fragments of an attempted writing.

Just learned that Eugene Genovese died.  I met him once (and his wife on another occasion).  And I spoke with the man a number of times when I was at Loome's and once thereafter, and found both he and his wife to be interesting people, if a bit too well bred for my blood (yes, Eugene had been raised working class Italian-American, but he married well, and conveyed an appreciation for having arrived).  His Marxism has always been something of an enigma to me - clear as day in most of the texts (until the early 90s or so anyway), but in personal relationships he began distancing himself from other Marxists fairly early on.  There is an uncanny simultaneity in Eugene Genovese of speaking clearly (and I think accurately) about pathologies within the master classes of the antebellum South and admiring them, sometimes for reasons quite related to those pathologies.  I haven't made it through all of the later Genovese work yet (I own and have read most of but haven't completely finished Mind of the Master Class), and I still don't quite know what to make of the man.  As some of you may recall my long post years ago on the Southern Agrarians, my studies of those men led to a perplexity as to why so many traditional conservatives find so much promise and substance in them, and Genovese's later devotion to them strikes me as not just odd, but downright bizarre given much of his analysis of the American South.  I can generically appreciate lifelong Genovese's anticapitalism (he never dropped that, and in certain respects seems to have made his anticapitalism a more personal matter after embracing a Catholic anticapitalism) and disdain for liberalism, but it has never been clear to me where he thinks his turn to a Southern inspired traditionalist conservatism got him (in terms of a workable political philosophy and a useful lens via which to "deal with" late modern America).  That said, his work on slavery and, in particular, white intellectuals in the American South, is required reading and has been formative in my own coming to (generally acrimonious, at least when it comes to whites with money) terms with the South.  I just can't find the sympathy for paternalism that Genovese did.  In any event, the man was a class act, could be remarkable funny with his dry wit, and spoke to a 20 year old nobody at quirky old bookstore in Minnesota as if that nobody's opinions mattered.  Requiem æternam dona ei, Domine.  Et lux perpetua luceat ei. Requiescat in pace. Amen. [Sorry, per the thread below I learned that Genovese worked with Doug Wilson and plugged Wilson's work later in Genovese's life.  No prayers for Genovese then, as he is obviously in hell.]

There are some interesting articles on Genovese's legacy in radical thought here.

I also enjoyed reading this reflection by Paul Gottfried that remembers Genovese and Christopher Lasch and is well worth reading.

10 comments:

  1. As a Southerner myself, I can't think of anything more intuitive than a simultaneous attraction to Marxism and paternalism...

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  2. Thoughts on Eugene Genovese from the Left, seen on Facebook:

    Corey Robin: I heard the news yesterday, but it was Yom Kippur and then I forgot to post. Anyway, Eugene Genovese has died. After Richard Hofstadter, the greatest twentieth-century historian of the United States. Most people love *Roll, Jordan, Roll*, but to my mind, *The Political Economy of Slavery* is still his greatest book. No other US historian -- aside from Hofstadter -- ever had a greater feel for the role of contradiction in social life.

    James Livingston: Did anybody notice that one of great historians of the 20th century died yesterday? I don't care what you make of his politics--like Alexandre Kojeve, he was a right-wing Marxist--and hell, I've long since forgiven him for his attack on William A. Williams in Studies on the Left. Eugene D. Genovese was a giant. He deserves our homage, and yes, our deep respect. More to follow on the Don.

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  3. I'm from the South but not precisely of it, I guess. Chickamauga Indians holding out in Appalachian Alabama (It's not a large part of Alabama, but still...) aren't exactly what one thinks of when they think of Dixie. I love the place and tolerate the people.

    My point in this comment though was to ask how I contact Red Owen? I can't find an email anywhere and I wanted to introduce myself and explain why i post anonymously and such. I got a feeling I'm gonna be here a decent bit. Don't need to make any new enemies...

    Hezekiah Garrett

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  4. I will say though that I used to like the Agrarians because I thought they were like my Dad. Plowing 12 acres by mule, raising tomatoes that you'd slap your mama for, bacon you'd apostasise for, and a little whiskey to pay the tax man.

    Then I met "Agrarians", and couldn't conceive of how I'd been so duped.

    Hezekiah Garrett

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  5. I don’t know, Owen. I don’t buy into the “nihil nisi bonum mortuis” counsel, and I am sure his mother loved him very much, but he seems in later life to have been a bit of a creep:

    http://hnn.us/blogs/entries/10257.html

    There has been a tendency in the past year or so, at least as long as I have been paying attention, to try to salvage the reputation of fallen leftists who later began to shill for the bourgeoisie or hobnob with racists, fascists, reactionaries, or other kooks. Alexander Cockburn, Christopher Hitchens, and now Eugene Genovese are lionized for their rhetorical verve, their contributions to scholarship, and their bravery for standing up for intellectual freedom, even if they later turned out to be advocates of racism, imperialism, or tin-foil hat conspiracy theories. And, I am sorry I have to pull this card, but I will, everyone involved is a white male. Yeah, I do have to go there, because it is very difficult for me, as a non-white person in a society where I have been identified over and over again as “non-white”, married to a person whose family would not be considered white (one drop rule), and whose children fifty years ago would not be allowed to drink at a public water fountain, even though they were only a shade darker than their fairer skinned counterparts.

    In other words, white people don’t realize how easy it is for other white people to absolve each other of the sin of racism, because… in this case, the man wrote a few nice books. Whoop-dee-do! I mean, I have great affection for many people in my life whose views I now find repugnant. While I might mourn their passing a bit, I will also note their crimes as a cautionary tale to others. In this sense, I am reminded of the injunction in the Gospel of only those persevering to the end being saved. To the rest I say we consign them to the eternal realm of the damnatio memoriae. No big deal to me.

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    1. Holy shit, I had no idea Genovese serviced Doug Wilson. Yeah, you're right, fuck him then. He can rot in hell.

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    2. You sound awfully white to Indian ears. Imagine my plight, blue eyes and a tan, but inducted into medicine by a woman with a matrilineal line going back to the Red Paint Woman.

      Hezekiah Garrett

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  6. LOL, Anonymous, you are cracking me up. Tomatoes you'd slap your mama for -- love it.

    We've been to Appalachian Alabama -- if Cheaha State Park qualifies. Older son is a sophomore at Bama. We stop at Cheaha when we're taking him back to school.

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    1. Surprisingly, it isnt. It is the highest pt in the state, but not appalachian. The area around Noccalulah Falls is the southernmost point of Lookout Mtn, as the Cumberland Plateau is there known. I myself was raised one ridge east of lookout, Shinbone Ridge, and west of Dirtseller. The valley formed by these two is Broom's Valley, named for Chief Broom, Chickamauga headman of Broomtown and a matrilineal ancestor of Dutch (Tatsi), leader of the Mexican Cherokee.

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  7. It gets even worse (HT Arturo): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6uepNhXdMc4&feature=player_embedded#!

    I agree with Arturo, a roadtrip to piss on his grave is in order.

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