James Wolcott

James Wolcott’s books include a memoir of New York in the 1970s, Lucking Out, and an essay collection, Critical Mass.

Rudy Then and Rudy Now

James Wolcott, 16 February 2023

A rundown wind-up doll, Giuliani seems oblivious to the slapping waves of mocking laughter or outright ire that he provokes, unchastened, undaunted, and is never at a loss for half-assed excuses or conspiracy-mongering. Today he is reportedly broke, without allies, suspended from practising law in New York and Washington, on the verge of indictment for election tampering, looking ever more vagabond. How did such a snub-nosed bullet of a phenomenon become such a miasmic mess? It can’t all be pinned on prostration to Trump: supplication is the norm where he is concerned. It is a commonplace in pop psychology that highly strung executives and other overpaid ego charioteers seek out the ministrations of a dominatrix to relieve pent-up tension.

From The Blog
3 February 2023

I was standing on the uptown side of the subway platform when I felt a pair of hands on my shoulders, pressing as if about to shove me onto the tracks. I whirled around – my whirl was much faster then – and it was Tom Verlaine, laughing maniacally. It was a scary prank to play at any time but especially in the mid-1970s, the heyday of the original Death Wish and The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3, when we were all on edge, waiting for the next demon to pounce. And yet when I realised it was Verlaine, I didn’t make any squawk of protest. Perhaps I was foolishly pleased that Verlaine felt he knew me well enough to pretend to shove me to certain death on the tracks.* It could have been just his funny way of saying hi. Our small prides work in mysterious fashion.

It was shaping up​ to be the publishing event of the year, the first blast of post-pandemica as we emerged from our hobbit holes and combed the cobwebs from our hair: the starship arrival of Blake Bailey’s authorised biography of Philip Roth, Philip Roth: The Biography. The ‘the’ of the subtitle said: accept no substitutes. Another biography of Roth was in the offing, Ira...

If Sontag’s peekaboo dissembling is finally judged a failure of nerve, forgive her, Father, for she had so few. She was Deeply Flawed, as are many people who are Deeply Driven. Had Sontag conformed to all of the lofty ideals we profess to hold, posterity might have mummified her into an aspirational cliché, a fate far worse than a tattling biographer or two. Arguing about Sontag is one of the things that keeps her alive for us, as a figure of contention. We may end up arguing about her longer than we continue reading her, but that’s for posterity to decide.

Mr Trendy Sicko

James Wolcott, 23 May 2019

Will Bret Easton Ellis learn anything from this debacle? Of course not. It would be out of character and borderline disappointing if he did. A sudden onset of empathy would neutralise the snot factor so integral to his persona and voice. Upsetting the maximum number of people with the minimal amount of effort is a gift and a curse, akin to Jonathan Franzen’s earnest genius for getting on everyone’s nerves. The ability to bring out the energised best and worst from reviewers and fellow writers with even so middling, muddling a book as White – to provoke them into haughty erasure – testifies to an arch-nemesis quality that might be put to better purposes than the paltry sport of weenie-roasting millennials.

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