Jim had vast reservoirs of bitterness. Though he’d had 30-odd years as a full professor at a major research university and written three books of criticism—he’s still sometimes cited in studies of Melville, Conrad, Faulkner, Chandler, and indeed Wittgenstein—he felt his career hadn’t gone the way he wanted. He didn’t like the way literary studies had gone. His one bid for literary glory—a novel about gambling called Action (Dial, 1972) that still has a following among connoisseurs of the genre—was, he claimed, ripped off and made into a film called The Gambler (1974) starring James Caan. I can’t say whether this is true or not, but how many stories about gambling English professors who end up owing money to the mob are out there? Caan even looks rather like Jim does in his author photo for Action. (Jim was doubly offended because the film replaces horse racing with college basketball and, again, betting on sports was unsportsmanlike.) Still, despite his bitterness, he retained his enthusiasm for teaching. A surprising amount of Silver Kings is devoted to teaching, not so much about his own endeavors in the classroom as about those significant encounters in his life with teachers and coaches who helped him discover and develop abilities he hadn’t been aware he possessed. In the “Acknowledgments” to Wittgenstein and the Grammar of Literary Experience, Jim thanks two of his own professors at Amherst—Theodore Baird and Armour Craig—for their role in his development as a thinker and a writer, saying “The best teaching lasts” (x). It does.
Frost, Robert. Collected Poems, Prose, & Plays. New York: Library of America, 1995.
Guetti, James. Wittgenstein and the Grammar of Literary Experience. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1993.
Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations (3rd ed.) New York: Macmillan, 1968.