Michael Kazin’s great essay on being the son of Alfred Kazin:

This is how, in 1956, he concluded an introduction to Moby-Dick:

“Man is not merely a waif in the world; he is an ear listening to the sea that almost drowns him; an imagination, a mind, that hears the sea in the shell, and darts behind all appearance to the beginning of things, and runs riot with the frightful force of the sea itself. There, in man’s incredible and unresting mind, is the fantastic gift with which we enter into what is not our own, what is even against us — and for this, so amazingly, we can speak.”

Malraux once observed, “The poet is haunted by a voice with which words must be harmonized.” I don’t write poetry, but I know what he meant.

I can’t imagine what it might be like to work in the same field (more or less) as a famous father. But that haunting voice, of the senior Kazin, sounds so obviously like a voice of an irretrievable past that I wonder if even its majesty isn’t a little comforting: you can’t write like that anymore.

And I don’t mean only that a dozen anonymous referees or catty reviewers will pick you to death if you do: I mean you can’t, as a historian or even a scholar, muster that mid-century confidence, to put forth such prose of your own in the teeth of a master like Melville.

Or perhaps you can, but scholars don’t — not with the easy prophetic tone of a Kazin, or a Hofstadter, or a Trilling. Maybe because so much of what they said with such ease turned out to need inspection, qualification, reassessment, correction: what they knew wasn’t so.

Still, I don’t know. Seems like when they get started they don’t leave a guy nothing.