Saturday, July 13, 2019

Great Book, A-hole Author: Should we judge writers for their work and their lives?

author Dale Peck
Ernest Hemingway was an alcoholic animal-hunting macho lout. Gertrude Stein supported fascism. Nicolas Sparks owns an allegedly bigoted Christian Camp. And now we have Dale Peck, a gay author whose bitter essay on openly gay Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg was so reviled that its publisher deleted the Op-Ed within hours of publishing it. But should we judge such authors' works by their behavior outside of their literary works?

One could start with the earliest classic stories by Homer and judge Greek culture for its dubious ethics about sexual relationships between men and boys.

Jumping forward several centuries, similar critiques can be made about author Horatio Alger and his series of books about strapping young boys who enjoyed the support of rich older men. Sexual favors lurk between the lines in many of his tales. And the author, according to Wikipedia, in 1866, "had been charged with 'the abominable and revolting crime of gross familiarity with boys.' Alger denied nothing, admitted he had been imprudent, considered his association with the church dissolved, and left town."

Switching gears to machismo in men of letters, Ernest Hemingway was known to drink to excess, shoot off guns and be abusive to women. Does that mar the legacy of classics like For Whom the Bell Tolls?


Gertrude Stein
As for lesbian poet Gertrude Stein, a pal of Hemingway, her sympathies for the then-growing Nazi regime are well documented. This article by Barbara Will for the National Endowment for the Humanities tells of the poet's support of the Vichy regime.

"Throughout her life Stein hewed to the political right, even signing up to be a propagandist for an authoritarian, Nazi-dominated political regime," writes Will. 

Also, "Most of Stein’s critics have given her a relatively free pass on her Vichy sympathies. Others have tried to ignore or justify equally inexplicable events: for example, Stein’s endorsement of Adolf Hitler for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1934, or her performance of the Hitler salute at his bunker in Berchtesgaden after the Allied victory in 1945. Until recently, in fact, the troublesome question of Stein’s politics didn’t really figure in debates over her legacy—as opposed, for example, to the vehement debates surrounding Mussolini supporter and modernist poet Ezra Pound."

Will also mentioned Pound."The modernist writer Ezra Pound took a similar tack in his propaganda on behalf of Mussolini. In his book Jefferson and/or Mussolini, Pound credited Italian fascism with bringing back “Jeffersonian” economic and agrarian values to the modern world."

This, course, omits the facts that Jefferson, a politician and author, was also a slave-owner who fathered children with a female African slave. Are we to disdain Jefferson's eloquent writings as hypocritical? Should we tear down monuments to him, as many Southern cities and universities have done with statues commemorating Robert E. Lee and other Confederate historical figures? Need we remind adherents to the Civil War, waving their 'Old Dixie" flags from their truck beds, that the South lost the war?

Pete Buttigieg
A Grand Old F(l)ag
But concrete monuments, bronze statues and tattered flags are slower to fade than a vicious opinionated attack on a living politician, which brings us lurching forward to contemporary times, with Dale Peck and his "essay" on Pete Buttigieg.

As BackToStonewall reports, "The New Republic published and has now deleted an 'opinion' article on Friday that included shocking and incendiary commentary of South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s bid for the 2020 presidency. 

"The article, written by gay writer Dale Peck, was titled 'My Mayor Pete Problem.' It included asinine statements made by the author about Buttigieg’s sexual life (whether he was a bottom) and repeatedly referred to him as 'Mary Pete.'

"Peck’s badly written assessment of Pete Buttigieg, claimed 'Mary Pete is a neoliberal and a Jeffersonian meritocrat, which is to say he’s just another unrepentant or at least unexamined beneficiary of white male privilege.' The posting spread quickly across the internet where it received widespread criticism from many readers and members of the LGBT media."