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February 14, 2007

With a Name Like Legman, His Destiny Seemed Clear

Gershon Legman and the now mostly forgotten journal Neurotica have long been interests of mine -- so it was probably a matter of time before they ended up, as they did today, in my column. Actually I hope to return to both subjects again in the future.

Thanks to the miracle of trackback, I see that Chad Orzel, at his blog Uncertain Principle, suggests the whole article was just a way of framing the following thought about Legman:

Any scholar publishing a book called Oragentialism: Oral Techniques in Genital Excitation may be said to have contributed something to the sum total of human happiness.

An understandable point, though not quite literally true. In fact that sentence did not cross my mind until the first draft was mostly written. But it did feel like it had a place in the essay. (It's nice when the back of the brain surprises you with a snappy remark like that.)

I recently found a copy of the title in question at the Strand in New York and added it to my slowly accruing Legman collection, along with small-press editions of Love and Death and of a volume reprinting the nine issues of Neurotica.

I'm still looking for a copy of John Clellon Holmes's essay collection Nothing More to Declare, which is where I first came across a reference to Legman and the journal.

It was Holmes, by the way, who first used the expression "Beat generation" in print, in an essay that ran in The New York Times a few years before Howl or On the Road appeared. In a memoir in Nothing More, he describes Legman's apartment in the late 1940s as being full of vintage works of erotic literature and filing cabinets full of notes. He got by on selling rare books, but had to eat things that the butcher normally sold to people for feeding their dogs.

There is no glamor to the life of an independent scholar if you aren't rich. Trust me on this.

Posted by smclemee at February 14, 2007 10:39 AM


Thanks for an inspiring post, your comment, the link and just ... for your writing in general.

Posted by: Jan at February 14, 2007 5:53 PM

You should post a choice excerpt from Oragentialism's lit review. :-)

Posted by: Aaron Swartz at February 15, 2007 1:00 PM