‘The universal reaction to book lists,’ I wrote a few days ago, ‘is annoyance over what has been left out.’ I should have added: followed immediately by an accusation of bias. If you don’t happen to think very highly of a writer—and if, because space limitations make explanation impossible, you are silent about the writer—you will be said to hold a grudge against the class to which the writer belongs. Worse yet, if you fail to mention a sufficient number of members of the writer’s class, although the required proportion remains vague and undefined, you will be dismissed as irredeemably intolerant if not bigoted toward the entire class.
I don’t know why it took so long for me to figure out what was going on. The accusation of bias has been leveled against me so often that I no longer take it seriously. Only recently, though, did it strike me that the accusation is more than simply a moral fashion. It is a learned response, an intellectual commonplace, picked up in school and college like mono or herpes. It is the voice of the academic literary guild, stripped of any theoretical sophistication, coming from the mouths of latter-day undergraduates who still hope for their professors’ approval.