Other stories scrape at real themes:nthe suicide of a close friend, parenthood.nOthers parody them—for instance,nmarriage. But Sontag nevernlets anything happen: in the end shenalways has the better of herself. Thisnis because with all her braggadocio,nSontag is guarded, terribly guarded,nabout what really matters to her. Nondiscretion could match the hesitationnof her indiscretion.nAbove all, these stories have no feeling.nThey exist in unacknowledgedndread, in dread of modesty, of moderation,nand of that simplicity that onlyncomes with love, which marks mostnserious artists, Godard, Truffaut, Grass.nUpdike, incidentally flees this simplicityn—but, at least, in contrast to Sontag,nhe knows it’s there, always just beyondnhis grasp.nSontag goes to the wrong teachers in,nfor her, the wrong place, Europe, andnthe wrong time, mostly the nineteenthncentury. She writes as if she had readneverything, but she has not read PaulnGoodman, especially his short stories —nat least they do not appear in her cataloguesnand lists. This is too bad, for shencould have learned a lot from Goodman.nGoodman did a lot of the things Sontagnwants to do but dares not. He did themnbetter, honestly, intelligently—and hentook his chances. Goodman understoodnthe truth to be uncomfortable. Hensensed the flattery endemic to much ofnour life—which shows itself most blatantlynin the advertising, in the “humanninterest” stories in newspapers. Hensensed the dread that smoulders underneathnthis flattery. I never saw himnwithout being frightened. His storiesnand some of his prose did that to younalso. As a result he still receives thenhighest praise, from those who do forncritics: to be reviled as an “immoral”nscribbler after his death (see Joseph Epsteinnin Commentary, February 1978).nSontag wants Goodman’s straightforwardnessnin her work. But she doesnnot have the courage for it—so she isnmerely modish, arrogant and contemptuous,nself-indulgent. Deeply ashamed.n8nChronicles of Culturenshe is resolutely shameless. There is innher work hardly an untoward move—nonsurprised acknowledgement of an unexpectednthought. Her words do not refernto nature or to nature’s God, but ton”history” which pretends to give us thenassurance of philosophy without itsndepth or its “honest truth”—a beautifulnphrase disappearing now from our languagenwithout notice, as if men could nonlonger feel the air they breathe encouragenthem. For her and the world sheninsists on as if it were the only one,nthere is neither property nor friendshipnnorwealthbut only possessions, contactsnand money, no self-love but narcissism,nno pride but vanity, no intelligence butnonly brilliance. She is a gang leader, antomboy, bossy, brilliant but ignorant,nwillfully ignorant, and, therefore, willfullynugly, fearful of everything (againnwithout knowing it) except emptinessnand the confusion of emptiness with assertion.nShe is afraid of the piercingnBad Manners as GeniusnRichard Price: Ladies’ Man; HoughtonnMifflin Company; Boston.nby Lev NavrozovnIhe name of the author indicatednon the cover is, indeed, Richard Price.nBut the “novel … is narrated” (as thenjacket blurb points out) by a fictitiousnKenny Becker, a New York door-to-doornsalesman. In a certain stream of modernnAmerican literature, salesmen are symbolsn(or stereotypes) of smug, coarsenPhilistinism. Therefore, I cannot verynwell say, for example, that Mr. Price’sntext is trite. I read books like Ladies’nMan only as a reviewer (and enjoy themnabout as much as a physician enjoys thencase histories of obvious and commonndiseases as told by ill-mannered patients).nYet even I have the sensationnMr. Navrozov, a Russian writer andnliterary critic, now lives in New York.nnnword that cannot be denied, that is selfevident—whichnis what Goodman alwaysndelivered as an artist, so that therenwas nothing of the stink of grandeurnabout him, nothing of the charlatan,nnothing of the trickster, but only bare,nplain prose reminiscent of Aristotle’snlove of the world, and his confidencenthat the soul lived in nature, that reasonnlived; with always a sentence in each ofnhis stories that glowed with love—andnso his art, barren and wretched as itnoften is, can, in its thirst for plain truth,nremind you of prayer.niN either journalist nor artist norncritic, but a journalist when she wouldnbe an artist, an artist when she wouldnbe a journalist, and a snob when shenwould be a critic, Sontag is in business.nShe is enough of an amateur tonmake me want to take her seriously.nBut I cannot. Dnthat I have read, for example, the brotheln(“massage-parlor”) scene before fPortnoy’snComplaint?). At the beginning ofnthe century, a Russian author namednKuprin wrote a novel about a brothel.nAt that time this was at least new.nPortnoy ‘s Complaint or Ladies ‘Man addnnothing to Kuprin (considered a minornauthor) except a kind of harsh, sterile,n”puritanical” ability to make everythingninhuman, dead and repulsive. Suchnbooks could well be handed out free asntracts to preach puritanism, nay, celibacy,nmass suicide, communism ornfascism.nNo, I cannot say this. The novel isnnarrated by a door-to-door salesman.nSince when are American stereotypedndoor-to-door salesmen writers or thinkers.”nPerhaps the fictitious salesman hasnread a “hell of a lot” of books like Portnoy’snComplaint and has now churnednout one of his own, as hopeless literarynhams often do. The more imitative.n