Farewell to a scoundrel



Meme Wars: What Lorin Stein’s resignation from The Paris Review over sexual misconduct reveals about the true index of male power

I know Lorin Stein a little bit. We weren’t exactly friends, but we were New York City friends, with all that entails. I regarded him, and believe the regard was reciprocal, as the sort of person with whom one could work to mutual advantage without the expectation of enduring loyalty. I believed that he was the sort of person—the rare sort of person—who could make writers better than they really were, and whose literary judgment was trustworthy. One of my goals in life was to write a work of fiction that he would judge to be good, and that he would help to make better. Many, perhaps even most, writers of fiction aspired to be seen as worthy of Lorin Stein’s attention. Not many were. He had earned the right to confer this privilege by a long record of editorial achievements for which he is justly esteemed.

People admired Stein for his devotion to his craft. They gossiped about him because of his carefully constructed persona. He could be winning, and devilish. He was often surrounded by women who were smart and personable and pleasing to look at, the kind who wore their erudition lightly, and fed upon, and fed, the leisurely mood he seemed to conjure wherever he went. When he fixed his unblinking, mesmerized gaze inches closer than you were accustomed to anyone fixing it, invading your personal space just enough to make you self-conscious, you were aware of a subtle assertion of power. It takes a great deal of self-assurance to impose yourself in the manner that was habitual to him. Whether it was sheer bravado, an act, or the true manifestation of a lordly nature was a subject of ironic (nobody really thought it was the third option) debate among people inclined to gossip about the tiny world we inhabited, where he was regarded (with a mixture of irony, resentment, affection, scorn, and awe) as a prince.

His image was an uncanny pastiche of a cool, poised, insouciant white man from an indeterminate midcentury American past. It had something to do with his appearance. Someone as frail and narrow shouldered as Stein really needed custom tailoring not to appear awkward. It also had to do with his manner. He sought to embody an ideal of amateur enthusiasm lost amid the corporate bureaucracies that the publishing houses had been subsumed by and become. Even if it was a put on, he carried it off.

When he was up for the editorship of The Paris Review in 2010, I told him that he was perhaps too perfect for the role for anyone to give it to him. But the instant it was announced, it felt preordained. There was an implicit understanding, something too self-evident to say aloud, that Lorin Stein, chiefly on the basis of his taste and skill, but also on the basis of who he was, what he looked like, how he carried himself, would inherit the mantle of leadership passed down from older men, white men, who had founded our esteemed literary institutions, established their style and tone, and who were still firmly in control.

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