...we wondered what had happened to spectacle in the world of letters. Not the spectacle of angry op-ed pieces, of political outrage. More old fashioned drunken spectacle. Fitzgerald making an ass of himself, or Mailer getting piss drunk on national television. Authors were brilliant people with little self-control. The public respected that.
So what happened? Why have authors tamed? Could it be the influence of academia? Is it that authors as teachers now feel the need to set a moral example? Whatever the reason, I think it’s a shame.
I'm not sure to what extent this was tongue-in-cheek, but wow--I sure don't think it's a shame. Let me address several things here.
First, I hate to dump on Grant, but it's a little bit tiring to hear, over and over, people complain about the civilizing influence of academia upon the world of art and letters. This is, at its heart, a right-wing argument--the implication is that Great Art has been girlified, that we've all been turned into a bunch of prim little homos and pussies by the feminists and queer theorists who have forced us all to march in lockstep lest we offend somebody.
My own experience of academia is that it is rigorous, challenging, and open to new ideas--and that it considers intellectual aggression a virtue, regardless of its gender associations. But maybe I've been hanging around the wrong colleges. More importantly, I think the basic trouble with this argument is not that academia's being blamed for the problem, but that anyone thinks there's a problem to begin with. Hemingway was a dick, and so was every other hard-drinkin', bar-fightin', wife-and-child-leavin' SOB who ever topped the best-seller list. The reason their exploits became so legendary is that they came to prominence in an age when writing by men was the only writing anybody took seriously. The more masculine the better, and if masculine meant drinking yourself to death, cheating on your wife, and (in Hemingway's case) socking Wallace Stevens in the jaw, then so be it. Was it any wonder Woolf and Plath committed suicide?
The fact is, angry op-ed pieces and political outrage take moral courage and rhetorical skill to pull off; while fistfights, infidelity, and drunken rage are the purview of cowards. And if the literary establishment--if such a thing even exists anymore, or if anyone cares whether or not it does--thinks otherwise, I will happily choose lifelong obscurity over treating other people like shit.