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Tom Wolfe Issue

In response to:

Parajournalism II: Wolfe and The New Yorker from the February 3, 1966 issue

To the Editors:

I like your Tom Wolfe issues the best. I hereby charge and assert that the testy but lovable Boswell who annotates my old laundry slips, Dwight Macdonald, drinks tea. Please print this letter up front in your paper so that he can respond at length and write another Tom Wolfe issue.

Tom Wolfe

New York City

Dwight Macdonald replies:

I take this persiflage to be a flag of surrender. Not surprised—what could he say?—but hadn’t expected the flag to be so white. A depressing victory. Bad enough a reputable newspaper should print such irresponsible nonsense as Wolfe’s kamikaze attack on The New Yorker and its editor—objective undamaged, pilot lost, high-style bushido—but worse that the above jocosity is the only reaction from author, editor, or management of the Tribune when the imposture is exposed. Hit and run parajournalism.

The reference to Boswell sent me to a useful compendium, Henry Darcy Curwen’s A Johnson Sampler (Harvard University Press, 1963) where I found apropos of “a very ignorant young fellow,” the Doctor remarking: “The fellow’s dullness is elastic…and all we can do is like kicking at a woolsack.” Or punching a pillow. Precisely—if one remembers that Johnson meant by “dullness” what Pope meant in The Dunciad, what the OED calls “an early use,” namely, “wanting wit, fatuous, foolish.” You show up his errors in fourteen columns, and he calls you his Boswell (some Dr. Johnson!) and begs for more. Like that Ephesian who burned down the temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the world, so that his name—which escapes me—would go down in history, Tom Wolfe confuses publicity with achievement. And he appears to assume, with naive cynicism, that everybody else is similarly motivated. Including me. “Macdonald really seems to be annoyed that more people are paying attention to me than to him,” he recently explained (Newsweek, Jan. 31). “Sir,” Johnson complained to Boswell in an irritable moment, “Sir, you have but two topicks, yourself and me. I am sick of both.”

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