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July 20, 2004

Stanley Crouch Is a Punk

by Ron Hogan

Page Six, never one to let a good scandal die a quick death, gets around to placing a phone call to Stanley Crouch after his appearance on Tina Brown's Topic A, where she apparently asked him, "What did you do, you naughty man?"

"I slapped Dale Peck," Crouch replied matter-of-factly. "You bitch-slapped Dale Peck?" Brown squealed. "That is true," Crouch replied. "He deserved it."

(So, by the way, I apologize for characterizing it as a "suckerpunch" all this time. I was wrong, and I'm man enough to admit it.)

In fact, literary society's newest thug seems to find it hard to shut up about the incident:

"All I can say is this — I've become the people's man. I've gotten many telephone calls. I've gotten so many commendations and accolades. For the first time I've been in New York, I feel like the people's hero."

Not that I have any great claim to the title myself, but I think I can say with confidence that Crouch--every word of whose novel that I've read is as pisspoor as Peck said it was, if not more so, and see for yourself if you don't believe me--is no "people's hero," not by a long shot. Terry Teachout has the right idea, both about Crouch's past output and his deserved fate. One would so dearly love in the future to hear nothing but stories of Crouch fuming outside theaters and nightclubs, screaming at the bouncers, "Don't you know who I am?" and meeting with quizzical stares.


Who the hell shakes someone's hand before punching him? Crouch isn't only a punk, he's a coward as well.

Posted by: The Significant Other at July 20, 2004 10:04 AM

Stanley Crouch. Tina Brown. As they say where I come from , they're a pair that beats a full house.

Let me second RH on the People's Homophobe's so- called novel. Awful

Any ideas when the Crouch moment will be over?

Posted by: birnbaum at July 20, 2004 09:17 PM

Not as long as the elite needs george schuyler types to tell them that rappers, white jazz musicians and Angry Negroes are the nexus of the worlds problems. The rest of the literary world is finally finding out what Black literary folks knew for about 25 years. From his haranges against James Baldwin in comparison to his barging into his funeral procession, to his creating the prototype for ass ignorant neo-con Toni Morrison criticism, to his black male supremacist jazz canon, to his reduction of billie holliday as a common whore( And I want to slap the fat motherfucker for that one)to his gloating over Biggie Smalls death he's been conning and getting over on people by kicking Black artists ass since 1979. ( And this is leaving out his gloating over Richard Pryor's illness)

As for his novel, I got great uncles who,if you give them a week and case of thunderbird, could write out a better cultural novel than Crouch's . And where does he get off using Ellison and Bellow as an influence, with dull, dry and overwritten prose of his. Hell, I can write see spot run for 50 pages, call it a novella and say it's influenced by Chehkov, that doesnt mean it's influenced by Chehkov.

Sorry for the rant, I just hate Crouch.

Posted by: Robert Lashley at July 21, 2004 12:34 AM

Robert, no need to apologize (at least I don't think so).

The moment I am referring to is the spotlight on Crouch's blathering and thugishness (that so titillates twittering Tina— would she speak of the person who 'bitch-slapped' her for crimes against culture, as 'naughty'?) not his intellectual unmasking,which apparently, is way overdue.

Also. I think it's arguable that some elite is perpetuating the (current) Crouch story. Weblogs (at least the one's I read) are not shying away. I don't take it you are suggesting they are part of the 'elite'. Are you?

Posted by: birnbaum at July 21, 2004 08:50 AM

Sorry for the typos.

I think elite was too broad a word for me to say. The reason that Stanley Crouch has survived for so long is that he functions as an cultural indicator for a great deal of the literary population, telling them what they want to hear.

Now I am not saying that black racism hasnt been a destructive force in american arts and letters in the past 40 years, to both whites and blacks. Nor am I saying that gangsta rap isnt a destructive source to the black community. I'm not even saying that the PC Line that everything Morrison has done is genius isnt full of shit too (Imo her later books have faultered on faux Faulknerian structures, literary abstractions and her habit of straining to fit lyric into every damm situation).

The problem with Crouch is that there isnt a hint of nuance or restraint in his arguments. It's easy to tell a white audience that blacks are frothing at the mouth angry racist militants, but, taking into account a great deal of the black community's fundamental conservatism, it's also demagogic. Like every great author Morrison has her strengths and weaknesses, but to establish this line of thought that her ascendance is some liberal racist conspiracy is beyond hysterical. And if Crouch really wants to get rid of gangsta rap, he has to address the facts that damm near the only people who are black that are involved in gangsta rap are the people in the videos.

That's why I compare him to Schuyler. In the 20's he had a position smiliar to Crouch, telling whites that the artists of the harlem rennisance were inferior and that it was all part of a liberal conspiracy to make unworthy black artist rich. Nothing could have been further from the truth, for you will have a hard find finding a harlem rennisance artist , outside of Hughes, Hurston and Toomer, who wasnt starving. For a while that got his prestige and wealth. But another more liberal generation came along and saw that George was completly full of shit. The bloggers who are rightly kicking Crouch's ass are that generation for him.

As for Peck, I love his passion, but reason must be the servant of all passions. He has a sharp critical mind but his anger overcomes him at times. But there is no way in hell that he deserved what Crouch did to him.

Posted by: Robert Lashley at July 21, 2004 03:23 PM

Typos? To quote Anthony Lane and Billy Wilder, "Nobody's perfect."

Did I miss something—other than occasional reports of Crouch's bad
behavior, I am not aware that his critiques have been met with any scrutiny that even approaches the recent attention to his mugging of Peck and subsequent dick pulling. Admittedly, I only know of the usual suspects, Henry Gates, Cornell West, Nelson George, Elvis Mitchell and Greg Tate— none of whom I am aware have taken exception to Stan The- Less-than-Man's trademark rhetorical hurling. I would speculate that perhaps a certain sense of solidarity caused such restraint. But what about the academy? Has no one taken Crouch on in the very effective manner you have exhibited above?

Who is chosen as spokesmen for minority/marginalized groups, is a much bigger subject. I would be interested to read what you think made Crouch a cultural player. And more importantly, who is not being paid attention to because he is sucking in so much attention?

I used to feel the same way about Dale Peck— at least he was passionate et cetera. But the orchestration of his latest attack on undeserving Sven Birkerts (Peck announcing that his last negative review was to be published in Maisonneuve blah blah blah) left me wondering if his greatest skill and focus might be self-promotion.

Posted by: birnbaum at July 22, 2004 07:52 AM

Well I know that in the Salon profile of Crouch, ( Of whose news editor, Joan Walsh, I just love) Both West and George expressed beef with him, and so has Ishmael Reed and Quincy Troupe. And I know that from Crouch's articles that he had some issues with Greg Tate.

As for Crouch's popularity, to quote the first sentence of Susan Sontag's essay on Simone Weil

“The culture-heroes of our liberal bourgeois civilization are anti-liberal and anti-bourgeois; they are writers who are repetitive, obsessive, and impolite, who impress by force—not simply by their tone of personal authority and by their intellectual ardor, but by the sense of acute personal and intellectual extremity”

Crouch got a name because he's an agent provocateur, one of the squeakiest, most grease mongering wheels in the elite American literary landscape. Another thing why few people black have called crouch on it is that his appeal is central to men, and he’s a bully. Crouch had a base appeal for me 8 years ago when I read him during my senior year of high school, because the themes he hits on are exhilarating to the esteem. I remember first reading him and thinking “Yeah! Black culture is a whole lot more sophisticated than people give it credit for! Yeah! People should take it seriously! Yeah! No one should be a militant!” But the older I got and the more I expanded myself, I saw that there was nothing there, that yes, black culture is sophisticated but not like he says it is, yes, no one should be a militant but everybody who doesn’t think and act like him is one and yes, one should take black studies seriously but so should Crouch.

Take the Morrison essay. For all the hyperbole and names called for shock value, it reads like he's either so addled by ideology that the themes of the book pass him by or he hasn’t read the damm book at all. She's trying to make a ideological commentary on slavery? Yeah, the damage the institution did to mothers, daughters,husbands and the community. Morrison wasnt solely bitching about the white man. Now if you want to make an argument against the book, it can be the times she tries to play Faulkner and drown the narrative in abstractions( I’m a Sula and Song of Solomon snob). But serious scholarship won’t get anybody’s attention like ravings about "militant black feminist racists".

Or if you want another example on the other side of the spectrum, his obsessive fawning over Charles Johnson. I LOVE Johnson, and Crouch was right in trumpeting Oxherding Tale, one of the finest novels in the history of African American arts and letters IMO. But Johnson isn’t perfect, he didn’t have good endings of both Middle Passage and Dreamer, and forced too many messages in the former and too many plot lines in the latter. My point is that no writer is. Hell, the only book I hold in higher esteem than Invisible man and The Adventures of Augie March is the bible, but both Ellison and Bellow’s first person's narrations are a little overwritten. And both Middle Passage and Dreamer are damm good novels. My point is that if Crouch wanted to convince the reader that they should read Johnson, then he could have gone into detail about what he liked about his work, instead of giving fawning overdrawn polemical approval. Because without intellectual depth, excessive praise shows that shows that your really not interested in the work, that you are using praise as an aesthetic buffer from critical examination, shooing the novel away from your mind like it’s a bothersome fly.

But who needs subtle and detailed examination when you got a con going? It's should be noted that Crouch started out as a hard core Black nationalist and a devotee of Amiri Baraka, because even though Stanley went to the right later in his career, he never lost that sense of street theater, that understanding that a black activist can get a lot of mileage playing an Ideological S&M game with some Liberals. And thinking about it, Crouch's con game wasn’t that much different than Baraka's, just more nuanced( if you can stomach using the terms nuance and Stanley Crouch in the same sentence). Like Baraka, Crouch plays the race card when someone wants to actually challenge him as a writer and a person. He did it with the editors of the Voice, who wanted him to tone down the rhetoric and discipline himself like a writer. He did it with Teachout, who was right to call bullshit on his jazz criticism. He did it with Jazz times, who committed the unforgivable sin of wanting him to turn in copy on time. I didn’t think he had any issues with women, but if he harassed female editors then he needs to be slapped himself. If he did something to Walsh, then forget slapping, he needs his ass whipped.

Posted by: Robert Lashley at July 23, 2004 04:52 AM

Thank you, Robert Lashley, for your comments, whoever you are.

I used to see Crouch's name on and off during the Seventies. No, I'm not and never will be one of those blk/cultnats. I knew his operandi as a jazz critic, but when I really waded into Crouch territory with "Notes of a Hanging Judge," I swiftly regretted paying the ducats I spent. I sold the book to a used bookstore in Menlo Park (CA) with a quickness. I just loathe the guy and the extravagant passes he's been given over the years.

Dale Peck's hit pieces sometimes made me laugh, either because I knew something about the author or had read or knew about the author's work. He brings an acid virtuosity to criticism; but he made me look at my own work (I'm a not yet published first novelist) more closely. There is such a thing as killing those darlings, you know. Peck loves Morrison to death, and I like her too. However, I know that sista girlfriend is NOT perfect. There were some times when I wished that a serious editor had been sicced onto her more recent work. It seems to me that particular authors get this pass these days, as if all the editing that is done is performing a spell/grammar check with the software. Eww.

Back to Crouch: After all that decades long posturing and profiling and barely veiled invective about how he could do one up on Morrison, and his book tanks. The criticism was uniform and unsparing, and in a lot of cases, the critics were disappointed. Even Peck says as much. But Peck made me laugh again. However, getting decked in a restaurant is just not done and is not justifiable. Not even at the Village Voice or at a public event. Not even if he is doing what some of us--as creative people, not just writers--merely think about doing to some reviewer.

I'm disappointed to hear, though, that Peck has decided to dip his nib again. Some people like to mainline the stuff, even though it might corrode their innards--as well as any cred they possess.
I'd shell out ducats for the criticism book, but hey, I think that unless he's actually the second coming of Alexander Woollcott, he should focus on developing his other work. I mean, I've already got issues with the likes of Kakutani. I'm sure Richard Ford has issues with Colson Whitehead, but he's not 'laying' to gun for him. I guess Crouch's clips upside are the equivalent of duels...or drive-by shootings.

Posted by: Gabrielle Daniels at July 27, 2004 05:23 PM

Robert Lashley, since you seem both immensely knowledgeable about the Crouch ouevre and taken with the more substantial arguments within Peck's outlandishness, have you considered composing a full-length essay and submitting it to a Manhattan media outlet? It seems that one single slap has unearthed a consummate charlatan. And if Crouch is determined to run amuck both on paper and in person, then it seriously needs to be addressed to the world at large.

Posted by: Ed at July 28, 2004 01:01 AM

Lashley, (upon rereading) you are so right for saying that Crouch was angling for the George S. Schuyler title. I thought, for instance, that Ish Reed had that one sewed up long time ago. And now the apologists are trying to say Crouch is just doing the Papa Hemingway thing, crossing the street and bopping obvious homosexuals for just being there? Excuse me, but didn't Hemingway eventually blow his brains out? Stagger Lee also ended up the wrong way, too...

Add hustler to that title, too. A better person wouldn't be bragging all over town about this kind of thing, saying he's gotten congrats from everywhere. You really believe that he's getting them? He's looking for another meal ticket...or perhaps a reality show? Sheesh.

Posted by: Gabrielle Daniels at July 28, 2004 09:55 AM

Ed: Nah, Im still young, I need to learn more about my craft before I go out and send out essays.

Gabrielle: Dont get me started on Reed. He's worse than Crouch,IMO. Outside of Mumbo Jumbo, the only time he's decided to cohere a novel, he's been nothing but an overrated sexual neurotic. Crouch might have harshly reviewed James Baldwin but at least he didnt call him a faggot to his face numerous times like Reed did. And from the assertions that feminists need to be raped in The Last days of Louisana red to brutalized like the nazi's did traitors in Reckless eyeballing, I have never seen a male writer turn into a babbling incoherent sociopath in the prescence of strong women as I have seen Reed.

That's not even mentioning his classist obsession with Ralph Ellison. Just like a bougie negro fratboy loathing a brother or sister from the hood who has had to work to make it, Reed has either parodied Invisible man or made fun of ellison numerous times. To Reed, Ellison, as well as great Black feminist writers like Gayl Jones and Toni Morrison, symbolizes that a Black writer can make it, can dicipline themself and can win a following, without bitching about whitey or the opposite sex. They take away Reed's crutch.

And for a man who has written in his stories numerous acts of violence against women, why the fuck does he cry, whine and moan like a child over every single solitary negative depiction of a black man that a black woman writer has ever wrote, no matter how benign or immaterial to the structure of the story. If Reed is going to be a dog, going to act like a mean asshole, THEN HE SHOULD BE A DOG AND A MEAN ASSHOLE ALL THE WAY. Dont whine and slobber like a 10 year old child when someone wants to be a mean asshole back.

Sorry for the rant, I just fucking hate Reed

Posted by: Robert Lashley at July 29, 2004 09:07 PM

Once again sorry for the typos, I got in an angry rush.

Posted by: Robert Lashley at July 29, 2004 09:10 PM
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