I do not speak ill of the dead.
Or at least not the newly dead.
Joseph McCarthy, for example, has been gone long enough (he died in 1957, a year before I was born) that I have no qualms about describing him as a foul drunkard who indulged a paranoid, psychotic need to persecute and bully by cloaking it in false patriotism. Nor do I have any qualms about asserting that thisÂ description is overly generous.
But William F. Buckley, Jr., who defended McCarthy in 1954’s McCarthy and His Enemies, died only yesterday (February 27, 2008).
So Iâ€™ll not speak ill of Mr. Buckley.
Instead, Iâ€™ll just describe one of the three instances in which Mr. Buckleyâ€™s life almost-but-not-quite-and-not-really intersected with mine â€“ with no purpose other than to illustrate what a strange universe it must be that would allow even the slightest of connections between the right-wing, Ivy-League likes of Mr. Buckley and the labor-union-joining, State-School likes of me.
National Review, the conservative magazine that Mr. Buckley founded, published an article by James Bowman in its October 18, 1993 issue entitled “The Uses of Abuse.” This articleâ€™s premise can be gleaned from the following two passages (the first from the articleâ€™s second paragraph, the second from its final paragraph):
. . . Now deviancy is taken to be the norm and everybody is a case history, or aspires to be. People carry, as if strapped to their backs, sacks full of traumas that they can take out and compare with those of their acquaintances. It is our equivalent of the eighteenth-century fad of carrying around snuff boxes. And so great is the craving for traumas and histories of abuse that literature has taken up the challenge of helping supply it. Ours is a more unhealthy habit than snuff-taking. For the thrill that we get from sniffing around child abuse, drunkenness, domestic violence, and so forth has an extra kick to it because so much of modern art and literature has taught us to see these things as the “reality” which all the amenities of life only serve to mask.
. . . Rubbish! We are not morally determined; sin is not reducible to sickness. . . . Even mystifiers of moral disorder like Fussell and Lâ€™Heureux [Paul Fussell and John Lâ€™Heureux, two of the novelists Mr. Bowmanâ€™s article excoriates] must recognize this in practice, since neither, so far as anyone knows, has been irresistibly tempted to gas or burn anyone. The only thing they are guilty of is the pretense of belief in their own, hidden Satanic qualities as a way of advancing the agenda of one sort or another of leftism and its assault on patriarchy, on tradition, on families, on free will, and on individual responsibility.
Got that? If an author writes a story in which abuse engenders further abuse, that author is a pandering Commie pornographer bent on destroying all that is good and pure. (This is a loose translation, but I think thatâ€™s the gist of it. Then again, I went to a state school, so what do I know?)
The connection to Yours Truly? Well, about three-quarters of the way through the article, Mr. Bowman dispatches me with a flick of his right wrist:
. . . Take, for example, Kathryn Harrisonâ€™s Exposure (Random House), which dwells upon the effects in later life of a girlâ€™s being photographed in erotic dishabille by her highly artistic father (she becomes a junkie and a shoplifter), or Bradley Dentonâ€™s Blackburn (St. Martinâ€™s), about a boy who becomes disillusioned with the entire adult world because of his fatherâ€™s beating of himself and his mother (he becomes a serial killer). Again and again the same formula is repeated: real fictional characters are turned into psychological automata. The determinist subtext is another way of insisting on the generalization of violence and the diffusion of blame.
Needless to say, I am of the (admittedly biased) opinion that Mr. Bowman completely missed the point of my novel. But then, after reading “The Uses of Abuse,” I am also of the (admittedly biased) opinion that Mr. Bowman couldnâ€™t read his way out of a wet Happy Meal bag.
And I feel confident that this is the only time the name “Bradley Denton” has ever appeared, or will ever appear, in the pages of William F. Buckley, Jr.â€™s National Review.