Passions of the Past

At last, this blog is back to life. I spent the morning weeding it of old posts that were dated and too mired in the daily political trenches of the past. I hope I have preserved the broad-mindedness the blog has always aspired to. In fact, I’m about to broaden its backside further with an elegiac tribute to a late diva of the left.

Judith Malina, cofounder with her husband Julian Beck of the politically and artistically radical Living Theater, died earlier this month at age 88. I had a memorable encounter with her more than four decades ago.

Around 1970 or ’71, when I was an aspiring young writer and a timid admirer of activist artists—I did not have a radical temperament but, in those times, rather thought I should—I interviewed Malina, then in her mid-40s, for the Village Voice (a clipping I may post here when I get back to New York and into my files). I was also starting a little literary magazine of women’s writing, ELIMA (which turned out to be a one-issue anthology); and Malina generously offered me excerpts from her diaries.

Naturally the news of her death took me back to the experience of interviewing this tiny hummingbird of radicalism who vibrated with a self-dramatizing, self-sacrificing intensity. I had not thought of her too often in the intervening years; I had seen her without knowing it in The Sopranos, as the nun who confesses on her deathbed that she’s Paulie Walnuts’s real mother—an oddly fitting role, given that one of the journal excerpts Judith gave me was about her imprisonment with and admiration of the saintly Catholic activist Dorothy Day. Sex and sainthood intertwined, in an image of paradisal innocence: how intoxicating. Can one be nostalgic for naïveté?

Here are the excerpts from Judith’s diary, kindly copied for me from one of the last surviving copies of ELIMA by San Francisco poet Marguerite Munoz. (You may notice that I typed the pages myself—on a defective typewriter.)

Malina 1

Malina 2

Malina 3

Malina 4Malina 5

Malina 6

Malina 7

Malina 8

Malina 9

Malina 10

Malina 11

Malina 12

Malina 13

Malina 14

Malina 15