Leslie Fielder (1917-2003) and Identity Politics


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Leslie Fielder
Leslie Fielder

Jo Neace Krause for VT

Leslie Fiedler (l917-2003) was an English professor who in his younger days wrote the astute iconic essay, “Come Back To the Raft Again, Huck, Honey.” In this essay he points out, like a gold coin right under our noses. that so many great American novels have to do with men running away from women, ( seeking the wilderness that lies beyond civilization).
There is Tom Sawyer escaping Aunt Polly, Huck Finn riding the river, the masculine world of the whale hunters in Moby Dick, The Leather Stocking Tales of James Fennimore Cooper, to the macho persona in Hemingway and Faulkner , much of American literature, Fiedler observed was— if not homosexual and misogynous, then it certainly was strongly homocentric.
Fiedler could have added a place for the alcoholics, but he had said enough , and the blue-eyed devils of the English departments were highly amused with welcoming delight, as they still are.. What else was to be expected? Were these blue eyed English Professors to jump out of committee meetings , declaring that here was some jealous Jew intent on destroying American literary culture with an obscene point of view?
No, nothing so absurd happened. No educated group in America has acted that irrationally , we had to wait for the rise of the sore headed types in the Southern Poverty Law Center screaming anti Semitism at anyone who mentioned the J word, or even earlier, the sore-headed minority types in universities, as in the likes of Professor Kenneth Clark and Herbert Gutman who took off unarmed and rattled to denounce Robert Fogel’s book, Time on The Cross. Remember that? A study of slave economics, that saw Fogel denounced as a pro slavery and racist because he had written that slaves could grow their own sweet potatoes.
The denunciation of Fogel went on and on, over the mass media it went, like puppy dogs with a chew rag, but at least there was no movement to get Fogel fired as would happen to others in our time whose scholarly and informed research did not flatter out-group myths..
Jews and Blacks eventually made their peace with Fogel, he won the Nobel Prize for economics, but what about Leslie Fiedler who had said all those shocking things about Huck Finn? Actually the Huck Finn essay as Sweet Honey on the River did not upset anyone, it became great cocktail talk, interesting, cute , amusing. The real issue was what the Jewish Fiedler had said about Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. He had seen their kind before and he did not respect them.
It was later held that Fiedler was a frightened victim of McCarthy when he wrote his stinging essay on the prison letters between Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Certainly nothing like Joe McCarthy had ever struck fear in the Jewish upper classes like the Red Scare of the 50’s. So intense was this fear that Jewish organizers treated the Rosenbergs as a couple of tar babies not to be approached or touched , and certainly not defended from the brutality of the electric chair. That the electric chair was intentionally barbaric is no secret. Stories spread that The Chair did not kill Ethel as fast as it should have, so that Ethel’s feet had to be placed in a pan of water to hurry her three minute death.
Crowds gathered in protest, but they were not Jewish crowds. The Steven Roth Institute for Anti Semitism and Racism, writes that major Jewish organizations refused to even allow uses of their halls to groups trying to gain pardons for the couple. Any connection in the public mind with Jews and communism was like a death sentence to all Jews, these organizations believed.
So if the Rosenberg’s were abominations in the Jewish community, why was Fiedler singled out specifically with hate for his essay in which he considered both the Rosenberg’s to be twisted and malformed by their ideology?
Reviewers of Fiedler’s collected essays titled “ The Devil Gets His Due” are very specific about the existence of a grudge problem against Fiedler and the perseverance of Fiedler’s work in the face of that relentless grudge carried on these fifty some years. The editor, Samuel S.J. writes: “ Despite his often-unacknowledged influence, academics, intellectuals, and the general audience in America and abroad still read Leslie Fiedler’s work and draw on its concepts. He inspired both reverence (Leonard Cohen penned: “leaning over the American moonlight / like the shyest gargoyle / who will not become angry or old”) and rage (Saul Bellow called him “the worst fu$king thing that ever happened to American literature”).
But why is Fiedler “often-unacknowledged”? Was it because he refused to be a professional Jew and praise every Holocaust hack that came down the pike flagging a ride on the literary bandwagon? Did he cause too many bumps in the road? He certainly refused to admire Sophie’s Choice, dismissing it as more pandering to the Jewish persecution cult.
And consider this from a Professor Kim from Korea, a former student of Professor Fiedler.
“ Leslie Fiedler, who was Samuel Clemens Professor of English at SUNY/Buffalo, used to lament the recent academic trend of defaming Mark Twain as being racist. “They completely misread Huckleberry Finn,” Professor Fiedler once told me. “Twain was never a racist. Au contraire, he sharply criticized slavery and racial prejudice in Huckleberry Finn.” … [T]he radical scholars have not been able to read between the lines or uncover the underlying messages in Huckleberry Finn and Puddin’head Wilson. Yet, these militant scholars seem to unscrupulously repudiate anyone who they think belongs to the canon.”
Or as with quotes from New Blackman in Exile
“Still, whatever the subject at hand, nearly every page of the collection evinces Fiedler’s intelligence, erudition, panache, and combativeness. For example, though some critics and writers (such as Saul Bellow) pilloried Fiedler for, in essence, destroying “literature” by depreciating the traditional canon and grouped him with others who denounced it on grounds of exclusivity, it is important to note that Fiedler himself took issue with “progressive” attempts to revise the canon and university curricula.
He writes, for example, in “The Canon and the Classroom: A Caveat” that, … “progressive” revisers of the canon end by excluding as well as including works on ideological grounds; so that their new canon is finally even narrower than the reactionary one they began by deploring. On the one hand, they urge teaching works written by members of previously under esteemed groups in our society, along with those written by anyone which present what are considered at the moment in liberal academic circles correct views on ethnicity, sexuality, age and physical impairment. Yet at the same time, and on the same high moral/political grounds, they urge dropping from our curriculum books which support views on the subjects with which they happen to disagree, labeling them “racist,” “sexist,” “ageist,” “homophobic,” etc. etc.”
These are hardly the words and sentiments of the cowardly bogeyman some commentators have made Fiedler out to be.
Was Fiedler perhaps considered too much of a Wasp Lover? What could have been more damning in Buffalo, New York during the late 60’s with so many in academia dreaming of a Jewish lead coup d’état with all the trimmings: an end to the draft coupled with military escalation against the Arabs who will not do what Israel wants.
These days we can see where the street power that came out of the riots to end the Vietnam war and the draft has landed. We can hear them everywhere, over their very own world- wide media calling for more war, more drones, more assassinations, more military action “in the name of democracy”, more torture codes, and of course more demands that Arab leaders get out of their own country and if they don’t get out, someone’s going to tell Uncle Sucker who will get the UN after them like in Syria, or send Hillary to tell everyone what’s what.
Hilary? How did Hilary get in here? This is about American literature and Fiedler’s idea that women ( civilization) is something men run from? If we run from Hilary it is from the horror she represents , the militant and brutal Zionist power faction that controls this country, a civilization tuned back upon itself , spinning its wheels.


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