|At the Watergate hearings|
|News Conference 1969|
As assistant literary editor on a famous liberal weekly, one sees her adopting Trotskyism as a kind of brash, romantic pose and as a means—half unconscious—of attracting the attention which she craves. One sees how she uses it to inflame various lovers, and how she prostitutes a very real intelligence to serve a wanton’s goal.”[xxi]Walton is referring to Sargent’s defense of Trotsky on her first day of work in the fourth story of The Company She Keeps, entitled “Portrait of the Intellectual as a Yale Man.” Meg Sargent has returned to New York to write for the Liberal, a weekly not dissimilar to The Nation or the New Republic where McCarthy had worked. Walton’s criticism of Sargent seems unjustified, as she overlooks McCarthy’s aesthetic of fact. McCarthy believed that American journalism was plagued with conformity of opinion. There lacked any truly subversive opinions because, “writers were more interested in displaying their cleverness than contending with facts.”[xxii] The Liberal is a reflection of magazines such as the Nation and the New Republic, who were so absorbed in the struggle to defend their ideas that they feared showing any recognition of conflicting opinion. Sargent enters into The Liberal and decides to defend the unpopular opinion. She sarcastically comments that they would have loved to run an article written by Trotsky, to which the managing editor responds, “Well, no, we wouldn’t. . . . Solidarity on the left is so important at this moment. We can’t afford self-criticism now.”[xxiii] Jim Barnett (the “Yale man”) comments that Trotsky made a mistake in publishing his article in Liberty, and might as well have published it in Hearst. Sargent retorts with a compelling defense of Trotsky’s decision, “Liberty is read by the masses, and the Liberal is read by a lot of self-appointed delegates for the masses whose principal contact with the working class is a colored maid.”[xxiv] Not only does she rip apart Barnett’s comment, but criticize the publication she has just been employed by. Yet in doing so she has confronted them with fact. “And facts, rather than writers, are socially offensive.”[xxv] Nelson illuminates McCarthy’s serious emphasis on courage. Sargent was courageous to challenge her colleagues and reveal a disloyalty to their publication.
They sought not relief from pain but heightened sensitivity to what they called reality. Perversely or not, they imagined the consolations for pain in intimacy, empathy, and solidarity as anesthetic. Their toleration of pain—indeed, their insistence on its ordinariness—is a part of their eccentricity. (88)Nelson’s analysis of McCarthy’s approach to healing reflects Sargent’s own analysis of therapy:
First comes the anesthetic, the sweet optimistic laughing-gas of science. After consciousness has been put to sleep…it is a very easy matter to cut out the festering conscience, which was of no use to you at all, and was only making you suffer. Then the patient takes a short rest and emerges as a cured neurotic; the personality has vanished, but otherwise he is perfectly normal (276).McCarthy confirms Nelson’s idea of the “anesthetic” effect of healing in Sargent’s description of therapy. Sargent dissects the process of therapeutic healing, reducing it to an extraction of personality and consciousness. Sargent views therapy as a weakening force. The sympathy and solidarity provided by Dr. James makes Sargent fear that she will lose her agency. If Sargent’s personality and opinions are suppressed, she can no longer communicate the truth. “…[U]nder the pressure of this, her own sense of truth was weakening. This and her wonderful scruples were all she had in the world…”[xxxiii] Therefore she chooses to reject healing, and embrace the pain caused by her neuroses and troubled past.