Do you think a satirical novel like The Oasis that focuses on such a specific intellectual circle (Philip Rahv, Elizabeth Hardwick, Lionel Trilling, Dwight McDonald, et al.) could be written today?
Gumport: I would argue that the stakes aren’t high enough yet now. If you’re asking, Could we parody the left now? It would be like shooting fish in a barrel – and not very many fish, at that. And everyone already knew they were dead fish.
Leonard: There is that quality, too, that there’s not a lot of surprise with the immediacy of [recognition]. Yeah, I recognize that person because I follow them on Twitter!
Cooke: I’m curious to the extent that these people were actually taken down. They were only taken down by virtue of having emotional breakdowns because they felt so much pain and shame.
Gumport: I think [the people being parodied] were the only ones who cared.
Leonard: And that would remain true today. The personal politics of this book, like the personal politics of any expose now, have a tendency to seem much bigger than they are. How many people actually cared that Philip Rahv was an asshole? Even back then, not many. Now the stakes are even lower because there are very few people who can actually be said to be engaged in a movement. It is always scathing to portray someone honestly, but why you would do that to anyone comparable to these people now, I honestly don’t know.
Gumport: In a way, this book could be called The Group, too. There’s this sense that
it’s not just the political positions, but the fact that they formed them
together. There’s intimacy. I think what’s missing today is the sense of
charisma these people had to be at all tolerable and persuasive. That’s not
irrelevant in how you come to believe in things.