Here are a few facts about the problem that led Random House to cancel a planned anthology of Norman Mailers political writings, expected to coincide with his 2023 centenary, due to the objections of a junior staffer (and possibly Roxane Gay) to the inclusion of Mailers 1957 essay The White Negro. The decision angered Mailers family.
At least, thats what Michael Wolff has written on his Substack newsletter The Ankler.
You can read, if you wish, The White Negro here. Its kind of crazy, even for its day, and Irving Howe said in his memoir that maybe it was not such a hot idea for Dissent to publish it. When Mailer was good, though, he was really good. Joan Didion said of him, It is a largely unremarked fact about Mailer that he is a great and obsessed stylist, a writer to whom the shape of the sentence is the story. If you are unfamiliar, see if you can find his essay on the 1960 Democratic convention, Superman Comes to the Supermarket, which is behind Esquires paywall, here. I am also a great fan of his books The Armies of the Night and Miami and the Siege of Chicago (both of which are in the Library of Americas collection of his work from the 1960s), s for Myself, and The Executioners Songthough to be honest, Norman Mailers greatest work was the hard-to-believe life of Norman Mailer.
Here are a few conclusions one might draw from the above:
First, left-wing cancel culture may be real, and it may be a real problem in academia and the culture business, especially for those just starting out in those fieldsI know it would be for me were I young and starting out. But even given the above, the problem is, more often than not, exaggerated way beyond its actual existence in the mainstream (and especially social) media, as has happened here, because so many conservatives have a vested interest in
Keep this site free and open for all to read...
(a) changing the subject from the far more prevalent phenomenon of right-wing cancel culture;
(b) as well as from the onset of fascism, which appears to bother them far less; and
(c) there is also the fact that, owing to their having experienced decades of being worked by the refs, many journalists and others are eager to prove to said right-wingers that they are not pushovers for the woke left and hence jump on any opportunity to do so, without bothering to check on the truth of the matter.
But also, the consolidation of the publishing industry is a real and growing problem, especially given the proposed combination of Random House, which already combined with Penguin, with Simon & Schuster. Those people who believe themselves to be on the left, but have no respect for free speech because they disagree with the content of whats being spoken, are not really on the left. Hachette should not have canceled the publication of Woody Allens memoir and Norton should not have canceled the publication of Philip Roths biography. We cannot depend on a gadfly publisher like Skyhorse to save our freedom of discourse, especially since, while gadfly publishers can publish, they cannot command the kind of attention that Random House or Hachette does, nor can they pay writers sufficient advances to support themselves while they write.
Finally, dont believe something just because Michael Wolff says its true.
Over the break, I spent some time reading around the interwebs for studies that might be of value to Altercation readers. Here are a few subjects you might want to know more about but (a) did not realize you wanted to know more about, and (b) if you did, you would not have known where to look. (Note that for many of these, you will be able to read the published abstracts, but will need either university or library access or to pay a great deal of money to see the entire study or article.)
Keep this site free and open for all to read...
I was looking forward to Mel Brookss memoir, but man, what a slog. Im pretty sure nobody edited it and it is barely even copyedited. Its incredibly unreflective and uninsightful; just one long pat on ones back and valentines to everyone Mel has ever met. Patrick McGilligans biography, Funny Man, paints Brooks as a sad, mean, insecure man. I did not want to believe that when I read it. But this book does nothing to convince me otherwise. I dont mind a 90-plus-year-old guy talking into a tape recorder and remembering his life with rose-colored glasses. I just mind paying to read it.
On the other hand, the new Library of America edition of John Williams: Collected Novels is a welcome surprise and an opportunity, if you have not already done so, to read his novel Stoner, which may be the best novel ever written about academia. It is almost certainly the best novel I recommend to people who say they have never heard of the novel I just recommended that they read. Williams, it turns out, wrote only three novels in his life. Butchers Crossing takes place in the Old West in the 1870s. The third, Augustus, set in Rome after the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 B.C., is a tour de force of imaginative reconstruction. I will read those now. But Stoner, which Irving Howe called serious, beautiful and affecting, is all those things, and the Library edition has all the notes and lovely binding that make its books a pleasure to read before you even read them.
P.S.: I found that reading this article, saving it, and then tweeting about it to be wait for it a distraction.
Its Really Old One-Hit Wonder Day on the Altercation playlist:
Heres a fun video of Take a Letter, Maria by R.B. Greaves.
And one of Worst That Could Happen by Johnny Maestro & The Brooklyn Bridge.
The incredible Plastic Bertrand with the classic a Plane Pour Moi.
My all-time favorite one-hit wonder of all time with the lamest videoa song that, incidentally, got its own lyrics wrong in the title: Reach Out of the Darkness by Friend & Lover.
Runner-up in both categories: Norman Greenbaums Spirit in the Sky.
Not so fast, you say, Eric. What about Bobbie Gentrys Ode to Billie Joe? Not at all a one-hit wonder, I reply. Many country hits, in fact even the girl from Chickasaw County, have massive box sets. OK, you retort. What about Jeannie C. Reillys Harper Valley PTA? Fine, Id say, you win (extra points for that hair). There is no all-time favorite. Its a silly notion. I apologize, but I do wonder if they are teaching critical race theory in Harper Valley these days