What is strangest in Roger Rosenblatt’s “How To Write Great“? Not a question Rosenblatt would like. The essay, which appears in Saturday’s New York Times book review, praises moral, heroic writing and disdains the “weird,” the “self-conscious” and the “strange.” And yet it is an essay bristling with the bizarre, a menagerie of misreadings. Here are three moments that most puzzled me.
1. The citation of Quixote as an example of “Honor, heroism, decency, justice and ‘Ah, love, let us be true to one another’ writing.” But Cervantes, after all, was joking. The “burdens of civilization” in Don Quixote are carried by irony, by the light-hearted but epochal imagined dissolution of feudal heroism into—gasp, invention—that “loose, baggy monster,” the new form of the novel. If you don’t appreciate self-consciousness, irony, cynicism, or invention, then why are you praising Quixote?