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Idiot Mambo

Robert Taubman, 16 April 1981

Cities of the Red Night 
by William Burroughs.
Calder, 332 pp., £9.95, March 1981, 0 7145 3784 5
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The Tokyo-Montana Express 
by Richard Brautigan.
Cape, 258 pp., £6.50, April 1981, 0 224 01907 4
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... about The Naked Lunch, a famous cult novel of the Beat generation. A not unsympathetic critic, Leslie Fiedler, found much of it ‘dull protest literature, manifestoes against cops and in favour of junkies and homosexuals’ – which is not sympathetic, but not right either. I can’t call to mind anything less ‘in favour of’ drugs or ...

Pool of Consciousness

Jane Miller, 21 February 1980

Pilgrimage 
by Dorothy Richardson.
Virago, £3.50, November 1980, 0 86068 100 9
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... the boredom of its conveyance. And the moment the story enters, the boredom comes upon you.’ Leslie Fiedler found another kind of boredom in Pilgrimage, one he defended, grudgingly, as ‘a warranty of its commitment to truth and the dull reality we all inhabit’. The notion of a ‘commitment to truth’ is acceptable enough, but the novel’s ...

Star Warrior

John Sutherland, 6 October 1983

Skywalking: The Life and Films of George Lucas 
by Dale Pollock.
Elm Tree, 304 pp., £9.95, July 1983, 0 241 11034 3
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Olaf Stapledon: A Man Divided 
by Leslie Fiedler.
Oxford, 236 pp., £17.50, June 1983, 0 19 503086 9
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... to be serious.’ Well and good. But the critic selected as ‘appropriate’ for Stapledon is Leslie Fiedler, whose career in letters has taken the form of a campaign to demolish canons, pantheons and Arnoldian critical seriousness. (His latest shot is called What was Literature?) Fiedler, one expects, would rather ...

How far shall I take this character?

Richard Poirier: The Corruption of Literary Biography, 2 November 2000

Bellow: A Biography 
by James Atlas.
Faber, 686 pp., £25, November 2000, 0 571 14356 3
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... praised by more senior and noteworthy critics, including Lionel Trilling, Irving Howe and Leslie Fiedler. In the novel’s memorable first sentence, it is possible to hear an exhilaration and release missing from his two earlier books. This is Augie’s Whitmanesque introduction of himself, an introduction, too, of a new voice in Bellow’s ...

Knives, Wounds, Bows

John Bayley, 2 April 1987

Randall Jarrell’s Letters 
edited by Mary Jarrell.
Faber, 540 pp., £25, January 1986, 0 571 13829 2
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The Complete Prose of Marianne Moore 
edited by Patricia Willis.
Faber, 723 pp., £30, January 1987, 0 571 14788 7
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... Alfred Kazin, Lionel Trilling, Delmore Schwartz, Allen Tate, Kenneth Burke, Robert Fitzgerald, Leslie Fiedler and John Crowe Ransom – this last its founder as a school of literary criticism ‘to teach those who teach it’. Marianne Moore, in Brooklyn, had a quieter time, but was just as much in touch with them all through friends and books. All ...

First Movie in the White House

J. Hoberman: ‘Birth of a Nation’, 12 February 2009

D.W. Griffith’s ‘The Birth of a Nation’: A History of ‘The Most Controversial Motion Picture of All Time’ 
by Melvyn Stokes.
Oxford, 414 pp., £13.99, January 2008, 978 0 19 533679 5
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... Roots (the novel and the mini-series), The Birth of a Nation is part of the cycle that the late Leslie Fiedler called America’s ‘inadvertent epic’. One could add Oscar Micheaux’s early novels and polemical films, Melvin Van Peebles’s Sweet Sweetback’s Baaadasssss Song, the radio show Amos n’ Andy, The Bill Cosby Show, Ken Burns’s PBS ...

Ashamed of the Planet

Ian Hamilton, 2 March 2000

No Other Book: Selected Essays 
by Randall Jarrell, edited by Brad Leithauser.
HarperCollins, 376 pp., $27.50, June 1999, 0 06 118012 2
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Remembering Randall: A Memoir of Poet, Critic and Teacher Randall Jarrell 
by Mary von Schrader Jarrell.
HarperCollins, 173 pp., $22, June 1999, 0 06 118011 4
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... audience might well respond: calm down. And maybe it was this kind of vein-popping hyperbole that Leslie Fiedler had in mind when he wrote of Jarrell: ‘He is resolutely unsystematic, committed to no methodology or aesthetic theory – responsible only to his own responses, hushed only before the mystery of his own taste. And what unfailing taste he ...

The Basic Couple

Benjamin Kunkel: Norman Rush, 23 October 2013

Subtle Bodies 
by Norman Rush.
Granta, 234 pp., £14.99, October 2013, 978 1 84708 780 5
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... has been doubted whether in the US we have produced any at all. Or so things stood in 1960, when Leslie Fiedler published Love and Death in the American Novel, four years after Norman Rush graduated from Swarthmore College, where he met the woman whose ‘heart, sensibility and intellect are so signally – if perforce esoterically – celebrated and ...

Works of Art

Peter Lamarque, 2 April 1981

Art and Its Objects 
by Richard Wollheim.
Cambridge, 270 pp., £12.50, November 1980, 0 521 22898 0
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Works and Worlds of Art 
by Nicholas Wolterstorff.
Oxford, 372 pp., £20, December 1980, 0 19 824419 3
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... and is not part of a fictional world. Are Huck and Jim really having a homosexual relationship, as Leslie Fiedler suggests, in the world of Huckleberry Finn? Wolterstorff has a keen eye for the logical conundrum. Suppose Henry Kissinger were to play the lead role in a play about Henry Kissinger. Would we have the same relation there between actor and ...

Lawrence Festival

Dan Jacobson, 18 September 1980

... of the College of Santa Fe, where a conference on Lawrence’s work was taking place, Professor Leslie Fiedler described the procession as ‘obscene’. To me it had seemed just absurd and vaguely humiliating. It reminded me a little of all those other ad hoc ceremonial occasions making a stab at solemnity that one sees from time to time on ...

Strange Fruit

Francis Spufford, 5 February 1987

The Garden of Eden 
by Ernest Hemingway.
Hamish Hamilton, 247 pp., £9.95, February 1987, 0 241 11998 7
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... complete lover? Oddly enough, I don’t believe the answer should be the apparently obvious one. Leslie Fiedler may have thought that Hemingway’s inability to imagine a woman properly was one step from homosexuality, but then Fiedler’s ideas about proper women were, as he delights in telling us, formed by Freud ...

Pity the monsters

Richard Altick, 18 December 1980

The Elephant Man 
by Bernard Pomerance.
Faber, 71 pp., £2.25, June 1980, 0 571 11569 1
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The Elephant Man: the Book of the Film 
by Joy Kuhn.
Virgin, 90 pp., £6.95, October 1980, 9780907080091
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The Elephant Man 
by Christine Sparks.
Futura, 272 pp., £1.25, August 1980, 0 7088 1942 7
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The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences 
by Frederick Treves.
Star, 126 pp., £95, August 1980, 0 352 30747 1
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The Elephant Man and Other Freaks 
by Sian Richards.
Futura, 197 pp., £1.25, October 1980, 0 7088 1927 3
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The True History of the Elephant Man 
by Michael Howell and Peter Ford.
Allison and Busby, 190 pp., £6.95, March 1980, 0 85031 353 8
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... engineering’ and of its capacity to produce fresh monstrosities in laboratories, and what Leslie Fiedler calls in his recent book on freaks ‘myths and images of the secret self’. None of these phenomena except possibly the last, however, can explain the fascination which the Elephant Man had for the working-class patrons of the show in the ...

Hey, Mister, you want dirty book?

Edward Said: The CIA, 30 September 1999

Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War 
by Frances Stonor Saunders.
Granta, 509 pp., £20, July 1999, 1 86207 029 6
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... Activities Committee, simply went along with the whole thing, became incensed onlookers (like Leslie Fiedler), or just kept quiet as their friends were tarred and feathered, ostracised and sacked from their jobs. Saunders is very good on the connections between the Wasp establishment (a sort of consortium) and the CIA, and on how important, socially ...

Yuh wanna play bad?

Christopher Tayler: Henry Roth, 23 March 2006

Redemption: The Life of Henry Roth 
by Steven Kellman.
Norton, 372 pp., $16.99, September 2005, 0 393 05779 8
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Call It Sleep 
by Henry Roth.
Picador US, 462 pp., $15, July 2005, 0 312 42412 4
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... began to grow in 1956, when Call It Sleep was the only novel mentioned twice – by Kazin and Leslie Fiedler – in a printed symposium on ‘The Most Neglected Books of the Past 25 Years’. In 1964, Irving Howe described it in the New York Times Book Review as ‘one of the few genuinely distinguished novels written by a 20th-century ...

That Night at Farnham

Anne Barton, 18 August 1983

Homosexuality in Renaissance England 
by Alan Bray.
Gay Men’s Press, 149 pp., £7.95, September 1982, 0 907040 16 0
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Comic Women, Tragic Men: A Study of Gender and Genre in Shakespeare 
by Linda Bamber.
Stanford, 211 pp., $18.50, June 1982, 0 8047 1126 7
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Still Harping on Daughters: Women and Drama in the Age of Shakespeare 
by Lisa Jardine.
Harvester, 202 pp., £18.95, June 1983, 0 7108 0436 9
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... as what we should now call a ‘woman-hater’ – a view anticipated, in their own ways, by Leslie Fiedler and Marilyn French – it does at least have the merit of demonstrating just how far the misogynist line can be taken. If Jardine’s interpretations of plays by Shakespeare and other contemporary dramatists are correct, these works ought to ...

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