My first encounter with the man was through a video about Shakespeare; he intimated homosexual tendencies in The Sonnets by, I think, by dissecting many critics' use of a nondenial denial. Then, later, I heard of news that he had died, and, checking him up on Google, found that his CV was actually still up on the web, like a more-appropriate tombstone.
Thusly I begin reading his most famous work, a book from an era when non-academics actually read books of criticism, and also, a book from a time when English professors and literary culture were distinct. (Maybe this is why many English depts. house real assholes and are now being pushed aside to oblivion by the Right.) The introduction to Love and Death said the first half of that.
I've read the beginning parts, up to page 38. Fiedler has that magnanimous touch for the subtle generalization; he's thought this through, or is beginning to in a real fashion, and writes what he thinks, and you should believe for that. It's a charismatic mode of writing, and I, for one, am under its spell.
Prof Lynda Zwinger says it's where any debate about American literature, and American studies for that matter, starts, and now I see why. Fiedler talks, or writes, with figuration--that is to say, he makes figures out of academic-y things (i.e. "the pursuit of 'truth'", Rousseau, Napoleon, T. Jefferson) and fits them into his compelling narrative of the basis of the Idea of America: its contradictions, ambiguities. And as critic, he seeks to answer these problems, or at least point them out for the sake of pointing them out.
The arguments are compelling. The "new" America is an extension of her/his European forebears, but distinct, who in its infancy refuses the romantic love narrative and instead tells stories of men going off with other men (many times a dark-skinned man) to avoid the "civilized" crushing responsibilities of wooing, marriage, and children. And escaping not to a place of innocence (nature), but to a place of gothic indifference and horror (the real nature). The ambiguity at the center of all this is America's unresolved relation to the black and the American Indian, and the problem of hamstrung sexuality partly due to the uptightness of the puritanism.
The book (up to page 38) seems more a promontory step towards that bugaboo of mine called Ameican Studies (a bugaboo, of course, because of my difficulties with famous American Studies scholar Annette Kolodny--a Famous person). But in the rebellious, charismatic long hair and Henry Miller-esque manque of Fiedler, American studies transfixes me, and spurs me to read that 700-pager Or: The Whale, known to most as Moby Dick. --adam
Reading: Leslie A. Fiedler, _Love and Death in the American Novel_
No profanes - sacred