Literary feuds: Good fun and bad taste (in the mouth)
December 11, 2013 | 2:25 pm
The New Yorker has just run its eyebrow-raising compendium of literary feuds of 2013, drawing the definition of feud wide enough to loop in some real doozies. In Rachel Arons’ hands, we have, rather than writer versus writer, writer versus collective prejudice, or writer versus stereotype, or writer’s estate versus innuedo, or literary enterprise versus concept, etc.
Some of the feuds on Arons’s Christmas Krampus list look positively overdue, if anything. There was Rachel Kushner taking issue with Adam Kirsch for caricaturing her work as “mansplaining,” and in general, apparently, not writing as a lady novelist should. There was Clare Messud taking issue with whether her female protagonists should be judged according to their likeability, and how gender-stereotyped this was. And, grateful to report, there was almost the entire rest of the literary world aside from Amazon-bashers at The Guardian taking issue with Jonathan Franzen for his Grumpy Cat impersonation, otherwise known as his critique of modernity.
But there are two feuds on Arons’s list that are so despicable, unfortunately, that they hardly merit the mild title of feud. One is the case, already reported in TeleRead, of the allegations of pedophilia against Gore Vidal, courtesy of an article by a journalist in the process of promoting his book on the late author, which appeared in – of all places – the Fashion & Style section of the New York Times. As Arons describes it, “Vidal’s nephew, the film director and screenwriter Burr Steers, and half sister, Nina Straight, used their interview with the Times to imply that Vidal had engaged in, as Straight put it, ‘Jerry Sandusky acts’ during his lifetime—a detail that quickly spread to other news outlets.”
In a different but somewhat connected feud, we have the family of Norman Rockwell, also fending off insinuations of pedophilia, this time by sometime New York Times journalist Deborah Solomon in her new book book, American Mirror — The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell. The Norman Rockwell Family Agency felt compelled to issue a public statement to the effect that “she attempts to falsify all that the Family and the world know about him. In unfounded claims of homosexuality, Ms. Solomon obsessively attempts to demonstrate her ‘logical’ evolution to pedophilia with not a shred of evidence apart from her unsupportable conjectures. She consistently pretends to know how Norman Rockwell “felt” and what “impulses” he harbored when there is no basis for such speculation, in her book or elsewhere.”
Not having read Ms. Solomon’s book, I’m in no position to know how accurate, or credible, are the claims she apparently makes that Rockwell’s marriages were coping mechanisms to channel and conceal his homoerotic leanings. But, going by the same New York Times standards of proof as applied in the Gore Vidal article, it could be. By those standards, we could all be gay. Oh, and if we’re already gay, we then could also be pedophiles. We could all be Jerry Sandusky clones. Bill Clinton could have used his philandering as a coping mechanism to disguise the fact that he was actually thinking of other things when he smoked those cigars. Barack Obama could be a secret unicorn chaser. It sounds like the NYT has picked a feud with well more than a couple of dead American luminaries, if this is the kind of thinking that people learn, and apply, there in 2013.
And as for the case heard before the First New York Bench of Highbrow Opinion, Buzzfeed Books Versus Negative Criticism, that piece of court reporting deserves an entire article to itself. Watch this space…