Themes and Meanings
In “A Critical Introduction to The Best of S. J. Perelman by Sidney Namlerep,” Perelman lampoons both introductions to books and literary criticism. He ridicules the pomposity of Namlerep by having him accuse Perelman himself of that and similar literary sins. Namlerep’s ego, humorlessness, literal-mindedness, and vindictiveness represent both the narrowness and the excesses of literary criticism at its worst. Perelman’s tongue-in-cheek presentation of Namlerep’s inability to separate the man from the writer, his obsession with puerile psychological insights, and his almost religious fervor for the omnipotence of modern psychiatry show that such critics are not to be taken seriously.
Namlerep indicates both the triviality and the pedantry of his method when he supports his money-and-women theory by counting “thirty-seven direct allusions to the former and twenty-four to the latter.” Most enjoyable of all is how blissfully unaware Namlerep is that he evinces all of Perelman’s supposed weaknesses and superfluities in his own writing. Such an approach by Perelman is particularly appropriate because he is a practitioner of what his friend and colleague Robert Benchley called the “dementia praecox” school of humor.
In passing, Perelman comments on some of his usual subjects involving what passes for normality in twentieth century America. For example, Namlerep wonders how his subject “contrives to fulfil the ordinary obligations of everyday life—to get to his office, philander with his secretary, bedevil his wife, and terrorize his children.”