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The gist of Podhoretz’ attack on Southerners was excerpted and published in the Sept. 30 New York Times Sunday Magazine as “How the North Was Won.” This little screed presents the novel proposition that Southern intellectuals are responsible for a “period of intense class and racial conflict whose end is not yet in sight.” No small feat, that. Indeed, it’s quite an item for a resume: Major Accomplishments Almost singlehandedly, started class war. Also, with the help of other white litterateurs, initiated racial conflict whose end is not yet in sight. All the , emigre Southerners I talked to had read the Times excerpt. I wouldn’t’ve myself, since I was busy that particular Sunday and arrived too late at the Hoboken newsstand to get a Times, but a helpful and furious Southern writer friend gave me her copy. “Read this,” she said, “and let me know what you think. I thought it was just ridiculous.” “Codswallop,” Donald Barthelme said crisply over the phone when I asked him about the article. “And you may quote me.” He went on to say that “codswallop” is a nice word for “bullshit.” Novelist Kathryn Marshall writing from Washington, D.C. called the piece “embarrassingly self-serving” and “poorly argued if argued at all.” When I called the guy in Austin who had originally forced Podhoretz upon me, he said he thought the article was “stupid,” but added “I do think it was nice, if he was going to single something out, that he picked The Texas Observer.” He was obviously operating on the theory that bad press is better than no notice at all, because Podhoretz referred to this magazine only in order to illustrate his point that Southerners are dumb: “To hear the group around The Texas Observer congratulate one another on fighting the ‘oil and gas lobby’ . . . was to be struck by how far back they must have started ideologically.” \(His use of quotation marks is telling. Podhoretz doesn’t believe an “oil and gas lobby” exists. And if it does, he informed me, it has been rendered “powerless” by the attacks of liberal journalists. While I believe ideas and words have power, intellectual force is no match for the real thing. Oil companies Southern mind There is, according to Podhoretz, a Southern mind. Often inept, it has its peculiar talents. As he explained in our interview, “I think the South generally I was raised to think that the South didn’t think abstractly . . . . What we came up with was that they had a more concrete cast of mind . . . . And I think that’s true. It’s certainly true of Willie Morris and others I knew in the ’60s. But you see, that can be a compliment.” Uh huh. It’s a compliment I’ve heard before in another context: “Women can’t think abstractly/logically; they are more ,concrete/emotional/intuitive.” It’s a polite way to say “stupid,” and Podhoretz comes close to saying it outright when he calls Southern liberals “hicks.” This is so terribly old, this accusation of bumpkinism. Urban literary men have never been behindhand in pointing out their perceived superiority, and outlanders themselves accept it. When the 22-year-old Boswell travelled from his native Scotland to London in 1762, he agonized much over his accent, his rough country manners, his ruralness. When he met Samuel Johnson in 1763, Boswell was so acutely aware of how his origins might prejudice the great man that he blurted, “Indeed I come from Scotland, but I cannot help it.” Later, when another Scot was defending his country’s natural beauty, Johnson responded to a roar of applause “Sir, I believe you have a APRIL 25, 1900 great many noble wild prospects. But, Sir, I believe the noblest prospect that a Scotsman ever sees is the road which leads him to England!” \(Last year I drove from Texas to New York with a Yankee friend. After several days’ travel over rolling, wooded Southern countryside, we hit the Eastern Corridor. “At last!” my friend exclaimed happily. “We finally have something to look at.” We were passing through the industrial slums of BalNeed I recount the pull of the great old cities? The attraction of New York in our country and century, or London in Boswell’s, lies mainly in the idea that here the artistically inclined finally will be at home. The life of the mind, one fancies, can be lived here as nowhere else. This is not complete fiction. The bigger and older a city is, the more likely one is to find compatible associations and a comforting past. It takes a good many people working a long time to build a society capable of supporting a bunch of intellectuals writers, be it remembered, do not really work. The South has nothing to compare with New York. Our oldest cities are too small, and our largest are too young. And so, from time to time, a Southern boy or girl heads north toward “home.” Still, we don’t exactly arrive in transports of enthusiasm. Let me put it this way. The North may be cultured, but a Southerner is apt to be cultivated. The pun is intentional. Rural Southern manners are far superior to Yankee city ways. The arrant rudeness of daily intercourse in New York is still shocking. Dining across the table from a New Yorker is often nothing less than nauseating, because for some reason many Yankees accept chewing open-mouthed, reaching across a companion, and lowering face to plate rather than raising fork to lips. “Please” and “thank you” are seen as affectations. I was once severely criticized by a liberal New York lawyer for apologizing to a waitress. “Why are you so condescending?” he demanded. When I rose to be introduced to a woman in her late sixties, I was chastised for excessive formality. Dropping into one of my oldest habits, I said “Yes, ma’am” to a friend’s mother, causing her to shriek with laughter. “Ma’am!” she howled. “Isn’t that cute? My God!” Podhoretz refuses to be amused by old-fashioned Southern behavior. If it seems that I am being unnecessarily defensive on this score, it is because of his assumption that good manners are sinister. They are, in his opinion, a hypocritical ruse designed to conceal our voracious lust for advancement. Nastiness, of course, is a virtue; it shows intellectual honesty, a quality conspicuous by its absence in the Southern character. Podhoretz writes, “The harshest critical treatment of such Jewish novelists as Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer and Philip Roth are always to be found in magazines like Commentary and Partisan Review, both of which were associated with the ‘Jewish establishment.’ This, in sharp contract to the practice of the Southern writers, who seemed always to praise each other in magazines they controlled.” Where did he get this idea? I have seen reviews of Texans by Texans that would curl hair. Hair, hell. They’d curl toes. In the world of Jewish intellectuals, Podhoretz goes on to note, “it was almost considered bad form, or a mark of low intelligence, to say anything kind in conversation about any other member of the group.” Southerners, on the other hand, “praised and encouraged each other in private.” I don’t know what is wrong with this, but evidently it bothers Yankees. Last year when my friend and editor Rod Davis was up at Yaddo, the New York artists’ colony, people kept urging him to “say what you really think.” When he did, he was criticized for being “too nice.”