Thursday, 31 May 2012

Who You On About, Leafy?

Mary McCarthy
Not much of a resemblance either - Katherine Eastland's illustration perfectly matches Jonathan Leaf's distorted representation of our hero 
I suppose we should feel grateful to Jonathan Leaf for putting MM's Centenary out there in the mainstream. If The Standard is mainstream that is. Being a Brit, I'm not entirely sure what The Standard's politics are, but, from their political headlines, and Mr Leaf's article 'Quite Contrary', I'm guessing Republican cheerleaders for the American Empire. 


  The fact that there's now some kind of acknowledgement from virtual Grubb Street that McCarthy's ton-up is imminent should be cause for celebration on this blog, shouldn't it? Well..the question must be asked...is the Leaf and Eastland version of McCarthy one that we can actually recognise? In many ways, Leaf's depiction sounds like gung-ho neo-con throwback bile, such as

 her programmatic anti-Americanism led her towards shameful and dishonest political tracts like her uncritically laudatory account of her visit to North Vietnam, Hanoi (1968). 

Or the ramblings a psycho-babbling mysogentistic red neck hard-on:

 Her rampant promiscuity—which eventually included dozens, if not hundreds, of lovers—raises the question, previously unasked by biographers, of whether she suffered from some bipolar or borderline personality disorder.  

Would he make the same outrageous judgement about a male writer? That  Byron was an over-sexed nutjob or Joe Orton a psychotic sausage-jockey?.  And yet, to give him his due, Mr Leaf does at least make a strong case that The Company She Keeps can best a male writer:

 It is Portnoy’s Complaint told from a woman’s point of view, ending poignantly and written in a far superior style.

But I think this article deserves some consideration, if only for it's analysis of the airbrushed from history phenomenon:


 Hostility towards McCarthy was evident in the academy from very early on in her career—even before her scabrous and somewhat heartless satire of self-infatuated left-wing English professors in The Groves of Academe (1952). A decade earlier, McCarthy had gained the animosity of the Communist party and its fellow travelers through her work for the Trotskyite Partisan Review, and she amplified this mutual antipathy with essays such as “Settling the Colonel’s Hash,” in which she lampooned the preoccupation among literary scholars with symbolism. Here and elsewhere, she advanced the provocative notion that fiction should be judged principally in terms of its merit as storytelling, and read primarily to find out what happens to the hero or heroine.  
Another cause for resentment was her effective demolition of Simone de Beauvoir in “Mlle. Gulliver en Amérique.” Reviewing a Beauvoir volume unavailable in English, McCarthy pointed out its innumerable idiocies: a stated admiration for James “Algee” (Agee), Eugene “O’Neil” (O’Neill), and “Max” Twain; her delight in living in “Greeniwich Village”; and her belief that the shops along New York’s Fifth Avenue were “reserved for the capitalist international.” 

So , one cheer for Mr Leaf's perspicacity on this issue and two boos for the sad fact that he can trot out nasty sexist stereotypes and cold war smears against McCarthy like it was 1970.


The Real MM