Fear and Loathing
How Leslie Fiedler turned American criticism on its head.
If he had a soul mate, it was that other Jewish rebel from Newark, Philip Roth, who later would outdo him as a maestro of rage-driven hilarity. Both men knew that what happened in Upper West Side salons was no more authentic—possibly less so—than the transactions that took place in Newark and Buffalo and Ketchum, in back seats, kitchens, and hunting lodges with big TV screens. This knowledge enabled Fiedler to push beyond the encrustations of "cultural politics" to explore the deeper realm of revenge and hatred, fear and loathing, where we really live. "I have, I admit, a low tolerance for detached chronicling and cool analysis," he once wrote. "It is, I suppose, partly my own unregenerate nature. I long for the raised voice, the howl of rage or love." And when he failed to find those howls in the subjects he wrote about, he supplied them himself.
Sam Tanenhaus is the editor of the New York Times Book Review and the author of The Death of Conservatism.
Photograph courtesy of Don Heupel/AP Wide World Photos.