Friday, May 2, 2014




This book, appallingly vicious toward the innocent lacrosse players and their families, received mainly puff reviews from the mainstream media, although people who know details about the 2006 false accusations against Duke lacrosse players have been posting one-star reviews on Amazon. I have a long review there. In the last days Cohan has been making more and more reckless comments in interviews on radio and TV, repeatedly claiming that “something happened” to the stripper in the bathroom and repeatedly implying or claiming that the corrupt and disbarred DA Michael Nifong was “railroaded” (when in fact “to Nifong” has come to mean “to railroad”). Justice was not done, according to Cohan, because the case against the innocent players was never allowed to go to trial.

Every part of Cohan’s 4-part title is topsy-turvy. Here are some preliminary notes on what the words really should have meant in a book of this title:

THE PRICE OF SILENCE--how much Duke is paying for staying silent (or speaking out accusatorily) when students were enduring an egregious case of prosecutorial abuse) or else how much Duke payed to delay the lawsuits so it could keep Brodhead's emails secret (even while, just recently, demanding the notes on his interviews from KC Johnson)?

THE DUKE LACROSSE SCANDAL--what was really scandalous about it--the behavior of the President of the University, the professors (particularly the Gang of 88), the nurse, the police, the DA etc.?

THE POWER OF THE ELITE--this should have been about the power of the Gang of 88 not to be punished (and the power of Baker to go on to Vanderbilt!), the power of Brodhead to be retained in 2007, the power of Nifong to get away with only one night in jail etc, the power of Duke's lawyers to delay delay delay the lawsuits etc (I am not trying to be exhaustive), and now in 2014 the power of the elite in the mainstream media to puff Cohan’s book by fawning reviews and interviews.

THE CORRUPTION OF OUR GREAT UNIVERSITIES--Brodhead's forcing out the coach, Mike Pressler, and throwing the lacrosse team to the wolves, the triumph of the Gang of 88, the grading according to Political Correctness, the subsequent sexual scandals in the months and years after 2006.

I have personal experience with the power of the elite academic press to protect eminent professors when they lie in their reviews. Please read.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013
This is a topic worth pursuing until the CHRONICLE apologizes for what it did on February 11, 2013 in “A Leviathan Task of Biography.” [So it is worth pursuing in May 2014.]

It looks to me as if the CHRONICLE will go to great lengths to protect eminent Ivy League professors from the consequences of their own actions—outright lying about the state of scholarship in order to discredit a scholar.

Let’s review. I am talking about actual lies, not comments about my weak prose or flimsy logic in my biography of Melville, and not gaffs by the reviewers, not simple misconstruings of my presentation of events.  There are such things as outright lies in reviews, and lies can have devastating consequences on the reputation of the one lied about. I did not sleep peacefully one night between the reviews of Richard Brodhead in the New York TIMES and Andrew Delbanco in the NEW REPUBLIC in 2002 and the time I began speaking out in 2007. The lies did horrible damage to my health. By the time Elizabeth Schultz copy-catted the big boys much of the damage had been done, although she drove new twisted nails into what closed upon me as if it were the coffin of my reputation.

Let’s look at the lies, remembering that evidence was laid out right there on the pages of the biography for any casual reader to see. If a casual reader can see something, paid reviewers have an obligation to see it and to avoid wrongly defaming the author of the book they are reviewing,

Let me review the situation. In 2002 three prominent Melville critics, Richard Brodhead, Andrew Delbanco, and Elizabeth Schultz, warned that my biography was unreliable by citing my treatment of THE ISLE OF THE CROSS (1853) and POEMS (1860). The second of these reviewers, Delbanco, did not cite the earliest, Brodhead, as his authority, and Schultz cited neither Brodhead nor Delbanco.

Brodhead in the New York Times for 23 June 2002 disparaged “Parker's surmises about works Melville never published that did not survive,” the first “a novel based on materials he shared with Hawthorne about a sailor who deserted his wife. . . .  Parker is also convinced that Melville prepared a volume of poems in 1860 that failed to be published. If this is so, a stretch that had seemed empty of literary strivings was instead a time of new effort and new failure--a black hole Parker alone has the instruments to detect.” The prose book was not surmised: we had known since 1960, for sure, that Melville completed a book in mid 1853. To say that I alone in my “black hole” had detected POEMS was an outright lie. As was clear in my biography, every scholar and critic had known about POEMS since 1922. If I was in a black hole, I was far from alone there! Willard Thorp, move over—make room for Jay Leyda and Leon Howard and all the rest!

Similarly, Andrew Delbanco in the NEW REPUBLIC (September 2002) warned that my second volume, like the first, “must be used with caution.” [Here I do not note his errors in describing what I said.] Delbanco: “For one thing, Parker is amazingly certain of his own conclusions. . . . He is sure that immediately after completing ‘Pierre,’ Melville wrote an unpublished novel (Parker implies that after failing to find a publisher, Melville burned it) inspired by a story he had heard about a sailor who disappears for thirty years, then returns to the wife for whom he has become a distant memory. He is sure that when Melville traveled by slow boat to San Francisco in 1860, he expected to find waiting for him a finished copy of a book of poems that he had entrusted in manuscript to his brother for transmission to his publishers before leaving the East. (Such a book was never published--and it is a surmise that Melville ever wrote it.) . . . . In short, Parker trusts his own intuition completely, and, presenting inferences as facts, he expects his readers to trust it, too.”  My talking about the completion of POEMS was not a surmise, the word used by Brodhead and Delbanco: we not only know he completed it, we even know of two publishers who looked at POEMS and rejected it.

Brodhead and Delbanco refrained even from naming THE ISLE OF THE CROSS, as if the title gave it too much actuality. Elizabeth Schultz in THE COMMON REVIEW (Winter 2002) mentioned the title skeptically in her complaint: “Parker also reads betrayal and despair into the disappearance of two manuscripts, which he contends Melville completed--a novel, putatively titled The Isle of the Cross, and his first collection of poems. Throughout his biography, Parker bemoans the loss of The Isle of the Cross's ghostly manuscript, imagining Melville's regret at never having found a publisher for it. Although there is only tentative evidence for the manuscript's existence and submission to a publisher, its ostensible rejection leads Parker to view his heroic author as victimized: ‘masterful as he could be, [Melville] had a way now, after the failure of Moby-Dick and Pierre, of seeing himself as passive victim to whom things were done.’" Tentative evidence? Did Schultz assume that the editors of the LETTERS lied about an 1853 book years before I lied about one entitled THE ISLE OF THE CROSS? “Throughout” my biography? Where, after the initial discussion? What does she mean by “putative”? Hers seems to be an ignorant, disdainful elaboration on what she picked up from Brodhead and Delbanco.

In their accusations none of these three reviewers mentioned the existence of any documentary evidence that earlier scholars and I had brought forward concerning these two lost books. All three critics ignored a full half century of accumulating evidence about a book Melville completed in 1853. The publication of LETTERS (1960) proved the existence of the novel finished in 1853, although it was 1987 before I discovered the title, THE ISLE OF THE CROSS, and 1990 before I published the evidence in AMERICAN LITERATURE. All three ignored extensive evidence about POEMS, most of which had been available for eight decades. In my biography, of course, I quoted Melville’s well-known 12-point memo to his brother Allan on the publication of his POEMS! The evidence for both lost books was laid out right there on the pages of the biography.

Some lies don’t matter. If a reviewer says I mistook a letter by Helen Melvill for one by Helen Melville, that would not matter much, even if I had been right. The reader of the review would just say, hey, Parker’s not so careful after all. (I confess to being so in thrall to Emily Bronte that I looked at “Linwoods” in a manuscript and miscopied it as “Lintons”!) But false accusations can be deeply damaging.

Paula Backscheider says this in the Introduction to her REFLECTIONS ON BIOGRAPHY: “For an academic to be accused of ‘making things up’ or ‘conflating’ quotations and evidence is the most serious charge that can be levelled against him or her and may discredit that person forever.”

In the March 30, 2013 WALL STREET JOURNAL Carl Rollyson confirmed Backscheider: to suggest that I “invented details” to suit my ‘all-consuming quest’ to tell Melville’s story was “a nearly mortal blow to a biographer who has spent his entire career documenting every aspect of his subject’s life.”

I felt from June 2002 to March 30, 2013 that I might indeed have been discredited forever by Brodhead and Delbanco’s lies, which flourish still on the Internet, brazen as ever. Liberation came when Rollyson discussed some of my charges against one slandering reviewer, Delbanco. Say it bluntly: Rollyson was the first reviewer in an NYC paper who ever dealt honestly with a book of mine, without overt or hidden personal-political agenda. The only bias I can see in his review is against ignorant, flippant, or malicious reviewing of worthy biographies, for he has not only written many biographies but has written books on the genre of biography.

As it happens, Rollyson in the WALL STREET JOURNAL did not specifically look at the lies Brodhead and Delbanco told about my inventing lost books of Melville’s.

Earlier in 2013, I had hoped that the CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION might be the paper which first set out my grievances against Brodhead and Delbanco. That did not happen. Indeed, the CHRONICLE set me up for scorn instead of vindicating me.

Here is the sequence as I reconstruct it. The NEW YORKER blog for January 2013 listed MELVILLE BIOGRAPHY: AN INSIDE NARRATIVE among the “Books to Watch Out For” that month. Reading that “Parker writes with a rare combination of humor and passion,” someone at the CHRONICLE decided that reviewing the book would be a good idea. Northwestern University Press promptly provided a review copy and on January 18 a reporter emailed Northwestern wanting to have some kind of interview with me because the book “would be a great fit” for their “Books & Arts” section and they wanted to hurry because they wanted to print the article as close as they could to the official publication date, January 15.

In the next days the reporter and I settled on January 28 for a telephone interview. We talked for over an hour. I told the reporter how damaged I had been about the accusations that I had merely “surmised” or actually made up THE ISLE OF THE CROSS and POEMS and went into some detail about the psychology of being slandered. I told him how the victim internalizes shame and does not sound convincing when trying to defend himself. In fact, there was in 2002 a new director of the Johns Hopkins University Press and I never felt I had convincingly conveyed to her that I had been horribly abused. When you complain about reviews in the New York TIMES and the NEW REPUBLIC—reviews written by chaired professors at Yale and Columbia—you inevitably sound as if you are being overly sensitive and defensive about what must have been justified criticisms.  Reader, try it the next time someone says some horrific lie about you—try explaining that you really don’t often beat your husband with a harpoon handle. Anyhow, I went into some detail with the reporter about the lies about my inventing POEMS, in particular, and the damage that had done to my reputation and my health. I mentioned that Delbanco’s slanders had been picked up by others and elaborated. Alan Helms was guilty of this in Nineteenth-Century Literature—using Delbanco’s words to slander me all over again as a “slippery fish” with evidence--after all, Delbanco had said so, although not in those words.

So, I had said my say to the reporter from the CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION, and put my grievances on record, I thought. On February 1 Rose Engelland emailed from the CHRONICLE to ask permission to put a photograph of me in the CHRONICLE—the picture she had taken from my 2008 MELVILLE: THE MAKING OF THE POET. I said yes, at once, without comment on the fact that the beard in that picture had been shaved off and without offering one of the trial photos we had taken in the fall of 2012 for MELVILLE BIOGRAPHY: AN INSIDE NARRATIVE. Don’t rock the boat was my motto. Harold Bloom wants to reprint my 1963 article, I don’t ask to make any changes. Don’t rock the boat.

Then on Friday February 8 the reporter thanked me for working with the art department on the photo and asked me to confirm a few details about my age, residence, and so on. Fine.

On Sunday 10 February the CHRONICLE posted a teaser: “More than a decade after the publication of his career-defining Melville volumes, Hershel Parker strikes back at his critics in a genre-bending new work.” I loved “genre-bending,” for the book in fact was in part autobiography of me as biographer, in part a history of Melville biography, in part a history of criticism of Melville biography, in part a set of demonstrations of a biographer at work, and finally extensive endnotes which (while starting with problems I recognized in Melville) constituted a seminar of British and some American biographers on biography as a genre, not just on Melville.

What happened between Friday and Monday? It looks to me as if someone intervened. The complimentary-sounding title remained—“A Leviathan Task of Biography.” My photo was dropped and a picture of Melville was run in—my face being no great loss in itself but a strong indication that someone had made from up high an executive decision: Parker was not to be honored by this impulsively commissioned article. The second paragraph is shamelessly falsified and to my textual scholar’s eye it looks like nothing so much as an editorial intrusion:

Instead of moving from the first paragraph (“to Parker’s mind, unwarranted condemnation from many within the academy”), the CHRONICLE report proceeded to this second paragraph:

Critical reviews appeared in newspapers, magazines, and journals, and Parker, a professor emeritus of English at the University of Delaware, found himself at odds with such Melville scholars as Richard Brodhead (who raised questions about Parker's "editorial principles" in The New York Times) and Andrew Delbanco (who, while criticizing Parker's misreading of sex and sin, did declare, in The New York Review of Books, that "Parker's biography is written with love and devotion"). Critics' skepticism centered on two issues: the name of a lost Melville story ("The Isle of the Cross") and the importance of an 1860 manuscript called "Poems." A falling-out followed, and Parker, who felt he had been victimized, drifted away from groups like the Melville Society.

What happened? This is a totally fabricated paragraph.

I can’t find “editorial principles” in Brodhead’s review and can’t find it in MELVILLE BIOGRAPHY: AN INSIDE NARRATIVE. Of course, my quarrel with Brodhead had nothing to do with editorial principles but only with his saying I merely surmised the existence of two lost books, and in particular that only I in my “black hole” had identified POEMS. Why did the CHRONICLE reach back to a review by Delbanco in the NYRofB in 1997 to find a complimentary phrase instead of looking at his accusation in 2002 that I had made up two books which I claimed Melville wrote but which are now lost? And of course the “name” of THE ISLE OF THE CROSS is not in dispute but the existence of the book, and of course it’s not “the importance of an 1860 manuscript called ‘Poems’” but the existence of that book. The last paragraph says a “falling-out” followed—a falling out with Brodhead over “editorial principles”? and a “falling-out” with Delbanco over what—his criticizing my “misreading of sex and sin”? Anyhow, who was misreading? Feeling victimized, after 2002 I “drifted away” from the Melville Society. No, after the new-leftist takeover in 1990 I stopped going to Melville Society meetings, except when I got to climb pyramids in Central America one year. My standards are flexible!

Now, the damage does not stop with the one phony paragraph. Any good critic, and not just a New Critic, will read every following paragraph with this fabricated second paragraph in mind. What made the New Criticism so easy to apply that much of it is based on how real people read all the time. You put that second paragraph in, the one about “editorial principles” and “misreading of sex and sin,” and every harsh thing you quote me as saying after that is transformed into the rantings of an old codger who believes without warrant that he has been criticized too much by reviewers, who really had merely disagreed on editorial principles (principles, after all) and who really recognized that he had written with “love and devotion.”  You would have to be loony to complain about such reviewers. So with this setup, was it any surprise that the first comment in the CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION starts “Hershel Parker Crazy”?

By the strategic fabrication of the content and by the strategic placement of the 2nd paragraph, the CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION defended the President of Duke University and a chaired professor at Columbia while injuring me all over again. Rather than laying out the genuine grievance, the CHRONICLE damaged me all over again. 

If Tesla can shame the New York TIMES into an apology over its review of Tesla's Model S sedan, can I shame the CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION into printing an honest paragraph in place of the fabricated 2nd paragraph?

No comments:

Post a Comment