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The Tory and the Masochist (Day Two)

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 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.

To: Daphne Merkin From: John Derbyshire Subject: Human Nature, Zichrono livracha, Illegals, and Rudy

Daphne,

I’ll admit, I’m confused. I want to do a proper (say 5,000 words) response to yours of yesterday, but we’re actually supposed to be discussing these blogs, and at 500-600 words for the lot. Whoever it was (I’ve seen it attributed to just about everyone from Cicero onwards) who said “Sorry this is such a long letter, I didn’t have time to write a short one,” knew everything you need to know about the art of writing.

Well, let me take up a couple of your points, then try to find something brief & snappy to say about Wolcott & Co.

Lolita. I said everything I have to say in that piece the Jewcy folk very kindly linked to. (Though I said some of it over again, in abbreviated form, for the National Review print magazine. Heck, why waste material?) If there are some points you would like to make, go ahead, and I’ll respond to them.

The gravamen of both my Lolita pieces—and of a great deal else of what I write—is that you can’t say or do anything intelligent about society, politics, or culture, unless you get human nature right; and we were closer to having it right 50 years ago than we are today—way closer, I would say; and that Nabokov’s book illustrates the point.

For heaven’s sake, didn’t we learn anything from communism? Why was communism such an appalling failure? Because it was founded on an utterly false view of human nature. (Mao Tse-tung actually denied that any such thing as human nature exists.) If you get that wrong, then everything you do is wrong—and eventually evil.

Terrible Yid. That keys nicely into your skirt-clutching squeals of horror at Evelyn Waugh referring to someone (a third party! in a private letter!) as “a terrible yid.” Now, Waugh was not a very nice person, and was furthermore a crashing snob. (I tremble to think how he would have described me, in private, to a third party. “A terrible oik,” very likely.) I’m sorry but—get ready to clutch your skirts again—I don’t see anything wrong with him writing that.

I’m a philosemite myself, and have a paper (and pixel) trail to prove it; but I don’t see anything wrong with disliking Jews in the generality. There are things you can legitimately dislike—for example, the relentless hunting for a writer’s one mildly anti-Semitic remark, and the shrieks of triumph when you find it, and the fierce anathemas and readings-out that follow. Though a disagreeable person (read his son’s memoir for the grisly details), Waugh was a superb writer with a perfectly normal range of prejudices.

Of all the European countries, Britain has been the one in which Jews have lived most securely, have prospered best, have felt least excluded, for three hundred years and more; and all that has been in an atmosphere of mild and genteel anti-Semitism, of the sort illustrated by Waugh’s remark. As a comfortable accommodation with the realities of human nature, this is hard to beat. We are certainly not going to beat it by screaming and finger-pointing at every expression of negativity by one group against another. Yet we are well on the way to outlawing such expressions. This will not end well. This will not end well.

Pbuh. One more remark, though this one on my previous post, not yours. I attached a playful “pbuh” to Ronald Reagan’s name. A Jewish friend (it’s actually Noah Millman, who seems to have given up blogging, which, if the case, is a great pity) tells me that for Jewcy, a much more apt expression would be “Z’l” for “Zichrono livracha,” which (says Noah) means “May his memory be a blessing.”

I like that. We Gentiles could use something similar. As the punchline of a well-known Soviet-era Russian joke goes: Darn Jews get the best of everything.

OK, a quick scan of the assigned blogs.

James Wolcott. The answer to your question, Daphne (i.e. why a guy with all the print outlets he needs should bother blogging), I think the answer is: He wants to be rude and obscene. Rude? Look at what he says about Judge Napolitano—“defrosted caveman.” It’s true, the judge’s hair starts extraordinarily low down on his forehead—my kids always comment on that if in the room when I’m watching O’Reilly—but heck, the judge can’t help it, any more than Evelyn Waugh could his squint. I find Judge Napolitano’s commentaries usually very sapient. And by the way: Is it just me, or does he look… a bit…. Jewish?

Then I stopped reading Wolcott after making the mistake of clicking on the Gissing link and getting the Wikipedia entry for New Grub Street—a novel that, as Orwell said in his fine essay on Gissing, has the same kind of effect on a writer as a novel about sexual impotence would on any male. My fault, not Wolcott’s.

Reason. Now I remember why I am not a libertarian: They are morons on the topic of immigration. (And those of us who disagree with them are of course “nativists.”)

Based on that data, the [March/April issue of Foreign Policy] concludes: “You can no longer argue that illegal immigrants are an excessive burden on U.S. healthcare.”

I don’t believe a word of it. Come with me to the emergency room of Huntington hospital—if you can get in there for all the Salvadorean illegals using it as their primary health-care provider. And even if it were true, so what? They are here illegally. Enforce the damn law, damn it.

However, a very high proportion of American Jews are likewise morons about immigration, so I may be in trouble with the Jewcy readership here. Memo to same: The richest sources for current and near-future immigration are (a) Latin America, and (b) the Middle East. Latin Americans don’t like Jews much—where do you think all the old Nazis retired to? And some proportion of Middle Easterners—and, on recent evidence, some larger proportion of their born-in-the-West offspring—regard the killing of Jews as a holy sacrament. ARE YOU PEOPLE NUTS?

Kesher Talk. Couldn’t find much of interest today. (Note: Any text that includes the words “Plame” and “Libby” is ipso facto outside the compass of the expression “of interest.”) I did catch this post: “Of all the people in the world who ought to be careful about making insensitive remarks comparing Jews to Nazis, you think high among them would be German Catholic religious leaders.” Well, I would say that Austrian vegetarian nonsmoking atheists with toothbrush mustaches and greased-down forelocks would actually be top of the list, but hey.

Design Observer. “Internet Explorer cannot display the webpage.” Did the tsunami of Jewcy readers crash their server? Is “webpage” really a single word now? Where do flies go in the winter? Etc., etc.

Yglesias. My eyelids were getting heavy again 15-20 seconds into browsing Yglesias, then I perked up. More slagging off of my NR colleagues!—this time of my boss, no less. Actually I thought Rich’s point about Rudy’s “executive prowess” was a good one. Rudy came in to a city government with out of control spending and a swollen, corrupt bureaucracy. He attacked both, fearlessly and relentlessly. GWB, by contrast, having come into a federal government with ditto and ditto, vastly expanded the spending, and added fat new layers of bureaucracy. That makes Rudy the anti-Bush. That (I think) is Rich’s point, and it’s an excellent one.

But the to-ing and fro-ing among conservatives on Rudy and his record is the really interesting political conversation going on right now. On a scale of political interesting-ness—for not-very-wonkish people like me, I mean—with the Plame guy at 0.001 on the scale and Election Night at 100, the Rudy debates are at least a 50. I confess I haven’t yet read Prince of the City, but I know I must, and it’s top of my list. In spite of having been a New York City taxpayer for most of Rudy’s mayoral term, I don’t know the guy as well as I need to—as well as we all need to. It’s getting serious now.

John

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