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Movable Snipe: Heterophobia, Samuel Johnson, and Hitler

To: John Derbyshire From: Daphne Merkin Subject: Heterophobia, Samuel Johnson, and Hitler Dear John, I dunno, I'm tired of protecting the sensibilities of the gay community, when they so clearly are not in need of protection—at least not around the … Read More

By / March 7, 2007

To: John Derbyshire From: Daphne Merkin Subject: Heterophobia, Samuel Johnson, and Hitler

Dear John,

I dunno, I'm tired of protecting the sensibilities of the gay community, when they so clearly are not in need of protection—at least not around the enlightened urban audience Wolcott's blog presumably addresses.

If I may quote myself in a column I wrote for Slate, "the new homophobia is heterophobia." Which of course is not to say—let me rush to appease any irate, politically-correct reader standing at the ready to club down all traces of prejudice on my part—that I don't think homosexuality doesn't remain problematic (i.e., non-"normative" and thus open to ridicule and attack for many Americans, and for many Europeans and Asians and Muslims, for that matter). But that's not the same as mandating the issue of sexual preference or race out of existence by either not addressing it at all except on the red-necked or long-legged far Right, or walking on eggshells around it.

I have—not too sound like a parody of someone who says I have many gay friends but…—so many gay male friends that my 17-year old daughter doesn't realize that there is any other kind of male. When I was watching the last Democratic convention with one of these aforementioned friends I went ballistic on the whole issue of gay marriage. It struck me then, and continues to strike me, as a red herring, not to mention as some sort of baiting of the culture at large, which is busy getting divorced and reconsidering the entire prospect of marriage. (I'm thinking of that news-breaking statistic that 51% of the country is now officially single).

Also, I think it's at troublesome, at the very least, to both mock the very idea of marriage as a delusional and retrograde "straight" institution, as many gays have done, and then happily go and claim its financial/property benefits on behalf of the tiny minority of gay marriages that exist in this country.

The problem of course is with the use of the hideous term "faggot," which was intentionally snarky and what Coulter is all about in the first place, isn't it?

So far, so bland with Kesher Talk. Possibly the trouble with blogging in a nutshell is that not that many people have truly interesting minds, at least not interesting on many topics. And I know I am a Luddite and that the solitary art of writing an essay or a book is not nearly as instantly gratifying as scribbling away at these blogs, but still, I wonder: Does anyone other than a late-rising member of the chattering classes—anyone who is gainfully employed, say, in drilling teeth or writing up legal briefs—have the time to read, much less write these things?

If I may quote the ever melancholy and ever endearing Samuel Johnson: "It is little wonder that any fashion should grow popular by which idleness is favoured and imbecility assisted."

I can't imagine, for instance (and I don't mean to be unkind, merely realistic) that anyone other than his father is interested in what song lyrics ran through Shmoikel's head this past Saturday. More importantly: what kind of a name is that to foist on your son? I ask this not from any assimilated-Jewish remove, since I was raised in an Orthodox family and have one brother who has moved to the "right," as they call it, and lives in a community where Yiddishized nicknames (like Schloime or Avrumele) are more common than Andy or Bobby.

My now-defunct father (I always liked the opening line of that e.e. cummings poem, "Buffalo Bill's defunct"), a shul-going, weekly Talmud class-attending German Jew thought that if you live in America, you should give your children American names as well as Jewish ones. I still agree with that idea, notwithstanding the belligerent Jewish-is-beautiful style that now prevails.

Are Hit & Run’s posts meant to be bulletins from the front—in which case, which front?—or a kind of online Utne Reader? I could dilate on my feelings about smoking and its various bans. (I'm not a smoker and my mother died this summer of lung cancer, as it happens; she wasn't a smoker but both her father and my father were chain-smokers.) I do believe people choose their vices and I know that smoke is annoying, but I still don't get why smokers aren't allowed specific areas in restaurants, the way they used to be. I always feel sorry for the smokers, who huddle outside office buildings in the cold, puffing away defiantly, like expelled members of a community…

Which brings me to what I'd really like to talk about which is your essay in the National Review about Lolita. (Full disclosure: I don't subscribe to the magazine and it was sent to me by none other than Michael Weiss, a Jewcy editor, who wants to make sure I mention that he once located a Nabokov anagram* of Kingsley Amis, who, as he points out, wrote the “best bad review of Lolita,” in Ada, or Ardor.)

But I feel like one of those Oscar presenters who goes on too long and the music starts up, so all I'll add at this point is that very close toward the ending there is a description that is breathtaking even for such a virtuoso of images as Nabokov: “This then is my story. I have reread it. It has bits of marrow sticking to it, and blood, and beautiful bright-green flies…”

As long as you’re considering Lolita’s dispassionate but not un-judgmental –I know you're not supposed to be judgmental anymore, at least not about things you don't like or approve of—portrait of a pedophile, do you remember the fuss that was kicked up a few years ago when a new version of the Kubrick movie was being filmed by Adrian Lyne? P.C. anxieties were aroused about the young actress who was playing Lolita. Weren't there disclaimers and scenes that had to be cut?

Ah, Hitler. Eternally of interest. I agree with Yglesias about the Munich analogy being absurd, but does he recall how many times the Hitler comparison was used about Bush? No one protested it much then. I've always wondered whether there is any truth to the factoid or rumoroid that Hitler had only one testicle or that some close relative of his—grandfather? grandmother? –was treated by a Jewish doctor.

I do remember reading in a fascinating history of hospitality that had Hitler placing carefully selected reading matter, including erotica, on his guests' bedside tables when they visited him at his country chalet. He also made sure that there were meat dishes on the menu even though he was a vegetarian. (And a big farter, apparently, according to his doctor—because of all the beans, you see).

I can't figure out on the basis of the reviews (Lee Siegel’s seemed to be mostly his trying to strut alongside Mailer) whether The Castle in the Forest is worth or not worth dipping into, but I wrote a review in The New Yorker some years ago about Ron Hansen's novel, Hitler's Niece, which I thought was excellent and overlooked. I reviewed it together with a non-fiction account of this niece, a beauty named Geli, who either committed suicide or was killed by Hitler.

Auf Wiedersehen,

D.

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