Joseph Epstein and Palinolatory

I can’t believe Doctorate Discourse has lasted a week. Here’s the deal: WSJ op ed & subsequent attacks are motivated by hatred of Joe Biden, with Jill Biden being used as a surrogate target. They should be dismissed as nasty & sexist, without arguments dignified as serious.

Jeet Heer’s tweet goes to why my Joseph Epstein commentary began with his unabashed praise of Sarah Palin [scroll down] during that election cycle. A hyper-scrupulous aesthete/critic who above all admires the writing of Henry James, Epstein claimed to find Sarah Palin more than intellectually and morally astute enough to assume the presidency.

Heet is correct that Epstein is best seen as a political hack, doing what hacks do — in his praise of Palin, a woman who embodies everything for which he actually has contempt, and in his attack on Jill Biden.

Joseph Epstein’s Three Minutes of Fame…

… are ticking away as we speak, so UD will be quick about this: She knew him rather well at Northwestern University in the ‘seventies. He thought highly of wee UD‘s writing, and indeed was so insistent that she launch a career just like his — freelance person of letters – that he became quite annoyed when UD decided to go to graduate school in English. He seems to have felt betrayed.

I mean, it was all a kind of compliment, and I remember genially taking it as such, even though Epstein was ungenial in his interactions with my twentyish self.

He condescended. I didn’t take it personally, since he (along with his buddy Erich Heller) was, with virtually everyone, snippy and snobby.

Huge numbers of years on, Epstein has gone and been snobby with Jill Biden — though, curiously, back in 2016, he attacked other snobs for being snobby in regard to Sarah Palin, whose cultural superiority he indignantly defended. Same unfortunate background as Biden – public universities, degrees in girl fields – but as the running mate of Epstein’s presidential choice, Palin would somehow have to be pedigreed; whereas, given Biden’s political connections, she’d need to be a mutt. Sarah Palin abundantly deserved the title Vice President, but Jill Biden doesn’t even deserve “Dr.,” and would do better to content herself with There There Little First Lady.

Not much to see here, in other words. By the time they’re in their eighties, most people – especially if they’re cranks – have long been ignored by the world. Joseph Epstein is to be commended for having kept his name on the page, even unto the final petulance. Good boy.



The [NU] Department [of English] is aware that a former adjunct lecturer who has not taught here in nearly 20 years has published an opinion piece

They don’t even name him. (For good measure, his faculty page has been removed from the university’s website.) For a person who cares about status as much as Epstein does, and for a person who believes that he’s famous, this brief no-name dismissal must hurt as much as Trump’s brief no-name Supreme Court dismissal.

Knowing Epstein (having known him long ago), UD anticipates that is he working already on a vindictive short story featuring easily identifiable actors in this Biden episode. After Saul Bellow ended their friendship, Epstein wrote one such story about Bellow; he wrote several vindictive stories about lesser-known people.

Which is fine – one of the venerable motives for writing is the destruction of people who have hurt you and/or people you have come to hate. Nothing wrong with it. Give it your best shot, kiddo.

God and Man at Trump University

Jonathan Chait writes:

Trump has … exposed [a] deep insecurity among right-wing intellectuals: the fear that their movement appeals to rubes. The conservative movement’s tightening grip over the Republican Party has coincided with its elevation of leaders incapable of explaining their policies cogently. Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Sarah Palin all drew the disdain of liberal elites for their reliance on simplistic aphorisms and poor grasp of detail, humiliating conservative intellectuals, who defended the keen minds of their heroes. Whether or not Donald Trump the human being is intelligent, there’s no question that “Donald Trump,” presidential candidate, is not. His entire campaign operates well below the level of rational thought — it’s all boasting, absurd promises, repetitive sloganeering, and abuse. Just as email scammers intentionally salt their messages with typos in order to weed out anyone educated enough to see through their swindle, allowing them to focus on the most gullible, Trump seems to consciously repel anyone possessed of a brain.

It has indeed been strange, over the years, for UD to read impassioned defenses of people like Sarah Palin from people like Joseph Epstein:

Here is a woman raising five children who is able not only to have an active hand in the life of her community but actually win the highest political office in her state. As the governor of Alaska, moreover, she took on the corrupt elements in her own party, which requires courage …

Once a Northwestern University literature professor, once editor of American Scholar, Epstein of all contemporary essayists has prided himself on his own high literacy and his championing of only the most cogent and brilliant of writers (Henry James in particular). It was remarkable to UD — who knew Epstein when she attended Northwestern and found him as scrupulous a speaker, writer, and cultural critic as most of his published work suggests — it was remarkable to find him, in 2008, employing his pellucid writing in service to Palin.

If the founder of Trump University becomes the Republican nominee, as seems likely, it will be interesting to see which Epsteins step up to spend their intellectual capital on him.

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