Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Martin Duberman a.k.a. Dubie

Doug Ireland is a gay journalist who has done important work regarding the persecution, execution and assassination of gay people in Iran and Iraq. He has now written a piece extolling the New York “queer’ scholar Martin Duberman as a “national treasure” (available at alternet.com). Despite his merits as a journalist, I do not think that Ireland is qualified to assess scholarly work. In fact his Duberman piece is little more than a love letter to his idol.

I first met Martin Duberman in 1973, when we were both charter members of the Gay Academic Union in New York City.  At first we were allies, based on a common interest in feminist theory.  Yet the more I learned of that endeavor the more I became convinced that it was not intellectually sound.  Always the stalwart lesbyterian, Dubie (as we called him) went the other way,

Because of this heresy, Duberman tried to read me out of the community of gay scholarship.  From the beginning I was excluded from his CLAGS effort at the CUNY Graduate School. A CUNY faculty member, I was excluded nonetheless: I was “politically unreliable.”  Later a group of his allies succeeded in getting Garland Publishing to put my Encyclopeda of Homosexuality out of print: it was not PC.  Despite this attempt at censorship, the set is still widely available.

I submit that CLAGS is not a legitimate academic group, because participants must pass a litmus test of political correctness--they must subscribe to multiculturalism.

Duberman's scholarship, as evidenced by his 20 books, is dutiful and prolific.  Yet it is not innovative.  In fact he has been hoist with his own petard, in that some feminists he has championed, notably Judith Butler and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, have far surpassed him in influence and reputation. To be sure, there are problems with the work of both those scholars, but today they are inarguably far more influential than Duberman.

Is anyone really interested in reading three self-serving volumes of autobiography?  In fact the Wikipedia notice, from which Ireland cribbed much of his information, bears a private note by one of the editors questioning whether Duberman actually merits an entry.  Just so.

Perhaps the matter is best summed up by a piece of subway graffiti from a few years back:

Shakespeare said: To be or not to be.
Descartes said; To be is to think.
Sartre said: To be is to exist.
Sinatra said: Dubie, Dubie, do.



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