How else to portray the lit topics in the current (Oct 18) issue of THE NEW REPUBLIC?
First we see a long review by archeologist James Wood about a novel by archeologist David Lodge about Ur-Fossil Henry James. This could be called giving us the Fossil a layer removed. At the James "dig," Lodge penetrates only to Level III, Wood explains, while he has made it all the way to Level II! (They haven't gotten down to the Fossil itself, but are getting close.)
In other words, Lodge affects to adopt the style and mentality of the Fossil, as a reaction to rival archeologist Colm Toibin, who got to the well-trod location before Lodge but was able to penetrate only to Level IV. Not good enough! Wood haughtily scrutinizes the work of both of the James experts and in his report gives us HIS version of the hallowed coagulated James style:
"Of course, these slack, easy, inherited phrases are in themselves disappointing, bespeaking a writer for whom style is any old garment, grabbed without reflection from a closet of despair. But they have a particular gravity, they commit a special sin when wrapped around a writer so massively attentive to cliche and formulaic idiom. " Etc.
(I'm in a closet of despair having to read this.) But methinks Wood doth bespeak the true style of Fossil Level II! A momentous event for the small coterie of James authorities scattered across the planet. It remains for James Wood to present his findings before the National Geographical Society, with Toibin and Lodge present in the audience to contest them. This could make for as uncertain but lively a settlement as when Peary and Cook battled to be discoverer of the North Pole.
These experts conducting lengthy digs for fossilized literature will shortly be upstaged. One can guess that at this moment enterprising genetic biologists ("Unfair!" Toibin, Lodge, and Wood shout in protest; "An alternate discipline!") are using DNA samples in a laboratory to bring back to life the Henry James Fossil Himself. Then HE, the genuine Fossil will once again step forward to show the Pretenders, the Fossil Wannabes, how to do it-- boring what remains of literature's audience in the process.
But we'll be able to proclaim that literary explorers have truly and at last reached Level I.
(As fitting follow-up, this TNR issue also contains a review of a crumbly book by yet another fossilized James aficionado, Cynthia Ozick.)