As historian Michael Kimmage notes in “The Journey Continued and Abandoned,” an essay on Lionel Trilling’s second novel (The Journey Abandoned), Norman Mailer showed a way to solve the dilemma of Trilling, or at least of Trilling’s protagonist in The Journey Abandoned, the would-be-writer Vincent, “Vincent’s dilemma” – though it’s not much of a good solution – for both fiction writers and nonfiction writers, and curiously, Mailer never solved it well for himself in fiction, never came close in my view (since both Armies of the Night and The Executioner’s Song are nonfiction essentially). And in any event, Mailer’s solution involves sooner or later (immediately on some topics) a lot of compromise, to the point of utter censorship – obviously, a solution that is soon found wanting. Ideologically based rebuffs from the establishment under the guise of aesthetic criticism – many a progressive or revolutionary minded author quickly encounters plenty of those or decides not to bother testing the waters in the first place.
It’s interesting to compare accomplished critic Lionel Trilling with accomplished critic Maxwell Geismar: Trilling, first tenured Jewish professor at Columbia, and Geismar, first Jewish student at Columbia to be, I think, Valedictorian, or to achieve some such rank (though if I recall correctly from Geismar’s memoir, Columbia might not have been aware he was Jewish). Regardless, it may as well have been Trilling, who showed up on national TV to help torpedo Geismar’s career, as the two men who played a key role: William vanden Heuval and Irving Kristol – the former a “protégé” of the “father” of the CIA and the latter the CIA flack and “father” of neoconservatism who several years earlier had passed on his position as editor of Commentary magazine to Trilling’s student, Normon Podhoretz. As I’ve noted elsewhere, when William vanden Heuvel (father of the current editor/publisher of The Nation Katrina vanden Heuvel) tag-teamed with Irving Kristol (the father of current prominent Fox TV political pundit Bill Kristol) – when these central figures of the political establishment hastened to appear on national TV over four decades ago to attack directly to the face of the silenced progressive literary critic Maxwell Geismar, on the occasion of the publication of Geismar’s book of criticism about Henry James (”a primary Cold War literary figure”), Kristol and vanden Heuvel, two exemplars of the status quo, serving retrograde state interests, executed a prominent role in destroying Geismar’s accomplished literary career and ending his run on a national literary television show, Books on Trial (”or something similar,” in Geismar’s recollection). Geismar posits William vanden Heuvel as “a rich, cultivated, charming, and liberal member of the upper echelons of the CIA [who] had a large hand in embroiling [the US] in Vietnam,” while Irving Kristol “as it later turned out was almost always affiliated with many State Department or CIA literary projects in editing, publishing, and the academic world…a hired hand of the establishment.”
Continue reading Fiction Bound: Lionel Trilling, James Wood, and other Cultural Cold Warriors