Kate Roiphe writes about changing attitudes about sex in the new generation of male writers. From the NYT Sunday Book Review, January 3, 2010.
For a literary culture that fears it is on the brink of total annihilation, we are awfully cavalier about the Great Male Novelists of the last century. It has become popular to denounce those authors, and more particularly to deride the sex scenes in their novels. Even the young male writers who, in the scope of their ambition, would appear to be the heirs apparent have repudiated the aggressive virility of their predecessors.
After reading a sex scene in Philip Roth’s latest novel, “The Humbling,” someone I know threw the book into the trash on a subway platform. It was not exactly feminist rage that motivated her. We have internalized the feminist critique pioneered by Kate Millett in “Sexual Politics” so completely that, as one of my students put it, “we can do the math ourselves.” Instead my acquaintance threw the book away on the grounds that the scene was disgusting, dated, redundant. But why, I kept wondering, did she have to throw it out? Did it perhaps retain a little of the provocative fire its author might have hoped for? Dovetailing with this private and admittedly limited anecdote, there is a punitive, vituperative quality in the published reviews that is always revealing of something larger in the culture, something beyond one aging writer’s failure to produce fine enough sentences. All of which is to say: How is it possible that Philip Roth’s sex scenes are still enraging us?