The Man Who Lived on the Diving Board

Last month, John Leonard would have turned 70. He was a friend, and an inspiration for Intellectual Affairs; and it has been painful, these past few months, to know he isn't out there reading any more.

I wasn't able to get to New York on Monday for the memorial service, but am glad to see that Charles Kaiser wrote about it for Columbia Journalism Review's website.

In an ideal situation, the comments section below the article should fill up with additional recollections of the event and tributes the man himself. Alas, this is not the case. A spirit of impertinent irrelevance quickly takes over. But at least the first remark -- left by one Hal Davis -- is on topic:

"Leonard once reviewed, in the daily Times, a Marshall McLuhan volume. Each graf started with a large drop-letter capital. The individual letters, reading down, read 'NONSENSE.'"

The medium was the message...Actually that piece also appears in John's collection This Pen For Hire, which I have been hoping to interest some publisher in reissuing for years on the grounds that it provides a critical panorama of American culture (high, low, and all points in between) in the late 1960s and early '70s. And because -- well, hell, I just love the book.

Opening it again now, I find a credo:

"If you happen to be interested in experimental fiction or logical positivism or cybernetics of the brain or ex-Communists or anthropology or Richard Nixon or psychoanalysis or haiku, either your reviews are going to reflect those interests or, when you look into your shaving mirror, all you will see reflected is the other side of the room. And 800 words aren't enough to explain a whole field to a million readers, 95 per cent of whom couldn't care less. So you make some elitist assumptions about the people who will care, and belly flop straight into deep waters."

(crossposted)


March 5, 2009 4:37 PM | | Comments (0)

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