December 10, 2005


Roger Shattuck, Scholar, Is Dead at 82 (DOUGLAS MARTIN, 12/10/05, NY Times)

Roger Shattuck, a polyglot scholar and writer whose many subjects ranged from the emergence of modernism to whether some knowledge might be too dangerous to know, died on Thursday at his home in Lincoln, Vt. He was 82.

The cause was prostate cancer, his daughter Patricia said.

Mr. Shattuck's scholarly contributions included writing three books on Marcel Proust, one of which won a National Book Award in 1975. His intellectual journey included a groundbreaking work on the rise of the avant-garde in France in the decades preceding World War I and a provocative examination of the famed "Wild Boy of Aveyron" as a study of how humans develop intelligence. In all, he wrote 16 books, including six translations.

In his later decades, Mr. Shattuck became a caustic, if often witty, opponent of postmodern trends in the study and teaching of literature, including deconstructionism and semiotics, which he contended stripped literature of its intellectual, moral and human environment. In particular, he lamented that the literary world increasingly failed to celebrate the works of classic writers. [...]

Roger Whitney Shattuck was born in Manhattan on Aug. 20, 1923. His father was a successful physician with a brownstone on the East Side.

At Yale, he floundered in a pre-med program, then interrupted college to enlist in the Army Air Force and become a pilot in a combat cargo squadron in the Pacific. He flew a B-25 over Hiroshima a few weeks after the atomic bomb was dropped.

He ruminated about this in his 1996 book "Forbidden Knowledge: From Prometheus to Pornography." He wrote that although the bomb's ending of the war probably saved his life, it raised the question of whether it embodied a knowledge so horrific that it meant man no longer controlled his fate.

The book used myth, literature and other sources to question whether there were some things man was better off not knowing. These ranged from the threat genetic engineering posed to natural selection to what he deemed the violent pornography of Marquis de Sade, whom other writers were lionizing as a great author.

The book provoked a storm of protest, but Mr. Shattuck stopped well short of advocating censorship. He suggested a "wise agnosticism" and the setting of reasonable limits.

In The New York Times, Richard Bernstein called the book a creed to live by.

"The edifice trembles here and there," he wrote, "but it is nonetheless a fine structure, full of dark passages and richly furnished rooms."

Forbidden Knowledge is terrific and his Proust criticism is better than the source material.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 10, 2005 12:00 AM
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