The long-awaited magnum opus of one of the United States's "best, and best-neglected" authors, critics, and tastemakers, In Partial Disgrace chronicles the troubled history of a small Central European nation through the memoirs of its most flamboyant exile: a writer, triple-agent, and bon vivant whose childhood in the fairy-tale house of his dog-trainer father and pagan goddess mother are themselves "translated and edited" by a retired Allied spy.
Splitting the difference between the philosophical fictions of Thomas Mann and the fever-dream playfulness of Nabokov, and featuring a cast of characters, breadth of insight, and degree of stylistic legerdemain to put most contemporary novels to shame, In Partial Disgrace may be the last great work to issue from the generation that changed American letters in the '60s and '70s.
Charles Newman (1938-2006) was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and grew up in Chicago's northern suburbs. He graduated summa cum laude from Yale, won the Bellamy Prize for best thesis in American history, and subsequently received a Woodrow Wilson fellowship, which he used for graduate study at Balliol College, Oxford.
In 1964, after a period in the Air Force Reserves, Newman became an instructor in the English department at Northwestern University and took over the campus literary magazine, known as TriQuarterly, which he soon transformed into "an international journal showcasing the world's most eminent writers." (The New York Times) In 1975 he became director of the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars, leaving in 1980 to raise hunting dogs in the Shenandoah Valley. He returned to teaching in 1985 at Washington University in St. Louis, and remained on the faculty there until his death in 2006. During his lifetime he received the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Guggenheim grant, and a Rockefeller award, and was selected twice for Best American Short Stories.
One day, when the Professor was waxing particularly effusive about a schnauzer whose mania for shredding had been softened measurably, he blurted out, "Let's leave off the uglies, Councilor. You realize in all this time you haven't really shown off your own animals. I want to see good dogs today, the best dogs—the emblem I should aspire to!"
Father took off his hat, lowered his head, and looked directly at his esteemed friend's heart, as if to gauge his sincerity. Then he took a step backward and looked him up and down.
"Very well," he spoke in measured tones, "but you deserve nothing less than the whole play. And it's spring, you know. Man isn't up to any good, and neither is nature."
The difference between them, after all, was that the Professor truly believed he was the first mortal to set foot into the mind, and like every true colonial assumed that mere priority allowed him to name it and submit it to his laws. My father, who had preceded him there and left as rapidly as he could, knew with his layman's tick that what you give your name to only makes you liable for its eventual perversions, and that while the ferns of the world may give way around your stride, they immediately pop back up,covering your tracks as though you never passed. Father also, in retrospect, had made an elemental mistake, not realizing that the exercise of personal modesty, which had won my mother, does not often work as well with men, for modesty in men is simply inverted pride. The Professor was not content with intimacy, but only unreserved mutual admiration, and my father believed that he could wean him from this course.
It was in this spirit that Felix summoned Rubato and Nimbus, models of the Chetvorah, parented by Sirius and Isisirene, the brightest constellation yet projected on the dome of dogdom. Brother and sister, they could hardly be distinguished from one another at two years of age, save for Rubato's gallant poise, which made him the better pointer, and the passionate devotion of Nimbus, which made her an indefatigable retriever.
Returning the schnauzer to the kennels, we walked around to the rear of the house and down the lawn to Cherith's Brook. Father turned on his heel, gazing back to the tower of his den, and blew two syllables on a silver whistle, a bass and a deeper quartertone, the second phrase of Schubert's Unfinished. Immediately the pair appeared on the den's balcony (as usual, they had flung themselves with a sob under his desk upon his departure), and then with tempered passion they flashed across the southern sky, turning extraordinary caprioles in the air. Emerging from a circular pool behind a cypress hedge, then bolting through the broken garden gate, they stormed toward us, unfolding their forces as their wet ribcages realigned with each stride—flews loose, underlips shortened, teeth gleaming in the sun.
The Professor's heart had dropped when they leapt, fearing the worst, and now it did again as their clear-veined legs and drawn-in haunches seemed to promise more than virile virtue, bringing back the awe and helplessness he had felt at the Cossack-like charge of the Astingi boy on his pony.
The animal's bodies lurched on a centrifugal plane like dervishes, and as they neared us, rather than stopping, they took on the masters (Rubato attending the Hauptzuchtwart, Nimbus the stranger) with a sudden upward lunge, snapping at the men's faces as if to bite their noses off. The Professor had already recoiled, but as the jaws of Nimbus passed by his head, she planted a floating air-kiss on his lips, half-tenderly, half-mischievously, beslobbering his defensive, outthrust arm. Then began the dance of welcome and salutation—prodigious waggings of hindquarters, violent tugs of muscles, rapid tramplings, daring vaults, annular contractions, far-flung leaps, and the indubitable claw-flamenco.
Their cut tails were vibrating to quick-time, their rosy riffled mouths exposed. Then Father quietly spoke their favorite words—"Ru-ba-to, Nim-bus"—and with a single leap they were at his side, shoulder blades against his shinbones like statues, each with a white whorl on its chest. Father put them in a double-harness, and without another word we set off for the forest where the juiciest ferns grow thick and the deer congregate to escape the midday heat. The birds stopped singing.
"One of our most exciting and unpredictable writers, with an amazing range of styles and worlds." - Joyce Carol Oates
"A writer's writer . . . The beauty of his prose is the reason his books work."
- John Gardner
"A writer of convulsively original and beautiful works." - Robert Boyers
"Among the best, and best-neglected, American authors." - Joshua Cohen
"A novelist of formidable abilities and excitement" - The Chicago Tribune
THE POST-MODERN AURA
"The best thing I've read on the state of American culture in a long time." - Christopher Lasch
"Marvelously incisive and endlessly quotable . . . Brief, pungent essays, as thoughtful as they are witty" - The Christian Science Monitor
"Mr. Newman is a brilliant, if relentless, preacher, and his book should be read for its marvelous hyperboles and scathing wit." - The New York Times
"A brilliant, wide-ranging, often scathing analysis of 'post-modernist' culture. Energetic, often eloquent, and very challenging." - Kirkus Review
"I don't know Newman the novelist, but the social critic lets off Angst through brilliant turgidness. His language made my fat Random House dictionary do futile nose wheelies: sublation, orismology, ludic, Adiaphora, epidemia, Epigonentem." - National Review
"Just about anyone who was interested in art and fiction in the 1980s read [Newman]'s stirring, much debated, much disputed, often scorned, often loved polemical work, The Post-Modern Aura." - Robert Boyers
"Highly quotable and highly witty . . . turns a wicked phrase on the average of two to three times per page. [Newman] uses wit and rare talent for aphorism to anatomize the situation - How did we get here? Where do we go from here? What's "here"? - The Boston Globe
"To ordinary literary cultural polemics what an anti-personnel bomb is to your standard mortar shell . . . Clint Eastwood with a Ph.D in the history of consciousness . . . Newman is mad as hell, and his book is a veritable arsenal of invective." - The Los Angeles Times
"The most important piece of cultural criticism since Sontag's "Against Interpretation" or Mailer's "Armies of the Night." - Charles Molesworth
"Crackles with intelligence, with a kind of aggrieved life. Revels in its own invidiousness, its wounded will to power." - Ihab Hassan
"Alive and arresting, capturing the oppressiveness of this concrete-and-electronic world. A demonstration of the philosophy and talents of an extremely intelligent writer." - The New York Times
"It would be hard to find a more up-to-the-minute, glancingly satiric, or uniformly smart book." - Kirkus Reviews
THERE MUST BE MORE TO LOVE THAN DEATH
"A small masterpiece, the kind of delicately brutal work we might have wished Catch 22 to actually have been." - Joyce Carol Oates
"One of the most interesting, intelligent, and, I suspect, secretly optimistic prophets of doom now writing fiction . . . A glorious farce." - John Gardner
A CHILD'S HISTORY OF AMERICA
"Wild generous pained trips, a great montage of insights, anecdotes, polemics . . . overflowingly persuasive." - The New York Times
"The improbable product of a brilliant, original, discriminating intelligence." - The Antioch Review
"Radically new and exciting." - The Washington Post
"Newman's sentences are almost too elegant; his suburban lanes go 'wandering, gutterless, glistening in heat or rain, taking gasping names-forged Indian, appropriated Anglo-Saxon, elated misnomers.' His satire, however, is subtle and precise, as when he sums up his hero in one exquisitely sly little slide-away line: 'I never had a chance to be a stranger myself.'" - Time
"The world has a major new novelist." - The Detroit News
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