I just now heard an NPR report about an international computer hacking group called "Anonymous." This made me think of the Anonymous writers of Comments on my "Bobs blog" stories, especially the highly critical comments about some of my activities, like dancing in dance clubs with, mostly, younger men and Goddesses. Sometimes it feels as if the nasty Commenters have hacked into my computer, my blog, my head, and delivered a message of hostility and anger about the way I've chosen to live my life. I never delete any of these Comments, even the nastiest of them. I do, however, sometimes choose to respond in kind.
Some of my readers don't seem to understand why I would sometimes choose to meet anger with anger, vituperation with vituperation, nastiness with more of the same. The purpose of this blog post is not to attempt a justification of my practice but merely to report the fact that writers, throughout the history of writing, frequently respond to nasty criticism with, well, nasty rejoinder. Some of these writers clothe their nastiness in lovely language, but others are very direct, nakedly nasty. I'll cite two of the many examples which amuse me.
Of the "nicer" variety, consider the interaction of two writers about Abraham Lincoln, Edgar Lee Masters and Carl Sandburg. Masters wrote a scurrilous biography of our greatest president, in which he claimed that the president we all know as Honest Abe was "cruel to his mother and was mean to his 'unmoral,' 'shiftless,' and 'worthless' father. He married for money and used Christian morality as a cover to drag the nation into the Civil War. Masters concluded that Lincoln was 'unmannerly, unkempt, unwashed and untrustworthy.'" B. Peschel, "Writers Gone Wild," pp. 104-05 (Perigee 2010). Masters hated Carl Sandburg, himself an American icon of poetry who authored a famous biography of Lincoln which "made him wealthy and cemeted Lincoln as an American icon." Id. In retaliation for some nasty things which Masters said about Sandburg, Sandburg wrote the following private poem:
Lincoln and Masters one more fable,
One more conglomerate fart
Lost on the anxious rumps of the west wind.
Now for the "nasty" sort, consider a speech Sinclair Lewis wrote and delivered at a public dinner for a Russian author. At the dinner, Lewis was drunk. He was also "still stinging over the critical slaps he received the previous year when he won the Nobel Prize for literature (see "Babbitt Does Stockholm," on page 33). When he was invited to say a few words, Lewis stood and let them have it.
'I feel disinclined to say anything in the presence of the son-of-a-bitch who stole three thousand words
from my wife's book and before two sage critics who publicly lamented my reiving the Nobel Prize.'
Peschel, supra. at 105-06.
The son-of-a-bitch was Theodore Dreiser, author of "An American Tragedy," and a man Lewis suspected of having had an affair with his wife, the journalist Dorothy Thompson, on a trip to the Soviet Union.
It gets better. The plot thickens.
"So after dinner, Dreiser confronted Lewis. 'I know you're an ignoramus, but you're crazy,' he said and dared Lewis to repeat what he said. He did. Dreiser slapped him and dared him to say it again. Lewis obliged, but before Dreiser could commence a beat-down, his friends hustled him away." Peschel, supra. at 106.
I cite these examples not so much as justification for my own occasionally nasty replies to nasty Comments from Anonymous readers of my blog but more so to demonstrate that such vituperative parries and thrusts are no unprecedented in the world of writers. Someone might reply that these examples are all instances of professional writers attacking other professional writers, whereas my nasty Commenters may not be professional writers, perhaps not writers at all. To that I say, I am not a professional writer. I write for fun, not profit. Also, I know nothing about my angry Anonymous Commenters, precisely because they ARE Anonymous. They may not be professional writers. From the poor quality of most of their rambling criticisms, I'd be surprised to learn that any of them were ever paid for a single letter put to paper or computer screen. In any event, they cloak themselves behind a mother's skirt of Anonymity whereas I am exposed, naked, really, for all to see. If I knew who they were, I might be gentler, more circumspect perhaps. But maybe not.
I am happy about one important matter. These Anonymous Commenters are at least taking time from their busy lives to read "Bobs blog" and take the time to file a Comment. For that they have earned my undying thanks.
In a future blog post, I will write about the long tradition of writers who get into loud confrontations, bloody fights even, in bars and other academic venues. This history interests me because of all the flak I've taken from my blog readers, many of whom conclude from my own bar-room confrontations that I MUST be mad (i.e. insane, not merely angry, neither of which is the case in most of my own confrontation stories).