Friday, September 10, 2010

The American Mercury

The frontispiece.

Various, The American Mercury Reader

In John Fante's sagas, a key piece of Arturo Bandini's character, the point on which his madness spins, is that he had a story published in the esteemed journal The American Phoenix by its editor H. L. Muller, based on Fante's own story "Altar Boy" published in H. L. Mencken's The American Mercury in 1929.

The story of Mencken's magazine portrayed in this Wikipedia article is riveting, how what once started as an means to inject intellectual discourse under the guise of popular journalism ended up almost sixty years later being a shriveled, shrill mouthpiece for anti-Semites and white supremacists when it finally shuttered in 1981.  It made me think about how that's how it always goes: things start out fiery and beautiful and daring and ate up with promise only to end up being railroaded into the base and the horrible. I don't know much about Mencken except that he's someone people like to use to justify classism, whereas I think he was more about a personal elitism. He seemed to want to surround himself with the types that turn into werewolves at night. I like the stripe of a guy that will lay this down about democracy:
[D]emocracy gives [the beatification of mediocrity] a certain appearance of objective and demonstrable truth. (from here)

Wikipedia exhibits is rare dry wit with this inclusion at the bottom of his entry

See also

which you should also see. It pleases me greatly.

I found a copy of The American Mercury Reader from 1944 housed in the compressed storage section of the campus library and it sits now on my desk radiating with possibility. Fante's story is in there. I want to re-read Zora Neale Hurston's "High John the Conquerer" and the Faulkner story and the Edgar Lee Masters profile of Stephen A. Douglas and Herbert Ashbury's "Hatrack" about a prostitute seeking redemption, a story whose publication in the Mercury got them in a lot of trouble, and everything else. It makes me love magazines and writing and werewolves and bathtubs and America.

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