Justifiable Conduct

Self-Vindication in Memoir

Erich Goode
Book Cover

PB: $31.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-1026-9
Publication: May 13

HC: $91.50
EAN: 978-1-4399-1025-2
Publication: May 13

Ebook: $31.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-1027-6

224 pages
6 x 9

How memoirs justify deviant behavior from crime to sex to politics.

Read the Preface (pdf).


How do memoirists make their work interesting, daring, exciting, and unorthodox enough so that they attract an audience, yet not so heinous and scandalous that their readers are unable to empathize or identify with them? In Justifiable Conduct, renowned sociologist Erich Goode explores the different strategies memoirists use to "neutralize" their alleged wrongdoing and fashion a more positive image of themselves for audiences. He examines how writers, including James Frey, Susan Cheever, Roman Polanski, Charles Van Doren and Elia Kazan, explain, justify, contextualize, excuse, or warrant their participation in activities such as criminal behavior, substance abuse, sexual transgressions, and political radicalism. Using a theory of deviance neutralization, Goode assesses the types of behavior exhibited by these memoirists to draw out generic narratives that are most effective in attempting to absolve the actor-author. Despite the highly individualistic and variable lives of these writers, Goode demonstrates that memoirists use a conventional vocabulary for their unconventional behavior.

Table of Contents

Preface Acknowledgments 1 Introduction Charles Van Doren, “Herb Stempel Was the First to Agree to the Fix” Jim Bouton, “If We Explain We’re Shooting Beaver, They’ll Understand” The Transgressive I, the Exculpatory Account 2 Autobiography and Memoir Memoir and Autobiography The Memoir Explosion Literal Facticity: Does It Matter? James Frey, “I Honestly Have No Idea” 3 Autonarrating Transgression The “I” and the “Me” Vocabularies of Motive Is to Explain to Condone? The Presentation of Self Accounts Techniques of Neutralization: Theory or Concept? To Whom Are Self-Exculpations Addressed? In Sum: Neutralizing Deviance 4 Criminal Behavior Joe Bonanno, “This Is How I Earned My Living” Edward Bunker, “What Else Could I Do?” Jack Henry Abbott, “If You Behave like a Man, You Are Doomed” Jordan Belfort, “ $12.5 Million! In Three Minutes!” Accounting for Crime 5 Substance Abuse Pete Hamill, “This Is What Men Do” Susan Cheever, “Drinking Was Part of Our Heritage” Steve Geng, “I Was Romanticizing Lives of Crime” William Cope Moyers, “I Was Doomed to Fail No Matter How Hard I Tried” Accounting for Substance Abuse 6 Sexual Transgressions Roman Polanski, “ Everyone Wants to Fuck Young Girls” Kerry Cohen, “My Parade of Boys Continues” Melissa Febos, “I Took Aim and Flicked the Whip toward Him” Kirk Read, “I Wanted to Be Shirley Temple” Accounting for Sexual Transgressions 7 Political Deviance Elia Kazan, “I Was Notorious, an Informant, a Squealer, a Rat” Norman Podhoretz, “The Theory Circulated That I Had Gone Mad” Malcolm X, “I Never Have Felt That I Would Live to Become an Old Man” Cathy Wilkerson, “The Intention Was Not to Cause Carnage but Chaos” Accounting for Political Transgressions 8 Accounting for Deviance How They Account for Themselves Searching for Common Threads Looking Back Reference Index

About the Author(s)

Erich Goode is a Sociology Professor Emeritus at Stony Brook University. He has published ten books, including Moral Panics (coauthored with Nachman Ben-Yehuda), The Paranormal, Deviant Behavior, and Drugs in American Society; seven anthologies; and articles in magazines, newspapers, and an array of academic journals. He is a recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship, and has taught at half-a-dozen universities, including the University of Maryland, New York University, and the University of North Carolina.