« So You Want to Be a Housewife? | Main | You Can Have a Brilliant Career (Even if Paul Weiss Disses You) »

Defending Elizabeth Wurtzel

The Careerist

January 13, 2013

Today's guest blogger is Michael Goldhaber, senior international correspondent at ALM Media. A former college classmate of Elizabeth Wurtzel (author of Prozac Nation and, more recently, an associate at Boies, Schiller & Flexner), Goldhaber offers his views on the controversy surrounding Wurtzel's latest article ("Elizabeth Wurtzel Confronts Her One-Night Stand of a Life") in New York magazine.

by Michael D. Goldhaber

Elizabeth_Wurtzel_BBF_2010_ShankboneLike Liz Wurtzel in her latest self-confession, I am a 44-year-old graduate of Harvard College, Yale Law School, and Prozac Nation, who threw out my law degree in favor of writing. Unlike Liz Wurtzel, I compromise. I live in Brooklyn, and practice the sort of "good, workmanlike journalism" that she complains she is never assigned. From age 37 to 40 I acquired a wife, a mortgage, and, in her words, two "basic children" who I tell "everybody. . . are talented and gifted." And unlike Wurtzel, I never did heroin, and I passed the bar exam on my first try.

I don't disagree with the verdict of the blogosphere that Wurtzel is rambling and self-indulgent. (See, for instance, here, here, and here.) Wurtzel could use an editor. And for her emotional health, I would urge her to read the books of George Vaillant, who has shown through the lives of other Harvard grads the value of mastering the Eriksonian stages of adulthood (notably intimacy), and using mature ego mechanisms of defense. Escapism, denial, and projection are not among them.

But the harsh tone of some criticism (including mine) perhaps reflects the resentment of less established writers, and the usual resistance of the bourgeoisie to dangerous social solvents. Rambling and self-indulgent are also apt descriptions for Emerson and Thoreau (whom Wurtzel was tickled to find herself lumped in with in a Harvard alumni brochure). I discovered all three infuriating essayists during my sophomore year of college (see here for a sample of Wurtzel's youthful work), and never much liked them. Yet even workmanlike journalists, or lawyers who assemble binders for a living, must concede that in the murky clouds of these provocateurs' prose hide bursts of epigrammatic wisdom, which gather their force from the margins of society. If Wurtzel's searing honesty speaks to youth and provokes her peers, then surely it has artistic merit.

To our readers in the trenches of legal billing, my own life choices may appear as radical as Wurtzel's appear to me. I don't presume to judge those who compromise more, or those who compromise less. May Wurtzel find peace in 2013, and may she never lose her ability to shock.

Goldhaber can be reached at [email protected]. He writes the Global Lawyer column for Am Law Litigation Daily.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Life choices are personal - it was wonderful Liz chose to share hers. As for being rambling, I think the article is like life itself. If you like Woody Allen movies but hate WWE Wrestling, you're going to skip to another channel when Wrestling comes on. Skip what you think are "rambles" and read the parts that interest you. This article is well-crafted if you know how to read it!

Appreciate this balanced insightful response -- I found her piece as thought-provoking as many found it to be infuriating.

I have always respected Elizabeth Wurtzel. She has been through quite a bit in her life and in my opinion is a fantastic author.

"I don't presume to judge those who compromise more, or those who compromise less."

Something we should all aspire to.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Subscribe to get The Careerist via e-mail

Enter your e-mail address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

To search across all ALM blogs, go to www.Lexis.com.