"Growing Up Irrational"
Writing in universal, broad strokes,
and down to the tiniest details, revealing on the personal level—but
meaningful in either reading—Anatole Broyard left a trail for the
future of how it felt to be himself. "Growing Up Irrational"—read
now—has layers and layers of personal revelation, as well as impersonal
generic material on the mind of a child. But this was a particular
child. Below is a lengthy excerpt from the highly self-revelatory
material quoted much more extensively (and in context) than in the
Gates article, for those who have never read it:
"Anyone who saw me with my family knew
too much about me. Nobody is so secret about his loves as a boy
of six or seven. Why, I wouldn't even confess my infatuation for
a girl on the block, and here I was, exhibiting in public the most
intimate relationship I was ever to know.
"To go out with my parents was to suffer
for the second time the trauma of birth. My mother, who was mildly
stout, might as well have been the Venus of Willendorf, a primitive
fertility figure. My father was a rogue male, a creature of such
reckless masculinity that I always thought of him as breaking the
"While I loved them, I was uneasy about
our relationship. It struck me as a terrible incongruity, especially
for a boy, to have originated in my mother's belly. It was such
a derivative way for me to have arrived in the world. I would rather
have been store-bought than homemade.
"My father flustered me more than my mother,
for on him fell the full weight of patriarchy, and he was not a
man to shirk it. I remember in particular a boat ride to Bear Mountain.
This being a sporting occasion, my father elected to wear a pair
of plus fours, or knickers. He even went so far as to pull a beret,
another installment in his unpredictability, over his unruly hair.
Walking beside him, I shut my eyes, guiding myself by the sound
of the metal taps on the shoes and heels of his brown-and-white
"We had come up from New Orleans, where
I was born in the French Quarter. For a bel homme, a gallant, like
my father, it was no simple matter to walk along the street. He
had to strut, stretching and swiveling his head on his neck, arching
his back and undulating his shoulders, flourishing his arms in counterpoint
to his legs. I would watch him out of the corner of my eye and despair.
I half-expected him to break into the Camel Walk, the Shimmy Shewobble,
the Black Bottom or the Mess Around.
"I wanted desperately to run away from
home. My mother and father were too folksy for me, too colorful.
Conformity is the first passion of small boys. Originality, if it
comes at all, arrives much later. My love for these two misfits,
these character actors, was too heavy to bear.
"Eventually, I ran away to Greenwich Village,
where no one had been born of a mother and father, where the people
I met had sprung from their own brows, or from the pages of a bad
novel. We buried our families in the common grave of the generation
gap, silenced them with the so-called failure of communication.
Parents became our shtick, a whetstone for our wit. Orphans of the
avant-garde, we outdistanced our history and our humanity.
"I became an amnesiac, a flimsy Frankenstein
monster of pop sociology. I saw myself as spawned by time, as flies
were once thought to be spontaneously generated in offal. I deracinated
and rationalized my image. For my new friends and me, parents had
become synonymous with the establishment, an outmoded, authoritarian
and absurd institution.
"Like every great tradition, my family
had to die before I could understand how much I missed them and
what they meant to me. . . ."(pp. 65-67, Men, Women and Other
Anticlimaxes, First Edition).
Clearly, any perceptive reader sees many
lines of conjunction, many interacting themes; any attempt to find
the localizing factor would include Greenwich Village intellectuals
and artists, New York City, New Orleans, pop culture, the beginning
of our present brand of mass culture, the hold-outs against mass
culture, and so on. It is not a direct topical discussion of any
one subject. Now, all large artists can be read on multiple levels.
The thing is, not to leave the levels out. Rather, you leave buried
implications, sometimes a mystery for the reader, to intuit in.
At least, writers used to be like that. He could have stopped at
the obvious, elementary factor, but he never got around—in public
"confession"—to writing about it. Yet he wrote about it, clearly,
above. But it was not the final analysis of how he felt The Key
to his identify was. It was put into the great Pot, of Who He Was.
From Seymour Krim, What's This
Cat's Story?—about the same time and place, Greenwich Village,
when—yes—Kafka Was the Rage—one could extract confirmations that
this generation, as great contributors to New York City consciousness
and art of the day, shapers of it, thought similarly, to some great
degree. Krim called it being too intelligent, in some way. Inside
the coteries and the walls of that "fortress" of the mind, with
the likes of such as Delmore Schwartz, who wrote such collectors'
items as "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities," the main issue was
no such thing as discriminitive, reductive speaking. Because life
was far too interesting to be trapped down in a tiny materialistic,
reductionist mental detail. The world was their "oyster." If you
don't think like that, you will shrink down the meaning into whatever
you want to project on it—and not just in this one biography. See
some web items below:
Books; Iris Murdoch Makes It Fun to Be Smart
October 5, 1986 About Books; Iris Murdoch Makes It Fun to Be Smart
By ANATOLE BROYARD.
"A narrative is like a room on whose walls a number of false doors
have been painted; while within the narrative, we have many apparent
choices of exit, but when the author leads us to one particular
door, we know it is the right one because it op
Asséo Griliches : Library, the Drama Within
A bookcase is as good as a view, as the sight of a city or a river.
by Anatole Broyard
A Month of Sundays for the New York Times. Once there, type
in a search under either "Broyard" or "Updike
Paranoids are the only ones who notice things anymore. Anatole Broyard
Unsorted Subjects: Unsorted Anatole Broyard