Even Misfits Find their 'Fit'
The Joe Gould story
I have a long-standing interest in 'marginal types': the characters, oddballs, misfits, Thoreauvian different-drummers, wildmen, mavericks, weirdos, those who find an adjustment to life, if they find it at all, at the margins, on the fringes of respectability, near the edge of things. Those who were not stamped out as by a cookie cutter, but put their own inimitable stamp on themselves. The creatively maladjusted and marginal who do duty as warnings more often than as exemplars.
Joe Gould, Greenwich Village bohemian, is an example. His story has been told by that master of prose, Joseph Mitchell.
Gould found his fit and 'made it' as a bum. He was a 'successful' bum. Some aren't cut out for the bum life: they can't 'cut it.' These are the bums manqué. Gould stuck with it till he died of it. He found his own peculiar adjustment to life, his purpose and place, albeit one based on deceiving himself and others about his "Oral History of Our Time," the magnum opus that never existed.
Gould got through life in his own way. If success is living life in your own way, then Gould was a success.
You say he never amounted to anything? Then why am I writing about him now? Why did Joseph Mitchell devote two long pieces to him? Why was a movie made about him?
You really should read Joseph Mitchell. As someone who knows what good writing is, I can tell you that he is a master of American English. Get yourself a copy of Up in the Old Hotel and Other Stories, Vintage 1993, and enjoy. Why read the contemporary stuff in The New Yorker when you can read Mitchell?