Captain Vic

*Nation* editor stays close to his desk

May 18, 2005 at 12:00 am

Scheduled guest of honor at the screening of Professional Revolutionary, publisher and editorial director of The Nation Victor Navasky has a new book out, A Matter of Opinion. As the title suggests, it’s an examination of the role of the journal in contemporary society. To some extent a professional memoir disguised as a thesis, Navasky’s book recounts his career, then lapses into the cobwebby history of The Nation, all the way back to its founding by E.L. Godkin in 1865. Navasky spends almost half the book bringing us up to speed — but luckily this includes the highlights of his early satirical magazine Monocle, which once featured a comic strip called “Captain Melanin,” in which a shoeshine boy “turns himself into a black Captain Marvel by shouting not ‘Shazam’ but ‘Booker T. Washington’ and ‘Modern Jazz Quartet.’” In another Monocle stunt, Navasky and company sent questionnaires to hundreds of writers, thinkers and Guggenheim fellows, asking if they sold out and why — prompting an angry Norman Mailer to call them “wise-ass crypto-faggot types.”

Those familiar with Navasky’s tenure as editor of The Nation will certainly look forward to hearing about the period of vitriolic spats between the magazine’s columnists, including a spectacular defection to the right wing by Christopher Hitchens. It’s easy to imagine the journal as an embattled craft, with Navasky and his crew swashbuckling their way across the high seas of opinion. But the storms of controversy and volleys of lawsuits are strangely baffled and distant in this phlegmatic narrative. Navasky seems determined to cast himself as an unflappable, kindly old panda bear, happily munching on nutritious commentary, bemused when people accuse him of being “shrill” (he disagrees) or “ideological” (he agrees). In fact, Captain Navasky is far away from the cannon’s roar, spending most of his time on land, seeking Wall Street titans to bail out a craft that’s taking on water and needs a tow.

Michael Jackman is a writer and copy editor for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].