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A tribute to the Poet – E.L. Doctorow

By: Gaither Stewart

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My most beloved poet, the American novelist with the Slavic name, E.L. Doctorow, a third generation Russian Jew, is gone. Edgar Lawrence (named after Edgar Allen Poe), was born in the Bronx in New York City just as he was culturally supposed to. That inveterate heavy smoker Doctorow died of lung cancer at the age of 84 in Manhattan as I imagine he was destined to. In my estimation he was much too young, considering what he might have yet created in his remarkable style which if I could choose I would wholeheartedly emulate.

Although Doctorow was most well known for his novels Ragtime and Billy Bathgate, of the twelve he published and as much as I loved those two stories, I was struck by his use of real history mixed with creations of his imagination in his 1971 novel—as he was wont to in much of his work—The Book of Daniel, which was a fictionalized version of the arrest, conviction and execution of the Rosenberg couple for allegedly passing vital atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. Like many of his novels, Daniel became a film directed by Sidney Lumet

In my mind Doctorow was a born Communist. Based on his books, I believe he considered himself a Communist which despite his legitimate (considered such by US liberals) activities as editor and university professor, he hardly disguised his real identity in his literary production. Especially in this novel he expressed explicitly his undying hate for liberals.

This paragraph on the second page of The Book of Daniel, one of his first major works, shows his hate for the liberal establishment with which he mingled and lived his life while apparently maintaining his dignity, that quality today denigrated and its meaning distorted. He pronounced his hate in their faces and they facetiously ( as is their nature) praised him for it.

He (his father) didn’t like my marrying Phyllis, neither did my mother, but of course they wouldn’t say anything. Enlightened liberals are like that. Phyllis, a freshman drop out, has nothing for them. Liberals are like that too. They confuse character with education. They don’t believe we’ll live to be beautiful old people with strength in one another. Perhaps they sniff the strong erotic content of my marriage and find it distasteful. Phyllis is the kind of awkward girl with heavy thighs and heavy tits and slim lovely face whose ancestral mothers must have been born in harems. The kind of unathletic helpless breeder to appeal to caliphs. The kind of sand dune that was made to be kicked around. Perhaps they are afraid I kick here around.

Although he was not a Stephen King or Robert Ludlum, Doctorow was obviously widely read by the same liberal establishment he hated but on whose self-flagellation he thrived as a successful mainstream writer. Why? I suppose chiefly because he told good stories.

But on another level, a more psychological level, it is conceivable that liberals somehow are themselves both fascinated and satisfied by their inculcated or inherent minimum demands on a social system… and fuck the rest. Liberal masochism. Liberals’ see-how-we are-better-than-them phobias.

My second why? is directed at liberal-hating leftists. Why are we wary of the best of them? Of liberals? Of those who campaign and carry placards and organize sit-ins for social changes and sing inspirational songs? Of the ones who paint the rosiest of pictures of “change is possible”. Why?

E.L. Doctorow seemed to comprehend the answer. Do we?


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