Friday, August 25, 2006

Jedediah Purdy's literary models

Jedediah Purdy grew up in West Virginia and attended Harvard College and Yale Law School. He has served as a fellow at the New America Foundation and the Berkman Center at Harvard Law School.

He is the author of two books--For Common Things and Being America--neither of which I've read. I was interested in his response to the question, Who are your literary models?
They are not so much guides to writing as models of temperament, people who had a clear grasp of the many faces of human nature, and how it interacts with politics. One is Czeslaw Mlosz, the Lithuanian-Polish poet and Nobel laureate, who wrote a great set of essays on intellectuals under the various spells of communisms, which is called The Captive Mind. George Orwell, for his lucidity and his ability to see the hazards of ideology in an intensely ideological time. Michel de Montaigne, because he saw so clearly the dangers of self-certainty and moral arrogance. Isaiah Berlin for his understanding that the human world is too complicated for any single resolution, and his ability to keep a clear moral vision despite that. Among recent books, I have particularly admired Michael Ignatieff’s biography of Berlin, and Mark Lilla’s collection on the attractions of tyranny to intellectuals, The Reckless Mind.
The capsule biography of Purdy when he first came on the literary scene held that he thought there was too much irony in American public life. Perhaps that reputation is unfair, but Todd Pruzan couldn't resist making jest with Purdy's earnestness in McSweeney's. Click here to read "Jedediah in Love."

--Marshal Zeringue