Morning After," blamed college rape victims for the crimes committed against them. Political wisdom, or even political sensitivity, is not exactly her thing. She also has a habit of launching cultural broadsides against people who, unfortunately, are not around to defend themselves (John Updike, David Foster Wallace, women who post pictures of their children on Facebook), and she seems to believe, weirdly, not just that transgressive, dangerous, and adventurous sex writing is good sex writing (obvious), but that it is the only kind of good sex writing (obviously wrong).Other writers have listed the flaws in Roiphe's essay, the most notable being her misreading of every text she cites. (For insight into Katie Roiphe's tendency toward critical fabrication, see Katha Pollitt's New Yorker review of "The Morning After," available here.) Philip Roth, for example, was just as often writing about sex to demonstrate the powerlessness of his characters. Roiphe's "Infinite Jest" example is founded on a minor character on page 22 of that sprawling epic. There is plenty of crazy sex later in the novel. As for Kunkel, his book is a satire of an aimless generation. It's meant to take its subjects to task for failing to make the existential commitment to action that authenticity requires, in other words, for not following through. That his protagonist chooses to avoid completing the essential acts by which we define ourselves is precisely the point. (Roiphe's examples make one wonder if she actually read the books she cites, although, to be fair, it appears she may have read up to page 22 of "Infinite Jest.")
But it feels like the internet ought to record one last pot-shot from the chorus,