Reed's defense

Doug Henwood dhenwood at
Sun Oct 29 16:09:59 MST 1995

I forwarded Leo Casey's remarks about Adolph Reed to Adolph, who responded
as follows. Casey's original remarks are at the end of Reed's response.



Doug Henwood
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[2 lines of personal material deleted - DH]

>I've not gone around talking about the Watts incident, but now that it's
>out and I'm being slandered about it, I'll set the record straight. Watts
>submitted a rambling, disjointed mass of pages that were slapped together,
>internally inconsistent (e.g., taking x and not-x equally to be evidence of
>the phenomenon he was investigating, ie pursuit of marginality among black
>intellectuals. He identified a list of 13 or so "marginality facilitators"
>which included intense commitment to political ideology, intense rejection
>of political ideology, long-term incarceration, homosexuality, interracial
>marriage, etc. The substantive chapters -- and no one on his committee had
>seen a line or talked to Watts about it at any length until he submitted,
>and at least for my part it wasn't for lack of trying,; I asked him
>repeatedly after he left New Haven to let me see work in progress -- were
>on Willard Motley, Jean Toomer, Ralph Ellison, and Amiri Baraka. He made no
>attempt in the draft to explain why these guys carry the water for an
>argument in a political science dissertation. (Invisible Man, moreover, was
>invisible in the Ellison chapter.) He adduced as evidence that Ellison and
>Baraka were seeking marginality the allegation that they protested too much
>that they weren't marginal. I fretted and agonized over the position he'd
>put me in because I considered him a friend, but could not in good
>conscience pass the mass of pages, some of which were clearly cut and
>pasted (one chapter began on page 66 where the others began on p 1, and the
>previous one didn't end on p 65).I sought counsel of John Blassingame, then
>chair of Afro-Am, in my dilemma, which was exacerbated by recognition that
>being true to principle would leave me open to just the kind of slander
>that this prick is retailing now. I learned that the other two "readers",
>David Apter and Juan Linz, were voting distinction or nea distinction. I
>asked to be removed from the committee because I didn't want to be
>responsible for failing it. The DGS refused to let me beg off on the
>grounds that I was the only person (and I was a lowly asst prof at the
>time) in the Dept. who knew anything about the subject matter and that the
>other two probably hadn't even read it anyway. It was after about 550 pages
>in two vols. (Sure enough, at the faculty meeting Apter went on in praising
>the ms. to effuse about the brilliant way Gerry handled Ellison's practice
>of passing for white -- thus showing an inability even to get Ellison and
>Toomer straight.) I knew that Watts was under the gun and had to finish to
>keep his job, and I talked to him for over an hour on the phone and wrote
>him a thirteen page letter on why I felt the ms was unacceptable in its
>present form and what he could do to make it passable in my view with a few
>weeks effort, that is within the deadline Wesleyan had set for him. My
>recommendaitons had to do mainly with cleaning up some of the case
>materials, dropping the bullshit about marginality and packaging the
>substantive chapters as a study of the social thought of a group of
>creative black intellectuals. (And by the way, when he had dropped the fait
>accompli off with me, I complained  lightheartedly at having to read so
>much; he said that I didn't have to read it, just pass it. I thought then
>that he was joking.) I went on a recruiting trip for the graduate school
>and came back to learn that Watts hadn't taken my suggestions and had
>decided to submit it as it was. I'd already made clear to him that in my
>eyes it wasn't acceptable in that form. I don't know whether he thought I'd
>be steamrolled, wither in the face of my senior colleagues patronizing
>judgments-- Linz castigated me in the faculty meeting as a small minded
>positivist for demanding some integritin interpreting Afro-American thought
>-- or what. As to the "universal acclaim in every other quarter", that
>obviously doesn't extend to people who reviewed it for presses; it took
>Watts a decade to find someone who would publish it, and then only the
>Ellison stuff.
>As I said, I haven't been going around talking about this. I was
>disappointed at being jerked around like that by Watts, especially
>considering that he often and justifiably criticized black studies hustlers
>who try to slide by. I knew, though, that he was under desperate pressure
>to finish and had already lost a job at UC Davis for not finishing. It's
>especially unfortunate that this asshole throws this linen out now because
>I'd hoped that the memory of the incident might wane; however, I stand by
>what I did, and if another dissertation like that came my way I'd do the
>same thing, out of respect for our field of inquiry.
>As for my Telos connection, it certainly was more than writing an article.
>I wa on the editorial board for several years. Joel Kovel is among those
>who will attest that I was always one of those who fought against Arato,
>Cohen, Siegel for a critical marxist perspective. I'm on record in
>internal communications as a critic of the decision to publish the Herf
>piece and the general retreat from marxism. I was along with Kovel part of
>an exodus of remaining leftists in the mid-80s, Danny Postel documents in
>In These Times in 1991. (And yes I know Postel, who lives in Chicago, but I
>met him after reading that article.)
>Frankly, I'm not even sure why I'm doing this; it does depress me that this
>is the way I'm being characterized. One thing about this "he's just
>jealous" line, though. Jealous or envious of what exactly? The public
>adulation Cornel and others get? Doesn't this idiot realize that the
>easiest thing for a black academic to be is the Celebrity Negro for some
>white taste community? My problem is with West's -- as I made clear
>in both VOice articles -- sham politics, and I've not heard him say a word
>about that. I started just now to refer to my daily political practice in
>Chicago, but fuck it. I don' need to justify myself to the likes of this
>petulant clown, whoever he is. You should feel free to put whatever of this
>out on the net you want to.

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