Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Speaking of Mencken

So what exactly does the term Menckenesque mean, and how did the holder of that particular copyright, a figure who was by today's standards exceedingly unlovable, retain his stature as ''a tremendous liberating force in American culture''?

Answers to questions about Mencken's true identity and the nature of his appeal are to be found in Terry Teachout's biography of him, ''The Skeptic,'' which is as brisk and smart, as smooth-as-silk an account as we're likely to find. Mr. Teachout, who is the music critic for Commentary magazine and a contributor to many publications (including The New York Times), has swallowed Mencken whole in this book, warts and all. There's admiration of him but no sanitizing of a man who, in Mr. Teachout's unblinkered view, was not only unequivocally anti-Semitic but, perhaps worse, given what Mencken supposedly stood for, something of a philistine himself.

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from a NYT review of Teachout's 2002 book. There is also a later account by Marion Elizabeth Rodgers.

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