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This article is taken from PN Review 244, Volume 45 Number 2, November - December 2018.

on Arthur Krystal

The Lamentations of Arthur Krystal
Tony Roberts
If you think that Buffy the Vampire Slayer deserves to be the subject of an academic dissertation in English or that the Tarzan books belong in the literary canon because they have been anointed by the Library of America, then you are living at the right time. Elitist literary culture is as defunct as Buffalo Bill, a semi-elitist reference that thirty or forty years ago would have been familiar to serious readers.

AS JEREMIAHS GO, Arthur Krystal is an affable, erudite one, who dispenses his opinions with humour but also with steel. As he explains in Except When I Write, he has learned from William Hazlitt: ‘In his wonderful essay “The Fight,” Hazlitt recalls overhearing one man say to another, “Confound it, man, don’t be insipid” and thinking, “that’s a good phrase.”’ Krystal thinks so, too. He does not try to match his master’s ‘subversive wallop’ (nor scorch like Hitchens or garrotte like Epstein) but prefers a tone he once described as provocative but not offensive. Then there is the humour (‘I can only speak for the person who brushes my teeth’), the disarming candour (‘Like most writers, I seem to be smarter in print than in person’) and the literary urbanity (‘After all, a Wildean willfulness to be misunderstood underscores one’s tastes, adding a certain élan to one’s appreciations’). A typical Krystal essay or review balances insight, sense and humour, trawling back through the past of an issue, liberally illustrating it with quotations from interested parties. (For this we forgive him some old targets and the ...

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