Celebrity and the Poetic Dialogue of Irving Layton and Leonard Cohen

Joel Deshaye

Abstract


During the intense years of Irving Layton’s and Leonard Cohen’s celebrity, they engaged in a pointed rivalry through poetic dialogue. Cohen initiated and often sustained the dialogue by questioning Layton’s persona and his implied fear of being defined by his audience. Exploiting the problematic authority of masculinity and religion, they promoted each other’s celebrity; however, Layton and Cohen also fashioned their personas and critiques of each other within ironic representations, and both appeared wary of their culture’s extraordinary approval of them. The “line of inheritance” between these poets has been a subject of debate, but it is unquestionably in evidence in their poetic dialogue. Through that dialogue, Cohen formulated the reasons for his rejection of Layton’s Nietzschean religious pretense and its paradoxical you-can-have-it-all freedom. Cohen in effect grew out of the masculinity and religious pretense of literary celebrity: he developed through that tradition, matured, and then saw that it was not a good fit for him.


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