In response to:
American Plastic: The Matter of Fiction from the July 15, 1976 issue
To the Editors:
Mr. Vidal gives us more credit than we merit [NYR, July 15]. My colleagues are still accommodating to the older fictionists if the truth must be told. Barth, Barthes, Barthelme are still not for us, though perhaps Barthelmess, Dick, that is, may be, in film-fiction somewhere.
The sad fact is that academia is simply not where Mr. Vidal is, nor has it ever been. In the Forties I remember a faculty meeting at then CCNY when Mr. Eliot was solemnly turned down by the Department of English for a visiting appointment on the manifest ground that he had no “earned” doctorate. Bad precedent. The winds of fashion blow wispily through most academic territories.
More recently, Barth, John himself, was blackballed by a department I know on the basis that “we didn’t need another eighteenth-century man.” (Such are the fortunes of academe that “we” are now graced with the world’s two Richard Steele specialists in addition to all of our other eighteenth-century persons.)
We not only don’t teach the new literature, enthusiastically or unenthusiastically (or the new history, or sociology, or philosophy, I suspect), most of the time; we don’t “read” it; we don’t even know it. We don’t know Vidal. (A colleague in modern fiction hadn’t heard of Doctorow a month or so ago.) Is this really Mr. Vidal’s bitch? It’s not a bad one.
University of X