Of Ears Essayist

Of Ears Essayist-90
To title this one the idea of a literary education, concludes by laying out Epstein’s manifestly essayistic take on life: A literary education teaches that human nature is best, if always incompletely, understood through the examination of individual cases […].

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When he blundered into the University of Chicago, it was, he admits, at the time anyone could get admitted. “In the stumbling way of earnest young men from unbookish homes, I attempted to educate myself,” Epstein explains.“As Robert Root walks through the Wisconsin landscape, he reads the windblown hay field, the dripping green wood, and the crooked blue river with as much care and precision as the three writers he’s following: Muir, Leopold, and Derleth.”—Tom Montgomery Fate.“Root's celebration of pristine places is a valentine to a small region that inspired giants of conservation.” – Foreword Reviews "With its multiple modes (vignette, meditation, photograph, ekphrasis), it subverts and redefines memoir, always asking how a person might seek to know himself within the larger context of nation and history.Epstein is an essayist of the old school — learned, productive, and available to many occasions.A man gifted with a wit both cutting and self-deprecating, and an easy command of the many syntactic variations of the periodic sentence, he also has a fearless willingness to assert a view — and this, as any reader of the essay knows, is the drive wheel of the whole business, never mind if that view is widely shared or unpopular.The second part of the book, in personal terms the richest, is entitled “Memoir” and gives a portrait in overlapping narrations of Epstein’s coming of age in Chicago.Born in 1937, he hit his American-boy stride early, ducking out from his middle-class Jewish home-life to sample from the fringier side of things, getting himself to cathouses as soon as he could drive a car, consorting with fast-track betting types, in every way a proto-Bellow character.Allen Ginsberg may have claimed to see the best minds of his generation “destroyed by madness / starving hysterical naked” and so forth, but it seemed to me that some of the best minds of the generation before mine had been devoted to literature, and I attempted to follow them.Where the book-life begins, however, the self-narrative fades.And this is where the problems — or let me say, speaking as a reviewer, “disagreements” — arise.For Epstein is completely tethered to a core narrative about our culture, and from this everything follows, including the denunciations that start to deaden in their repetitions.

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