Thursday, September 29, 2011

Old Macdonald ...

... Son of Cults | Mark Athitakis’ American Fiction Notes.

On the other hand, who cares about Cozzens today, even if Macdonald is the main reason nobody cares?

But maybe we should care about Cozzens, and maybe Macdonald did us all a disservice in causing us not to.Guard of Honor is a very good book. Cozzens's contemporary, John P. Marquand, is another novelist deserving pf a closer second look, such as what John O'Hara, another contemporary, is starting to receive.


  1. Anonymous7:38 PM

    I long ago seem to have lost whatever account it takes to get onto here, so I will sign in as Anonymous and just say this is Roger Miller: Macdonald is not the reason nobody cares about Cozzens anymore. Nobody cares about Cozzens anymore for the same reason nobody cares about Macdonald anymore: They have been forgotten. In the case of Cozzens, I must add, unfortunately forgotten. "By Love Possessed" is quite a good novel. "Guard of Honor" is superb; biographer Edmund Morris and the late academic and critic Noel Perrin thought it the best American novel of World War II. (Myself, I would plump for, on one end of the spectrum, "Catch-22," or, on the other, "From Here to Eternity.") "Guard of Honor" won the Pulitzer, but that admittedly is a dubious measure of anything. Instead of resurrecting Macdonald they should resurrect Cozzens, and they could start with one of his delightful early efforts, "The Last Adam."

  2. Yet another hilariously overreaching misread from Mark Athitakis: a set of dispatches from a bumbling bumpkin who doesn't comprehend the country he lives in or the books he reads. Read the first paragraph of "By Cozzens Possessed" and you'll see that Macdonald clearly states Cozzens's financial position and his commercial status. I don't think Macdonald would especially care about mattering. Aside from his television appearances on FIRING LINE and TODAY, he appeared more concerned about doing his job as a critic. (This extended into his inability to write essays longer than 10,000 words, much less turn out books on a regular basis.)

    I think this nullifies Athitakis's ridiculous argument that he lost the battle against Tom Wolfe. Until Wolfe is dead, we won't know Wolfe's legacy. I should note that Wolfe's call for "an army of Zolas" many years ago also never got traction. And perhaps there's a larger argument to have about when prescriptive essays matter. Moreover, Wolfe was a very savvy operator capable of getting as much attention for his beefs with Updike, Irving, and Mailer as he did for white suits. Did Macdonald take to the press so vulgarly?

    Macdonald wished to promote discussion. He would send copies of his missives to his targets and he would append and annotate his essays with their remarks. This is the mark not of a troll, but of someone who wanted to generate cultural discussion (however pockmarked at times, for Macdonald in his impetuosity did make mistakes).

    It is also utterly ridiculous for Athitakis to accuse Macdonald of snark. For he was not writing the kind of superficial, consumer-based nonsense that Athitakis seems quite fond of churning out for the Washington City Paper and other diminishing outlets. Heidi's essay brought up Trilling's "Hemingway and His Critics," remarking upon "how seriously he took his job as a book reviewer, how powerful, and by extension perilous, he believed his (and all the NYI) attitudes toward literature, politics and morality to be." Even if you disagree with that piece or Macdonald's take on Hemingway, you have to admire the rigor, the attempt to shake the reader out of her expectations. (When I first met Heidi a few years ago, she told me personally that she wasn't against fiery, well-argued essays that took sacred cows to task.) Macdonald clearly stood for a corresponding set of virtues -- high culture that could penetrate the masses, maintaining the classics, preserving the tilts of the English language, and so forth. He was a conservative anarchist, but he was somehow both discriminating and inclusive. He talked with everybody: working stiffs and intellectuals, cultural notables on the left and right. And let me get this straight: Macdonald is a parody of himself because he was honest enough to confess his limitations and wonder if there wasn't some larger ambition that he should take up? Methinks Athitakis should look in the mirror. He's less honest than Macdonald. Because the only thing Athitakis stands for is shitting on other people. When was the last piece Athitakis wrote expressing any kind of passion for literature? I certainly haven't seen one in a good long while.

  3. I hope I didn't give the impression that I am down Dwight Macdonald. I read the Cozzens piece when it first appeared and thought it hilarious. The thing about Macdonald is that he told people what he thought ad felt and why, and that was that. You agreed or you didn't. Literary judgment is precisely that -- judgment. I think The Road is a bad book. But if someone else thinks it's great, who am I to complain? I do agree with my old friend Roger that Cozzens deserves to be remembered.

  4. Frank: Oh, I'm very much in agreement with you and Roger on dredging up forgotten writers (and I'm certainly pro-Marquand, having written much on him) -- especially the ones who don't cut the mustard for certain types. My issue here is with the idea that Macdonald's essays were little more than snark, that honesty transmutes instantly into parody, that "By Cozzens Possessed" was little more than a performance piece (when there is a very clearly expressed set of principles behind it), and that Macdonald didn't have a virtues to go along with his piss and vinegar. And lest I be accused of obsessing over the man, you happened to catch me in research mode for something much bigger. :)