“All this talk about good writing,” the speaker declared, “sounds very fascistic to me.” It was a remark guaranteed to stir the memory of at least one member of the “seminar” to which it was addressed. Years before, in the palmy days of the counterculture (as it was then called), a writer named Ellen Willis had earned a modicum of notoriety by solemnly confiding to the readers of The New American Review that—I quote from memory—“There is a saying in the movement that good writing is counterrevolutionary.” Later on, I believe, Miss Willis publicly disavowed this remarkable doctrine. Perhaps she had found it cast an invidious light on the contributions she was then making to The New Yorker and The Village Voice. But there can be little doubt that she had reported the doctrine itself with complete accuracy, and here it was again, these many...


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