Unreliable Narrators

by Richard Brookhiser

Alfred Kazin (1915–98) was a critic and autobiographer. A brand-new edition of his Journals has many fine things about some of his ongoing preoccupations — the successes and travails of Jews, American literature (he is especially good on Melville), the streets of New York — and some lively anecdotes and thumbnail sketches.

My confidence in the latter is shaken by Kazin’s take on the two people I know somewhat well, Norman Podhoretz and Arthur Carter. He is unfair to the former, and simply wrong about the latter.

Kazin wrote for Commentary when it was a liberal publication, but loathed its right turn. So he excoriates Podhoretz repeatedly. Par for the course. But then, in 1986, he notes that Podhoretz has sent him a copy of his latest book with an inscription, “Alfred, Why Can’t We Be Friends?” Kazin just growls and scowls on.

Kazin says that all Carter talks about is money. I knew Carter as founder of the New York Observer (these days he sculpts). All he ever talked to me about was the publication and his hopes for it. I get the sense Kazin resented Carter for having more money than Alfred Kazin.

Kazin’s touchiness, paranoia, and ressentiment appear many, many other times. He writes well, but he has the temperament and manners of an OWS police-car defecator.

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