Sunday, August 30, 2015

Oliver Sacks, Uniqueness of Genius, and "the likes of" 95% of Reviewers and Critics

            Lazy reviewers display their witlessness in variations of “exhaustive and exhausting.” Another phrase much in vogue with slovenly reviewers, “mind-numbing detail,” suggests that their minds came to their assigned task pre-numbed. Reviewers who dismissively pat a biographer on the head as “indefatigable” reveal that they have never devoted much effort to any intellectual or aesthetic enterprise, certainly not to the creation of something monumental in difficulty and size. Having particular reviewers in mind, I wrote sympathetically in my biography (2:688) that while writing Clarel Melville “was fatigable, and often desperately fatigued, but he persisted; ‘indefatigable’ is offered as perfunctory praise only by superficial critics who have no idea what real work is.”

          IQ-challenged reviewers resort to "the likes of"--"the likes of F. O. Matthiessen," "the likes of Eudora Welty and Gilbert Sorrentino," "the likes of Germaine Greer, Patti Hearst, Sonia Orwell, Alice James, and Vita Sackville-West," "The likes of Clay Aiken and Marilyn Manson," "the likes of David Ansen, Manola Dargis, and Scott Foundas." Would I have made up any of these? Oh, no, and this is just a sample. Think about it. The "likes of Jay Leyda." The likes of Harrison Hayford, the likes of Walter Bezanson, the likes of Joyce Deveau Kennedy, the likes of Stan Garner, the likes of Wilson Heflin. I lament the dead, people the likes of Paul Love, Jim Meriwether, Henry Binder, Noel Polk, and Brian Higgins? Oh no. No one was like Jim Meriwether. No one was like Paul Lobe. No one was like Henry Binder. No one was like Noel Polk. No one was like Brian Higgins.

         This is brought on by the eloquence of Oliver Sacks:

I have been increasingly conscious, for the last 10 years or so, of deaths among my contemporaries. My generation is on the way out, and each death I have felt as an abruption, a tearing away of part of myself. There will be no one like us when we are gone, but then there is no one like anyone else, ever. When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate — the genetic and neural fate — of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.

So this week when commentators refer fatuously to the "likes of Oliver Sacks" let's celebrate the uniqueness of people we mourn ever day. I am talking about the likes of Maurice Sendak, of course, and the likes of . . . .

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