Kudos for Terry Castle’s The Professor — “the prime-cut book of the year”


Castle: Love me tender

Speaking of The Chronicle of Higher Education … In the onslaught of the holiday season, we rather lost track of Terry Castle‘s honors.  Her The Professor and Other Writings was named one of the top ten books of the year by New York Magazine, which praised her “big human stew of tones: goofy, analytical, slangy, raw, confessional.” It was also among BookForum’s “favorite books of 2010” by which noted that Terry’s “radical candor makes it hard to enlist her under any ideological or political banner, and this recalcitrance alone gives her book an invaluable civic function.”  Amazon also named it #2 among its top ten books in gay and lesbian studies.

But Carlin Romano in the Dec. 12 Chronicle of Higher Education provided the pièce de résistance:

Looking back at the year in criticism between hard covers, one finds lines lingering in the mind, and not a few belong to Terry Castle. Her images of Susan Sontag as “sibylline and hokey and often a great bore,” a “bedazzling, now-dead, she-eminence.” Her self-portrait as a “japing, naysaying, emotionally stunted creature,” the “Spoiled Avocado Professor of English at Silicon Valley University.” …

Castle’s own self-grasped pathology (“Sontag was the Supremo and I the obsequious gofer”) makes the essay a masterpiece on the anxiety of influence in intellectual life. Yet deftly woven in, with all her other jewels of insight, is the superb, ruthless, spot-on assessment of Sontag as a “great comic character,” one with whom Dickens, Flaubert, or James “would have had a field day.” For Castle, “the carefully cultivated moral seriousness—strenuousness might be a better word—coexisted with a fantastical, Mrs. Jellyby absurdity. Sontag’s complicated and charismatic sexuality was part of this comic side of her life. The high-mindedness, the high-handedness, commingled with a love of gossip, drollery, and seductive acting out.”

Romano concludes: “If this is the higher potty mouth, bring it on. Castle remarks at one point that ‘the tenderness between lesbians and straight men is the real Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name.’ OK, love me tender. For any gourmet of cultural criticism with an unabashed taste for truth, this is the prime-cut book of the year.”

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