Joseph Epstein sees himself through four eyes.Jun 30, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 40 • By JOSEPH EPSTEIN
Of late, the last four years or so, I rarely go out for long without being praised. I am praised not for my writing, my perspicacity, my elegant bearing, my youthful good looks, my extreme modesty, but for my eyeglasses. “Nice glasses,” strangers say to me. “Like your glasses,” they say. “Love those glasses,” is a refrain I hear at least once a week. “Where did you get those glasses?” people wearing glasses of their own often ask me. “Thank you for your kind words about these glasses,” I have taken to answering. “They are my best feature.”
The frames of my glasses are round, large, heavy, and dappled with an emphatic tortoiseshell. Although they are bifocals, I do not need them full-time. I work at my computer without them. I don’t need them to watch television. I sometimes leave my apartment without them. Clearly, though, when I do wear them they dominate my face. Were I to commit a crime, they are probably the first thing that witnesses to it would recall about me.
A few Sundays ago, I was walking in the neighborhood when a middle-aged woman, in tights and doing a power walk, paused to say, “Love your glasses.” I told her I much liked the glasses she was wearing. She told me she has several pairs of glasses at home. “Glasses are jewelry for the face,” she said, and humped and pumped her way down the street.
Some glasses make one look forbidding. I think here of those rimless spectacles that suggest an older banker foreclosing on one’s mortgage. Other glasses make one look owlish. As an older man, Cary Grant wore black-framed glasses that made him even more elegant. Senator Carl Levin of Michigan wears half-glasses low on the nose that do not work well with his sad comb-over.
When I grew up, wearing glasses of any kind was considered a serious detraction, a handicap of sorts. “Men seldom make passes,” Dorothy Parker wrote, “at girls who wear glasses.” Men who wore them were thought bookish, make that bookwormish, nerdy avant la lettre. “Four-eyes” was the put-down term of choice used against those who did. As if to illustrate how much this has changed, For Eyes is today one of the nation’s leading optical franchises. Naming a company after an insult—only in America.
I did not need to wear glasses until my mid-forties. I have not in the least minded wearing them thereafter. Thirty or forty years ago, many people still did mind. For those who could afford them, contact lenses were the first solution. The solution was not always a successful one. People who wore them seemed fairly regularly to lose a contact lens. I’ve seen professional basketball games stopped while players, down on their hands and knees, hunted for a teammate’s lost contact lens. Contact lenses are more efficient today, and some people wear them purely for cosmetic reasons to change the color of their eyes, a touch that has always struck me as positively Persian Empire in its decadence.
Not many movie stars have worn glasses. Harold Lloyd, the silent-film star did; and so, too, does Woody Allen, the too-talky film star. No women regularly wore glasses in movies. A standard movie bit, though, had a female star playing a spinster, perhaps a librarian, until at the appropriate point in the story her glasses would come off, the bun at the back of her head would be loosed to release a luxuriant growth of hair, and—presto change-o—she turns into a sexpot.
Monocle-wearing men used to appear in English movies; Adolphe Menjou might have donned a monocle in a flick or two. Did Margaret Dumont use a lorgnette, glasses on a stem, in the Marx Brothers’ A Day at the Opera? The University of Chicago philosophy teacher Allan Bloom, who went in for lavish haberdashery, affected a pince-nez late in life, which even with his florid personality did not quite come off.
In the 1970s, I was on a cruise of the Greek Islands on which the political journalist I. F. Stone was a fellow passenger. Stone wore Coke-bottle-thick lenses in rimless glasses. Magooishly, he made his way among monuments and sculptures. At one point, in the museum at Olympia, I watched him inspect the detail of a dazzling Hermes statue from a distance of three feet through binoculars.
As for my own glasses, a friend who hadn’t seen me for a few years remarked that they seemed to be getting bigger and bigger. Is it possible that eventually they will take over my face and then my personality, and I shall become little more than tortoiseshell on legs, which sounds like the perfect donnée for a story by Kafka? I haven’t yet written it, but its working title is “The Man Who Made a Spectacles of Himself.”
Jun 23, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 39 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
Our friend and contributor Joseph Epstein once called himself a “serious dilettante,” which he defined as “someone who feels he needs to know nearly everything, but not all that much of any one thing in particular and certainly nothing in the kind of depth that will weigh him down.”
Erich Auerbach and the understanding of literature. Jun 16, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 38 • By JOSEPH EPSTEIN
T.S. Eliot thought that the first requisite for being a literary critic is to be very intelligent. The second, I should say, is to have a well-stocked mind, which means having knowledge of literatures and literary traditions other than that into which one was born; possessing several languages; and acquiring a more than nodding acquaintance with history, philosophy, and theology—to be, in brief, learned. To be both highly intelligent and learned is not all that common. Eliot claimed for himself—and this by implication, for he was a modest man—only the former.
From ‘student-athletes’ to ‘worker-athletes’?Apr 28, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 31 • By JOSEPH EPSTEIN
The great American fraud that dare not speak its name, though anyone who owns a television set is aware of it, is college athletics. Amateur though they are supposed to be, the only thing truly amateur about them is that they do not pay the (supposed) students who play them, at least not directly.
Joseph Epstein, gluten-free.Feb 17, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 22 • By JOSEPH EPSTEIN
Men, it is said, do not like to go to doctors. Clearly I qualify here. I have long considered myself a Christian Scientist, minus the Christian part. A realist in my taste in fiction, I am a fantasist in my views about physiology. I prefer, that is, to pretend that I do not have such organs as a liver, spleen, and kidneys, and like to think of the duodenum as a doo-wop group from the late 1950s.
Joseph Epstein coins a conditionDec 23, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 15 • By JOSEPH EPSTEIN
The Nobel Prize in Medicine has already been given for this year, but I should like to get a jump on next year’s prize by describing and naming a mental condition from which untold millions suffer. The condition is not anything so devastating as dementia. Most people who have it manage to work around it.
The shrewd eye, and elegant prose, of Red Smith. Oct 14, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 06 • By JOSEPH EPSTEIN
The best writing in newspapers, it used to be said, was in the sports pages. Variously known as the toy department or the playpen or the peanut stand, its interest restricted to matters of supreme inconsequence, the sports pages allowed the people who filled them more latitude for the prose equivalent of fancy footwork. In sports, after all, not that much was at stake: men in funny costumes batting a ball around—or, as in football and boxing, batting one another around—or running round tracks, on foot or in machines or atop horses.
Joseph Epstein on the wisdom of the dumb phone.Sep 2, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 48 • By JOSEPH EPSTEIN
Cell phones today in America are of course endemic, if not epidemic. On one of the thoroughfares in the youthful neighborhood in which I live, I can sometimes walk an entire block without passing anyone not on or gazing down at or thumb-pumping his or her cell phone. Everyone has seen three or four people sitting at a restaurant table, each one of them on a cell phone. Or a young couple who should be looking longingly into each other’s eyes looking instead into their cell phones.
What is the humor in Jewish jokes? Aug 19, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 46 • By JOSEPH EPSTEIN
'Two Jews, each with a parrot on his shoulder, are in front of a synagogue,” Hyman Ginsburg begins to tell his friend Irv Schwartz, when the latter interrupts.
“Hy, old pal, don’t you have any jokes that aren’t about Jews?”
Ginsburg replies that of course he does, and begins again: “Two samurai meet on a dark night on the outskirts of Kyoto. The next day is Yom Kippur . . .”
A famous/notorious novel yields its progeny. Aug 5, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 44 • By JOSEPH EPSTEIN
A succès de scandale if ever there was one, Portnoy’s Complaint, Philip Roth’s fourth book of fiction, will soon be 45 years old. At the center of the novel’s scandalousness, which recounts the 33-year-old Alexander Portnoy’s reporting to his psychoanalyst the emergence of his repressed desires growing up in a middle-class Jewish home, was its emphasis on masturbation, or “the secret vice,” as the Victorian medical encyclopedias used to call it.
The gimlet eye of Saul Steinberg.Mar 11, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 25 • By JOSEPH EPSTEIN
At a celebration at UCLA of the career of Eugen Weber, the Romanian-born historian of France, I made the mistake of describing Eugen as an exile. In his response to the tributes paid him, Eugen corrected me, remarking that he had never considered himself an exile. “From the moment I attained consciousness,” he said, “I wanted to leave Romania. The place is a dump.”
‹‹ More Recent