RIP, Leslie Fiedler

From: Tim O'Connor <>
Date: Sun Feb 02 2003 - 23:50:07 EST

I confess that I am so busy with Other Things of late, I haven't
had time to send messages or read things here carefully or do
any kind of due diligence except in relationship to work, which
owns my soul right now. Oh Faust, oh Faust! (I cry in vain.)

In my apparent role as mourner-in-chief, I wanted to point out a
bit of news. The last time I mentioned a passing-on of someone
of literary note, it set off an unrelated firestorm, and, in the
end, it got little enough note regarding the deceased writer.
In this case, perhaps things will fare better because the
decedent is rather more widely known and either revered or
reviled, depending on your opinion of the state of letters.

So: In the past, we have discussed critic Leslie Fiedler and
certain of his essays. I regret to say that Professor Fiedler
-- who, ominously, was born two years before Our Friend in
Cornish -- recently died. If you get there quickly enough, you
should be able to see a detailed obit in the NY Times, here
(registration may be required, but is free):

I reproduce the text, though not the portrait, below. I hope
the Times doesn't come after me. More than that, I hope not to
ignite any incandescent exchanges this time around. Only a note
on the loss of an intriguing and fearless critic.



Regards and thanks to everyone who has written in the last month
or two. Since I was leaving NYU effective January 1, I was
insanely busy, to say the least, and have barely been able to
respond to any mail. As I went about searching and interviewing
for a new job, the process consumed my life, and mail was low on
the list of things to do. If you wrote and didn't get an
answer, that's the reason. I'll try to get to you.

The good people at Columbia University offered me a job that I
began in mid-January, and of course THAT job has a grip on me as
much as the job search had, so I'm even more behind than ever in
sending answers. Therefore, I ask your patience if you've
mailed but haven't received an answer. I've put list business
(subscriptions, unsubs, etc.) at the top of the pile, but other
traffic is lower. Sorry; simply not enough hours in the day and
all that. But I keep at it.

If you were accustomed to contacting me at any old NYU addresses:

... please go to my personal address instead:

As I said, my backlog is huge, but I'll try to get to your mail
-- if it's about the list (especially errors or problems), put
the words:


at the start of the subject, as in:

        BANANAFISH URGENT -- I can't post to the list!

and send that to me at, and I will do all I
can to reply quickly.

As far as the list itself, and all the associated stuff: I moved
it out of NYU's space several years ago into ""
space, so that we would never be beholden to anyone's good will.
This means that the list goes on as always, and is in no way
dependent on NYU or any other conglomerate's goodwill or other

So, post away, and best regards!



January 31, 2003

Leslie Fiedler, a Provocative Literary Critic, Dies at 85


Leslie Fiedler, the maverick man of letters whose best-known book, "Love
and Death in the American Novel," attempted to tear away traditional
masks of literary discourse and engage the deeper autobiographical and
psychological considerations that might motivate the critic, died on
Wednesday at his home in Buffalo. He was 85.

"I have, I admit, a low tolerance for detached chronicling and cool
analysis," Mr. Fiedler once wrote in a negative book review. "It is, I
suppose, partly my own unregenerate nature. I long for the raised voice,
the howl of rage or love."

His shout reverberated in "Love and Death" (1960, Criterion). Mr.
Fiedler developed the book from a provocative essay that appeared in
Partisan Review in 1948, "Come Back to the Raft Ag'in, Huck Honey,"
which, far from suggesting some hanky-panky going on between Huck and
Jim on the raft, as many accused him of doing, instead highlighted the
important roles of race and male bonding in American literature.

Morris Dickstein, reviewing "Fiedler on the Roof: Essays on Literature
and Jewish Identity" (1991, David R. Godine) for The New York Times Book
Review, summed up the achievement of "Love and Death": "This hectoring
but brilliant book had prophetic overtones of sexual liberation borrowed
from Freud, Reich and D. H. Lawrence. The author, with his gift for
melodrama and phrase-making, tried to expose the sexual duplicities of
American fiction."

Mr. Dickstein continued, "Soon Mr. Fiedler was eagerly identifying with
the `new mutants' of the nascent counterculture, who appealed to his
urge to thumb his nose at the bourgeoisie."

Leslie Aaron Fiedler was born on March 8, 1917, in Newark. He worked his
way through New York University selling women's shoes, earning a
bachelor's degree in 1938. He completed a master's degree and a Ph.D. at
the University of Wisconsin. During World War II he served in the Navy
as a cryptologist and a Japanese-language interpreter. He witnessed the
United States Marines and a Navy combat medic raising the American flag
on Mount Suribachi in Iwo Jima in February 1945.

Mr. Fiedler married Margaret Ann Shipley in 1939; they divorced in 1972.
The next year he married Sally Andersen. In addition to his wife, he is
survived by his sons Kurt, Eric and Michael; his daughters Deborah,
Jennie and Miriam; and his stepsons Soren and Eric Andersen.

Mr. Fiedler taught throughout his career, first at the University of
Montana, from 1941 through 1964. He served as chairman of the English
department from 1954 to 1956. He went to the State University of New
York at Buffalo in 1965, and became the Samuel Langhorne Clemens
Professor of English. He also taught at Princeton, Harvard, Columbia,
Indiana University, the Sorbonne and the universities of Wisconsin,
Vermont, Sussex, Paris, Rome, Bologna and Athens.

Yet he never ceased writing and publishing and acting out the role of
literary provocateur. Among his better known books were "The Return of
the Vanishing American" (1968, Stein & Day); "An End to Innocence:
Essays on Culture and Politics" (1955, Beacon Press); "The Last Jew in
America" (1966, Stein & Day), a collection of short stories; and "The
Stranger in Shakespeare" (1972, Stein & Day).

In 1969 he published "Being Busted," about how police officers raided
his Buffalo home in 1967, found hashish and marijuana, and arrested him
along with his wife and five other family members. The book was half
about the event and half a meditation on Mr. Fiedler's past. After a
five-year legal struggle, charges against him were thrown out by the
State Court of Appeals.

Mr. Fiedler was always more concerned with his relations to American
culture than to the law. He thrived in the 60's, a decade that began
with Norman Mailer's "Advertisements for Myself" and his own "Love and
Death" and ended with Philip Roth's "Portnoy's Complaint," and an era
that Mr. Dickstein in his review called one of "transgression and
rebellion" that spoke to Mr. Fiedler's emotional needs. Mr. Fiedler went
on to rebel against high culture, particularly the triumphant modernism
that he and other New York intellectuals had long expounded. In a series
of essays he pledged his allegiance to the popular culture he had
devoured in his youth, from "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and "Tarzan of the Apes"
to comic strips and horror films. In 1978 he published "Freaks: Myths
and Images of the Secret Self" (Simon & Schuster, 1978).

In his later years he dissected his role as a Jew in America, half
celebrating his freedom from orthodoxy, half lacerating himself for
using his religion to promote his career. In "Fiedler on the Roof" he
wrote that he had "profited from a philo-Semitism as undiscriminating as
the anti-Semitism in reaction to which it originated." He concluded,
"And to make matters worse, I have shamelessly played the role in which
I have been cast, becoming a literary Fiedler on the roof of academe."

In 1997 the National Book Critics Circle gave him the Ivan Sandrof Award
for his contribution to American arts and letters.

A few days before he died, Mr. Fiedler dictated part of an essay on D.
H. Lawrence and sat for a magazine interview during which he reminisced
about accompanying O. J. Simpson and Allen Ginsberg to a Bob Dylan
concert in Canada.

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