The literary critic Paul Fussell died yesterday. Best known for The Great War and Modern Memory, Fussell also wrote about his experiences as an infantryman in World War II, Kingsley Amis, and the dumbing down of American culture.
Fussell’s books on the Great War and Amis, as well as his war memoirs, will be mentioned in most obituaries. One work that may escape notice is Class: A Guide Through the American Status System. The references have been rendered obsolete by the rise of the bourgeois bohemians (Fussell calls them “category X”). But I know no better or funnier exposure of the myth of that America is a classless society.
Readers who enjoyed Charles Murray’s “how thick is your bubble?” quiz will particularly enjoy Fussell’s “Living-Room Scale”, which measures class by interior decoration. Did you have a “tabletop obelisk of marble, glass, etc.” circa 1983? If so, you were 9 points on the way to the 245 necessary to qualify as upper class.
American letters will be poorer without Paul Fussell.