In reading Joseph Mitchell’s Joe Gould’s Secret I have discovered some of the more intimate nuances of journalism and its role as a vessel for society’s secrets. Mitchell’s tells Joe Gould’s story through two articles, and in his book, a collection of the two previously published articles, we are also invited to discover how the journalist’s story unfolds in relation to his assignment. The most refreshing aspect of this book is that, as an original newspaper article, it still maintained its integrity. That is to say, it is a very human encounter and exchange.
The main vein of both the book and the bohemian, Joe Gould is his lifework, The Oral History. At first I was entirely enamored by the idea of a historical account told in vignettes of conversation about, and of the Village in its prime. The tradition of Oral History is long lost in our time, and for as long as I have known history – it has been told by the elite white, and so I was an avid supporter of an artistic era being told by a dirty, awkward, shy, black sheep of society. I was slightly disappointed to discover that the Oral History was perhaps alive only in Gould’s mind, although Mitchell’s telling of the story did, in same way bring alive a certain oral history of that time. He is able to shed light onto some of Gould’s life story, and bring understanding into his role and exclusion from the other ‘bohemians’ and poets of his time. Which, together, gives the reader a feeling of the village and how people spoke to one another in relation to time and circumstance.
The richest aspect of this story for me was to look at the essence of Mitchell and Gould’s encounter. I cannot say if Journalism has maintained the possibility of having such a strangely intimate connection with someone that you are writing about? That is not to say that there is no longer an intimacy in journalism, but in this case, Mitchell allows the reader to see how his subject affected him. Furthermore, he respected Joe Gould and he used his writing as a tool for change, for others to esteem the village fool as a valued human being.