For more than fifty years Leslie Fielder played a crucial role in the development of American literary culture. Despite his often unacknowledged influence, the academy, intellectuals, and the general audience in America and abroad still read his work and draw on its concepts. The Devil Gets His Due collects his previously uncollected writing and, in so doing, tells us the novelties and the flaws of the American canon Fiedler tried to establish and open up, encompassing “high” and “popular” literature, cinema and history, navigating with the same agility Dante, Pound, Mary McCarthy, Rambo, Iwo Jima and Jerry Lewis. Finally the project re-presents and re-positions Fiedler’s role in light of the contemporary crises in the humanities.
With the exception of three essays —“Come Back to the Raft Ag’in, Huck Honey,” “Introduction to The Star Rover,” and “Who’s the Cowboy, Who’s the Indian? The Slowest Gun in the West”—none of these pieces have been previously collected. They are either essays or brief, extraordinarily poignant reviews of books such as Alfred Kazin’s A Walker in the City, Mary McCarthy’s Groves of Academe, Nelson Algren’s A Walk on the Wild Side, and James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room. They cover a time period that spans almost fifty years of Fiedler’s career, from 1943, the year of his first publication, an “Explication de Texte” in verses of Dante’s Inferno XXVI, to 2002, the year in which his last essays, “Introduction to The Deerslayer” and the mostly autobiographical “Getting’ It Right: The Flag Raisings at Iwo Jima” were written and/or appeared.
In spite of their thematic differences, all sections revolve around a unifying theoretical notion, which Fiedler makes explicit in the 1972 essay “Who Really Died in Vietnam?” In it, he writes that “we endure the pangs of a society that has outlived a value system whose mythological foundation remains firm.” Thus, these essays are presented as a way to close the gap between society and ideology and to project culture and society beyond that mythological foundation in order to overcome it. In turn, they are posed as the framework for the articulation of a radical project for a democratic program of intellectual action.