Having tried to write ...
Book Matters
From New York City: Letter
You are here: index > Archives > NYC: Letter

"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 law.
            "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 wing-tip shoes.
            "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:

About 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.

Revolving Door to Nowhere
"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

Diane Asséo Griliches : Library, the Drama Within
A bookcase is as good as a view, as the sight of a city or a river. ANATOLE BROYARD

Text on Updike
A Month of Sundays for the New York Times. Once there, type in a search under either "Broyard" or "Updike

Quotes by Anatole Broyard
Paranoids are the only ones who notice things anymore. Anatole Broyard Unsorted Subjects: Unsorted Anatole Broyard


Last Modified on February 14, 2002
This page © 2001 Margaret A. Harrell (Harrell Communications), All Rights Reserved domain name, Love in Transition SM, Space Encounters SM and Photo-PaintingSM are all trade marked SM's, All Rights Reserved