Joseph Epstein: Nostalgia for the Empire and the Closet

Lawrence of Arabia: In the closet and a servant of empire.

My previous essay about Commentary earned me a rebuke from a friend who happens to be a former contributor to that journal. I had suggested that Robert Alter was the only first-rate writer still contributing to Commentary.

What about Joseph Epstein? My friend asked. Or Terry Teachout? Or Ruth Wisse? Or Victor Hanson Davis? Or James Q. Wilson? Or Daniel Pipes?

Most of these are not names that make my heart beat faster when I see them plastered on a magazine cover but I’m happy to make exceptions for Terry Teachout and most especially for Joseph Epstein. I’ve praised both men repeatedly in book reviews.

Epstein is a top-notch personal essayist, who has revived the ruminative, free-ranging tradition of Montaigne and Hazlitt. Among more modern essayists, he’s the peer of Virginia Woolf, James Baldwin, and Gore Vidal (not company he’d be completely comfortable with, sadly).  He’s also a very entertaining short story writer. Mind you, if literature were organized the way baseball was, Epstein wouldn’t be playing with the New York Yankees against heavy-hitters like Alice Munro or Mavis Gallant but would have to have to content himself with life on a farm team in Albany or Akron. Still, the Akron Aeros have some good players and Epstein’s fiction has given me a great deal of pleasure.

  Continue reading