Abandon all high-mindedness all ye who enter here.
This week the Daily Beast has a gallery of literary feuds, which is as appalling as it is entertaining. How did I miss that Richard Ford spat on Colson Whitehead at a 2004 Poets & Writers event in retaliation for a bad review? That the always pugnacious Norman Mailer head-butted Gore Vidal in the green room of the Dick Cavett show may not be too surprising, but whenever events allow us to spy that (sometimes significant) gulf between an artist and his or her creation, I cannot help but marvel: how is it that the same people who possess such extraordinary insight into human behavior can acquit themselves so poorly? On one hand, given that most of these featured feuds took place before digital media existed to fan the flames, I suppose it’s reassuring to see that people were petty and peevish even before they had recourse to blogs or tweets.
Interestingly, there are those who complain that the current literary landscape has become too genteel and booster-ish, that punches are pulled for fear of censure. (Dale Peck, apparently, missed this memo. So too Paul Berman). In a 2006 article in the NYT Book Review, columnist Rachel Donadio wrote about the literary feud as an endangered species “To some, the paucity of feuds is connected to the larger state of literary culture. ‘It’s not because we no longer have feuds,’ said Fran Lebowitz, the writer. ‘It’s because we no longer have literature.’ ” This strikes me as somewhat dire—I’m not convinced that there is clear and direct relationship between literary merit and public sniping. What do you think?
Have you any favorite literary feuds?