Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Party Animals

Here is the now neo-con intellectual Norman Podhoretz reminiscing about the heyday of the New York intelligentsia (“Norman Podhoretz Still Picks Fights and Drops Names,” NYT, 3/18/17): “Everybody gave parties. And there was a lot of drinking. Some visiting literary celebrity would show up, Partisan Review would make a party or I would make a party. Everybody came. And it was a really passionate intellectual life. It’s hard to imagine today, but people actually came to blows over literary disagreements.” Yeah where has it all gone? It used to be that a party was a place where you got shitfaced and made passes at other peoples’ wives while breaking up long-term friendships over differences of opinion, usually of a political nature. Woody Allen’s famous quip from Annie Hall actually epitomized an era, “I heard that Commentary and Dissent had merged and formed Dysentery.” Then of course there’s the adolescent, “there’s a party in my pants, everyone is coming.” Today we live in far more timid times. People are likely to order in Chinese, agree on how much they hate Trump (at least in New York) and then feel so sickened by the regurgitation of the week’s politics and the greasy food that they have no interest in anyone, including Thy Neighbor’s Wife, to invoke the title of the Gay Talese tome. The famous parties of the 50’s were not just limited to the literary world; they were an infamous part of the art scene, dominated by hard drinking abstract expressionists. Of course if you watched Mad Men, then you realized that Madison Avenue was no slouch either. Where have all the parties gone? It’s a good question. Every once in a while the bacchanalia in some frat house results in the creation of some new statute in the state of California. But Thoreau’s line about “the mass of men leading lives of quiet desperation” seems more apropos than ever.

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