Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 13, 2021

Literature and Revolution

Filed under: literature,Trotskyism — louisproyect @ 10:55 pm
Albert Maltz: Where art is a weapon, it is only so when it is art.

On March 21, the NY Times profiled John R. “Rick” MacArthur, a trust fund magnate who is the publisher of Harper’s, a magazine that dates back to June 1850. Like its liberal cohorts, The Nation, The New Republic and Atlantic Monthly that are all over a century old as well, it was at the mercy of deep-pocketed men whose commitment to the left can prove mercurial.

For example, when Martin Peretz owned The New Republic by virtue of his wife’s largess (a heiress to the Singer Sewing Machine fortune), he turned it into a Zionist propaganda machine. When magazine publisher and DP funder Win McCormack bought The New Republic in 2016, many on the left—including me—were delighted to see Chris Lehmann named editor. Lehmann left the bad memories of Peretz behind and turned the magazine sharply to the left, even outflanking The Nation. Only last month it was announced that McCormack had replaced Lehmann with Michael Tomasky, a self-described Tough-Minded Liberal (TLM) who wrote venomous attacks on Ralph Nader’s presidential campaigns. So, you are left with McCormack’s whims or that of any other of these rich bastards. As A.J. Liebling once put it, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.”

I’ve been a Harper’s subscriber for about 40 years now and have generally been satisfied by the content. It has only been recently that I have felt like I’ve been stabbed in the back again. The Harper’s Open Letter stuck in my craw. Even though it did not mention anybody involved with the “cancel culture” by name, it was obviously directed at the left. With signatures from Thomas Chatterton Williams, Bari Weiss and J.K. Rowling, it was clearly aimed at BLM activists, anti-Zionists, transgender rights and any other leftist causes that were supposedly trampling on the rights of people with bully pulpits at the NY Times. Signatories like Bari Weiss, David Brooks, and Michelle Goldberg evidently needed protection from vicious Tweets.

Williams, a biracial contributing editor to Harper’s, and MacArthur worked closely together on this project as was reported in the March 28 NY Times:

And so last July, when another American expatriate in Paris, Thomas Chatterton Williams, was looking for a place to publish a broadside against the “intolerant climate” to which some of the most famous writers in the world — Salman Rushdie, J.K. Rowling and Margaret Atwood, among others — had signed their names, he emailed Mr. Beha. The letter was already finished and approved, but Mr. MacArthur liked it enough to add his name, and Mr. Beha published it in full online.

I should add that despite being editor, Beha would never dare to challenge MacArthur. His boss’s reputation for firing impudent editors is legendary.

Long before the Harper’s Open Letter had appeared, I wrote a brief email to Beha about a Williams column from January 2020 that irked me. Tobi Haslett, a Book Forum contributor, had written a brutal take-down of Williams’s latest memoir that included this barb:

What he cannot grasp is that any effective challenge to white hegemony would have to take place not in the perfumed realm of private choices and elective affinities, but on the harsh terrain of real life: where collective struggle is waged, and wealth is made and spread. Apart from a single glancing mention (in parentheses) of the social democrat Bernie Sanders, there is no serious and explicit treatment of the gap between rich and poor.

In keeping with his steady attacks on the left, Williams reminded Haslett that “Regardless of what progressives would like to think, by this ostensibly commonsensical measure, most black and Latino Americans can be safely defined as conservative.” Now, remind me what it was that Freud said about projection, especially since Williams joined the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) as a visiting fellow about a year after he answered Haslett. There he joins Charles Murray, the F. A. Hayek Emeritus Chair in Cultural Studies at AEI, who is best known for writing “The Bell Curve”, a book arguing that since Blacks are genetically hobbled by lower IQ’s, it is a waste of money to fund social programs that benefit them.

Every Harper’s op-ed I’ve seen by Williams since first encountering that one has been a repetition of his basic talking points that are distilled from gaseous 20th century liberalism, not much better than a Max Lerner op-ed from a 1965 NY Post. Mostly, I have ignored them except for my brief complaint to the editor but Williams’s latest in the current issue provoked me into writing something in reply.

Titled “Campaign Literature” and targeting a NY Times op-ed by Viet Thanh Nguyen for calling out poets and fiction writers for avoiding the big political questions of the age, particularly white supremacy, Williams’s goal is to defend art against the propaganda that outrages him. Viet Thanh does not mince words:

My problem with “craft” is not only that it’s not even art, but also that it’s espoused by writers who speak of the labor of craft and the workshop but who generally have no theory of labor, its exploitation or the writer as worker. No surprise that writers without such a theory have little to say about politics, and why the norm for writing workshops is not to deal with politics.

“Colonizers write about flowers,” Ms. Hindi writes. “I want to be like those poets who care about the moon. Palestinians don’t see the moon from jail cells and prisons.”

This is my kind of poem.

“I know I’m American because when I walk into a room something dies,” Ms. Hindi writes. “When I die, I promise to haunt you forever.”

Perhaps the most intriguing thing about Viet Thanh Nguyen, which was of zero interest to Williams, was his background. He was the son of  Vietnamese parents who fled to the USA in 1975 to escape Communism. As a youngster, he became curious about the war that shook up his family’s life and began reading as much as he could, particularly from the Vietnamese perspective. That led to an anti-colonial politics that remains key to his own fiction.

As is customary, Williams creates a straw man out of a more complex person to his left. He reduces Viet Thanh to demanding that “all writers will have to take up overt activism” when in fact, he simply praises those who take a stand in their writing. He singles out the crime novel for its ability to diagnose the American malaise. “So-called genre literature has been better than so-called literary fiction and poetry when it comes to the kind of critical and political work that unsettles whiteness and reveals the legacies of colonialism. Smart crime writers, for example, are often political because they know that an individual crime is a manifestation of a society that has committed wholesale crimes.”

While not exactly upholding “art for art’s sake”, Williams identifies with writers who write from their own experience such as Ralph Ellison, the African-American author of “The Invisible Man” and his patron saint. In 1963, Irving Howe, a former Trotskyist, took Ellison to task in Dissent Magazine in terms reminiscent of Viet Thanh: “How could a Negro put pen to paper, how could he so much as think or breathe, without some impulsion to protest, be it harsh or mild, political or private, released or buried?” Williams obviously sees Ellison’s rebuttal to Howe as equally applicable to Viet Thanh Nguyen:

In Ralph Ellison’s coruscating 1964 rebuttal to this well-meaning but condescending account, which unfavorably contrasted both Baldwin and Ellison himself with Richard Wright, he argued against denying, “in the interest of revolutionary posture,” that nonrevolutionary, non-political possibilities of “human richness” also exist, even in terrible circumstances and among seemingly oppressed demographics. To do so, he wrote, is “not only to deny us our humanity but to betray the critic’s commitment to social reality. Critics who do so should abandon literature for politics.”

I had a sense of déjà vu reading Thomas Chatterton Williams versus Viet Thanh Nguyen. When I first began to become radicalized in 1967, I carried a lot of ideological baggage from the Cold War about the West’s cultural superiority. Their artists painted tractors; ours were abstract expressionists. Their writers wrote proletarian novels; ours wrote about the human spirit. It was only the spectacle of B-52s bombing peasant villages that helped me get past my anti-Communism. I’d be okay with the proletarian novel even if it meant achieving peace and self-determination in Vietnam.

It was only after meeting with George Novack in 1967, shortly after joining the SWP, that I began to see that you can have your cake and eat it too. It was the Trotskyists who respected the writer’s integrity, while at the same time leading the fight against imperialist war. George filled me in on the writers of Partisan Review, who had broken with the CP and championed both literary modernism such as the novels of James Joyce and world revolution. Among the most prominent of them were James T. Farrell, the Irish-American novelist who wrote the trilogy “Studs Lonigan”. Unlike the typical proletarian novel that had square-jawed workers fighting the good fight against the bosses, Farrell’s eponymous hero is seen in the final page cursing a May Day parade for the commotion that disturbed the peace he sought on his death bed.

The other was Edmund Wilson, the literary critic that I had some familiarity with from high school days. The school librarian, a one-time leftist herself, urged me to read “Axel’s Castle”, Wilson’s survey of modernist poets and novelists since it had a chapter on James Joyce, whose “Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man” had become my favorite novel. At the time, I had no idea that in 1931, when “Axel’s Castle” appeared, Wilson had already begun to question the introspective symbolist aesthetic it championed. After two years of the Great Depression, he once remarked to his friends how selfish it was “to find ourselves still carrying on while the bankers are taking a beating.” In other words, he was responding to the same kinds of urgency as indicated in Viet Thanh Nguyen’s op-ed.

By 1938, Wilson had hooked up with James T. Farrell and the luminaries at Partisan Review who identified with Leon Trotsky both as a revolutionary leader and as someone who had a dialectical understanding of the relationship between literature and revolution. In the early days of the USSR, Trotsky warned against trying to create a “proletarian” culture. You might even say that he sounded a bit like Thomas Chatterton Williams in a 1923 article titled “Communist Policy Toward Art”:

It is childish to think that bourgeois belles lettres can make a breach in class solidarity. What the worker will take from Shakespeare, Goethe, Pushkin, or Dostoyevsky will be a more complex idea of human personality, of its passions and feelings, a deeper and profounder understanding of its psychic forces and of the role of the subconscious, etc. In the final analysis, the worker will become richer.

That dovetailed perfectly with the high modernism that reigned at the Partisan Review. This was not to speak of Leon Trotsky’s authority as a leader of the Russian Revolution. Furthermore, at least one of the writers championed in “Axel’s Castle” saw himself a proletarian novelist, even if it didn’t correspond to the CP’s definition. When James Joyce heard about his being disparaged at the Writers’ Congress in Moscow chaired by Karl Radek, he rose to his own defense. In conversation with his friend Eugene Jolas, he pointed out that all his characters, from Dubliners to Finnegan’s Wake, belonged to “the lower middle classes, and even the working class, and they are all quite poor.”

Published in 1938, Edmund Wilson’s “The Triple Thinkers: Twelve Essays on Literary Subject” was the first major attempt at achieving a grand synthesis. In the chapter on “Literature and Marxism”, he defined the aesthetic that would define Partisan Review:

Trotsky is a literary man as Lenin never was, and he published in 1924 a most remarkable little study called Literature and Revolution. In this book he tried to illuminate the problems which were arising for Russian writers with the new society of the Revolution. And he was obliged to come to grips with a question with which Marx and Engels had not been much concerned — the question of what Mr. James T. Farrell in his book, A Note on Literary Criticism, one of the few sensible recent writings on this subject, calls ‘the carry-over value’ of literature. Marx had assumed the value of Shakespeare and the Greeks and more or less left it at that. But what, the writers in Russia were now asking, was to be the value of the literature and art of the ages of barbarism and oppression in the dawn of socialist freedom?

What in particular was to be the status of the culture of that bourgeois society from which socialism had just emerged and of which it still bore the unforgotten scars? Would there be a new proletarian literature, with new language, new style, new form, to give expression to the emotions and ideas of the new proletarian dictatorship?

There had been in Russia a group called the Proletcult, which aimed at monopolizing the control of Soviet literature; but Lenin had discouraged and opposed it, insisting that proletarian culture was not something which could be produced synthetically and by official dictation of policy, but only by natural evolution as a ‘development of those reserves of knowledge which society worked for under the oppression of capitalism, of the landlords, of the officials.

Now, in Literature and Revolution, Trotsky asserted that such terms as “proletarian literature” and “proletarian culture” are dangerous, because they erroneously compress the culture of the future into the narrow limits of the present day.’ In a position to observe from his Marxist point of view the effects on a national literature of the dispossession of a dominant class, he was able to see the unexpected ways in which the presentments of life of the novelists, the feelings and images of the poets, the standards themselves of the critics, were turning out to be determined by their attitudes toward the social-economic crises. But he did not believe in a proletarian culture which would displace the bourgeois one.

Given Ralph Ellison’s sharp rebuttal to Irving Howe, one might assume that he would be part of the Partisan Review crowd. Ironically, all of his fiction appeared in “New Masses” in the 1930s, the literary voice of the Communist Party edited by Mike Gold, the author of the 1929 “Go Left, Young Writers”, which upheld the “proletarian literature” prevailing in Stalin’s USSR. Gold would have no use for namby-pambies like James Joyce. He was for the 1930s equivalent of Joe Sixpack:

The old Masses was a more brilliant but a more upper class affair. The New Masses is working in a different field. It goes after a kind of flesh and blood reality, however crude, instead of the smooth perfect thing that is found in books. The America of the working class is practically undiscovered. It is like a lost continent. Bits of it come above the surface in our literature occasionally and everyone is amazed…The young writer can find all the…material he needs working as a wage slave around the cities and prairies of America.

Does this sound anything like Viet Thanh Nguyen’s op-ed? Certainly not. Although Thomas Chatterton Williams would have you believe that it was some sort of “cancel culture” exercise that would result in any novelist or poet being expelled from some literary society for touting J.K. Rowling, Viet Thanh has very little power in the publishing world that churns out 25 novels about family dramas in the suburbs  for every one that aims to plunge a stake through the heart of imperialism. The men and women who make decisions about what gets published or not belong to an elite that comes out of the Ivy League and that relies on an old boy’s network. Rick MacArthur decides to hire Thomas Chatterton Williams as a contributing editor since his “color-blind” politics meshes with his own sense of privilege and sanctity (sanctimoniousness might be more accurate.) The same kind of self-selection goes on routinely in publishing. I ran into it at Random House, even if they relied on Joyce Brabner to shit-can the memoir I did with Harvey Pekar.

This is not to speak of the academic training most writers get today in places like the University of Iowa or NYU. Do you think that writer’s workshops are breeding grounds for Bolshevism? Instead, they are largely responsible for convincing the young aspiring novelist to write about what they know best, like their father’s alcoholism or their first romance, either heterosexual or homosexual. Not something so irrelevant as trying to get a union going at Amazon.

Returning to the Partisan Review, its trajectory after 1940 was to the right. Like some of intellectuals under Max Shachtman’s influence, the editors saw the USSR as a new type of society that was as bad in its own way as capitalism. Once the patriotic fervor over Pearl Harbor kicked in, many of them naturally came to the conclusion that the USA was a model for the rest of the world, a conclusion Shachtman reached in the 1950s himself. So sharp was the Partisan Review’s turn to the right that contributor Dwight Macdonald decided a new leftist alternative to both it and the Stalinist New Masses. He created a magazine called “Politics” that attracted a number of the old Partisan Review crowd that had no stomach for the Cold War. Mary McCarthy and Edmund Wilson were unrepentant leftists who joined up but James T. Farrell, like Jon Dos Passos, became a raving right-winger.

Eventually, Partisan Review found its métier. Like other literary magazines such as Encounter and the Paris Review, it accepted funding from the CIA in order to promote the Cold War mythologies that had my brain twisted like a pretzel when I entered Bard College as a freshman in 1961. I am not sure when I read it, but I am certain I read Ralph Ellison’s “The Invisible Man” at Bard. I was curious to see what the former Bard professor had to say in the highly regarded novel. All I knew about Ellison’s time there is that he used to get drunk at Adolph’s Tavern (as did I) and pick fights with the townies.

I might even find time to read it again just to get a handle on a political current within Black America that has a high-profile character like Thomas Chatterton Williams taking a position with the American Enterprise Institute. Surely, something toxic is at work. But wouldn’t it be more productive to engage with his adversary Viet Thanh Nguyen, who might at least give me an idea of what new writers are about? It has been ages since I have read fiction, after all.

His website offers up samples of his work. I opened a short story titled “Look at Me” that convinced me that Viet Thanh is a writer for our epoch. Son of Vietnamese parents who fled Communism, his story is about an American army veteran sick with cancer caused by exposure to Agent Orange during the war in Vietnam about to take revenge on the executive responsible. It is the best short story I have read in years and proof that literature and revolution are not only compatible but necessary. Never forget, however, what Hollywood 10’s Albert Maltz once said, “Where art is a weapon, it is only so when it is art.”

19 Comments »

  1. This was a great blog. To be read and thought about carefully. But also to be enjoyed.

    Comment by Gary MacLennan — April 13, 2021 @ 11:06 pm

  2. You’ve nailed it down brilliantly Louis, eloquently drawing the historical divide from then to now and putting into layperson’s words the great philosophical divide on the left today that mutes many of us who understand the difference between their moral and ours but cannot articulate it. Bravo to you for showing youth the path of unrepentant dissidence for it proves historically to be the only path to human immortality.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — April 14, 2021 @ 1:11 am

  3. I agree with the comments above: you did a great job; helped my understanding.

    Comment by manuelgarciajr — April 14, 2021 @ 1:48 am

  4. Your comments on James T. Farrell couldn’t not catch my attention. A child in 1930s’ Chicago, I’ve never stopped wrestling with Studs Lonigan as a person. Every decade or so, as conditions change, I readjust my opinion of Farrell’s great trilogy. I’m not so sure I still agree entirely with my piece in Swans Commentary of May 22, 2006 (Whatever Became of Studs Lonigan?). Still, forgive an old duffer, I rather like the end of it:

    “Judgment Day finds Studs thinking twice. He has never recovered his health. Dissipation has killed a friend. Reluctantly he decides to marry. He sees the advantages as company and sex on demand. But he’s not sure that Catherine, who readily accepts his proposal, isn’t a shade common. He also hesitates, at thirty, to give up his boyish freedom. Finally he concedes that Catherine’s respect for him outweighs her plainness. Still, the couple only manages to fix a day for the ceremony because Catherine falls pregnant.

    At the same time, Chicago’s business and industrial behemoth has come to a full stop. Lonigan Senior’s tenants fail to pay their rent, and he can’t meet his mortgage payments. His house painting business has gone into the doldrums and Studs could no longer work for him anyway because of his broken health. As befits 1920s representative characters, both father and son have bought dud stock promoted by the public utility magnate, Samuel Insull, whom Farrell gives a pseudonym and whose inverted pyramid of finance would soon collapse.

    Studs, a few days before his marriage, has to venture into the Chicago Loop in search of lighter work. Thus begins the countdown to his death, and never has such a lusterless character had such a splendid passing. A commercial nation on the skids shows what it’s made of. Dazed derelicts slouch through the Loop and a Hooverville sprawls under Wacker Drive. The jobs available are mainly swindles to extract money from would-be employees. One fraudster delivers a Dionysian spiel that makes even the ailing Studs crack a smile.

    Finally he gives up trying and walks off into the rain, despising everyone and everything his eyes fall on. He lights up a forbidden cigarette and in desperation reaches out for his one sure support — sexual desire. In a fever he hurries to the squalid burlesque houses of South State Street. There follows a description of the least erotic sex show of all literature. Nonetheless Studs’s enthusiasm throws him into delirium. Then, out in the rain again, guilt wells up in him. Somehow he gets home, but his life is over.

    The author, at this stage a fervent socialist, demurred from finishing his trilogy with Studs Lonigan’s death rattle. He inserts a Communist demonstration before the last pages. But Farrell, to his credit, was never a message-delivering novelist. The parade is very much a party hat sitting on a corpse. The body is Irish Chicago, and Farrell’s three books did a good symbolic job of killing it. Dead or not, however, it can teach us a lot about how our cities and our hates actually took shape.”

    Comment by Peter Byrne — April 14, 2021 @ 9:54 am

  5. Glad Louis mentioned James T. Farrell and several other formerly well regarded but now mainly forgotten important leftwing writers from the 20s-40s. Excellent commentary, Peter Byrne. Some years ago visiting a bookstore in downtown Chicago, I was shocked to see the absence of many of these writers in a section dedicated to Chicago writing. Farrell wrote a whole lot of worthy fiction other than the S. L. Trilogy, Nelson Algren was mainly ignored, mostly out of print, many others as well.

    Comment by Elliot Podwill — April 14, 2021 @ 3:05 pm

  6. Elliot: Your disappointment in Chicago bookshops doesn’t surprise me. In 2015 the Chicago Reader ask its readers to name “the greatest ever Chicago book.” All sorts of flimsy titles came up. Dreiser, Farrell, Wright, and Algren were ignored. Even the more recent Saul Bellow seemed to be already forgotten. As an old-timer, I thought I was unshockable but learning and disillusion never end.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — April 14, 2021 @ 4:45 pm

  7. It’s hardly just Chicago writers who are being neglected, Peter. Interesting, btw, how much attention the new bio of Philip Roth is attracting. He’s no more, perhaps even less, significant as a Jewish-themed writer than Bellow or Malamud. It’s interest in his busy sex life as much as anything else that’s drawing the attention.

    Comment by Elliot Podwill — April 14, 2021 @ 5:21 pm

  8. Thank you Louis for this wonderful piece of writing. I learned a great deal!

    One point about this quote from Viet Thanh (I’m assuming he said this): “So-called genre literature has been better than so-called literary fiction and poetry when it comes to the kind of critical and political work that unsettles whiteness and reveals the legacies of colonialism. Smart crime writers, for example, are often political because they know that an individual crime is a manifestation of a society that has committed wholesale crimes.”

    Walter Mosley is a great example of this, IMHO. I have enjoyed his crime fiction a lot. Mosley is a great writer, and you can see a lot of ‘sociology’, without the theoretical jargon, woven into his writing. His ‘Easy Rawlins’ series, for example, is filled with issues of racism and social justice, without him being overbearing or sloganeering about it. It’s just great reading that exhilarates and energizes.

    Even Raymond Chandler’s writing has large hints of social ills in the narrative.

    By contrast … In my youth, I would read some of Maxim Gorky’s stories, and they used to send me into a coma! (and I cannot remember a single one of his characters or plot lines!!)

    Comment by Reza — April 14, 2021 @ 10:56 pm

  9. Reza: I wish I could find a quote I half-remember from Maurice Richardson, a British cultural journalist who specialized in crime stories. He said that when he looked at mid-century American genre fiction it seemed like there was a civil war going on in the country between corrupt police and honest private-eye detectives.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — April 15, 2021 @ 10:31 am

  10. Nice to see George Novack warmly remembered in this compelling commentary. And the thoughtful comments on Wilson, the early (Leninist) Partisan Review, etc. I wouldn’t say that Farrell became a “raving right-winger”–which was certainly the case with Dos Passos, James Burnham, Max Eastman. He became a Cold War liberal of the Hubert Humphrey type, which was certainly pretty bad, and even worse when he was drinking too much. Among the many Chicago Left-wing novels who have been forgotten and overlooked, I would add Willard Motley.

    Comment by Alan Wald — April 15, 2021 @ 11:44 pm

  11. Nothing could be more revealing than the so-called “Chicago Literary Hall of Fame’s” statement ‘honoring’ Willard Motley: “Motley was criticized in his life for being a black man writing about white characters, a middle-class man writing about the lower class, and a closeted homosexual writing about heterosexual urges.” The irony is that white writers, from their point of view, had been doing just that for ages. Motley’s mistake was to think that Black Americans could fit into society just like European immigrants. A look at this morning’s news 75 years later, tells us how wrong he was. For all his experience of the lower depths—which far exceeded Nelson Algren’s—he couldn’t accept that racism was endemic in white North Americans and their institutions.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — April 16, 2021 @ 9:31 am

  12. Except early in his life, Algren’s experience of the lower depths was part of his image. He impressed Simone deBeauvoir and other women with his knowledge of the grittier side of Chicago, and ended his life living comfortably on Long Island. Was it essentially the left that criticized Motley for not focusing his work on racism?

    Comment by Elliot Podwill — April 16, 2021 @ 2:38 pm

  13. My understanding is that deBeauvoir and Sartre, cooped up in Europe reading Faulkner during the war, were very curious about the U.S.A. and hurried over, separately, as soon as they could. DeBeauvoir was intent on seeing the underside of American life and Algren showed it to her. He had a reputation for knowing lowlifes, wronged whores, and miscellaneous marginal types. Strangely, though, he never wrote much about ordinary working people in or out of jobs. As for Motley, I read ‘Knock on Any Door’ at 18 when it came out in 1947. The Chicago Tribune, which had a decent book section back then, gave it a big spread. It sold almost 50,000 copies in a few months. I’d guess that Motley went along with the classic Left explanation of racism as having economic origins. His voluminous diaries 1926-1943 (that I’ve never read) might be clear about who criticized him. My impression is that he simply wanted to be a writer—a bit like Ralph Ellison or James Baldwin in his ‘Giovanni’s Room’ period—and not a Black or white writer. But, of course, that was impossible then as it is now. Motley seems to have believed what we were taught in school, that Black Americans, like immigrants, would be mixed in with natives (earlier immigrants) to produce one glorious and equal American dreamer type. “My race is the human race,” he wrote. Some of his fellows came back with, “You tell it to the police.”

    Comment by Peter Byrne — April 16, 2021 @ 5:58 pm

  14. “As for Motley, I read ‘Knock on Any Door’ at 18 when it came out in 1947.” If I am only half as sharp as Peter Byrne when I get to be his age, I’ll be ecstatic.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 16, 2021 @ 6:03 pm

  15. In a death spiral led by trigger-happy police, we are also in the midst of a surge, (our specialty, see Vietnam, see Afghanistan) in capital executions. Before we put Willard Motley back on the shelf to gather dust, let’s look at the end of ‘Knock On Any Door’. Motley has had the impertinence to write about a white man, Nick Romano, who is about to die in the electric chair. There we sit among the onlookers:

    “The spectators sat tense, motionless, only their hearts beating. Curiosity and vengeance and cruelty had been in their faces. And now cowardice replaced the curiosity, the vengeance, the cruelty. Frightened and shaking, they stared. There was something in this boy who sat calmly before them that defeated them. Fear stood in their eyes and on their faces. And the emotions of sympathy, pity, compassion. A human being was dying. And in that hairline of a moment no one of the seventy-four was glad to be there. But it was too late to draw back. They were there now in that tight little room and couldn’t get out. They trembled and they were all part of the man who was going to die.”

    Comment by Peter Byrne — April 17, 2021 @ 10:02 am

  16. Dear Peter Byrne,
    Thank you for that insight.
    I like Chandler’s novels, and in most stories Philip Marlowe is frequently in conflict with lazy, incompetent or even criminally corrupt cops, although he keeps a cool-headed relation with some who are portrayed as honest (even if somewhat incompetent).
    Best wishes,
    Reza

    Comment by Reza — April 18, 2021 @ 8:15 pm

  17. Thanks, Reza. I’ll sign off with a word of warning for Louis. The occupational hazard of being very old is that we take ourselves for one of those blowhard Old Testament prophets.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — April 19, 2021 @ 8:18 am

  18. Found this on my Facebook feed. Had to unfriend the dummy who posted it.

    BLM is leftist? Guess that’s why Ford gives them millions of dollars. Would also explain why a candidate left of Pinochet hasn’t won an election outside of the decaying and deadly inner cities of America in over 20 years.

    What a joke.

    Comment by Clynt Setti — April 23, 2021 @ 5:48 pm

  19. You are a fucking moron.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 24, 2021 @ 1:08 am


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