Commentary Magazine


Topic: New York Times Book Review

The Book of Sort of Job

Jon Meacham (whose former Newsweek colleague Evan Thomas last year gave us the description of Obama as “sort of God”) has an essay in today’s New York Times Book Review entitled “Obama and the Book of Job,” a review of Robert Alter’s new translation of one of the most remarkable books of the Bible. This time, Meacham portrays Obama not as sort of God but sort of Job:

[Obama] might find Alter’s new book congenial. John Boehner is not exactly a case of boils, but the president may feel differently at the moment, and thus the story of Job could be of some use to him. Like Obama, Job was once the highly favored one. …

When God speaks from the whirlwind at the end of the Book of Job, it reminds Meacham “how Dick Cheney’s vision of unfettered executive power might sound if rendered in ancient Hebrew verse.”

Those interested in a more compelling reflection on the political meaning of the Book of Job might consider reading one of William Safire’s most brilliant books, The First Dissident: The Book of Job in Today’s Politics, published in 1993 and still relevant today (summarized slightly here and reviewed in the pages of COMMENTARY here).

As for Obama’s current problems, they do not seem biblical in proportion but rather simply those associated with the job he volunteered for and assured us he would solve (while bringing the sea level down). His situation seems less the work of a Cheney-like God than an illustration of the biblical admonition of what cometh before a fall.

Jon Meacham (whose former Newsweek colleague Evan Thomas last year gave us the description of Obama as “sort of God”) has an essay in today’s New York Times Book Review entitled “Obama and the Book of Job,” a review of Robert Alter’s new translation of one of the most remarkable books of the Bible. This time, Meacham portrays Obama not as sort of God but sort of Job:

[Obama] might find Alter’s new book congenial. John Boehner is not exactly a case of boils, but the president may feel differently at the moment, and thus the story of Job could be of some use to him. Like Obama, Job was once the highly favored one. …

When God speaks from the whirlwind at the end of the Book of Job, it reminds Meacham “how Dick Cheney’s vision of unfettered executive power might sound if rendered in ancient Hebrew verse.”

Those interested in a more compelling reflection on the political meaning of the Book of Job might consider reading one of William Safire’s most brilliant books, The First Dissident: The Book of Job in Today’s Politics, published in 1993 and still relevant today (summarized slightly here and reviewed in the pages of COMMENTARY here).

As for Obama’s current problems, they do not seem biblical in proportion but rather simply those associated with the job he volunteered for and assured us he would solve (while bringing the sea level down). His situation seems less the work of a Cheney-like God than an illustration of the biblical admonition of what cometh before a fall.

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Required Reading

In the New York Times Book Review, Anthony Julius reviews Paul Berman’s The Flight of the Intellectuals – a book Michael Totten calls “your required reading this month.” (I would add Julius’s remarkable book on anti-Semitism, Trials of the Diaspora.)

The “flight of the intellectuals” is Berman’s phrase for Western public intellectuals running away their own heritage in the confrontation with a totalitarian Islamist threat. In a valuable interview with Totten, Berman has summarized the thinking as follows:

We look at ourselves in the Western countries and we say that, if we are rich, relatively speaking, as a society, it is because we have plundered our wealth from other people. Our wealth is a sign of our guilt. If we are powerful, compared with the rest of the world, it is because we treat people in other parts of the world in oppressive and morally objectionable ways. Our privileged position in the world is actually a sign of how racist we are and how imperialistic and exploitative we are. All the wonderful successes of our society are actually the signs of how morally inferior we are, and we have much to regret and feel guilty about.

Julius’s judicious review contains an even shorter summary of the elements of the contemporary intellectual’s thinking:

the false identification of liberal values with an oppressive West, and of political Islamism with an oppressed third world; an unreflective, unqualified opposition to every exercise of American power; a certain blindness regarding, or even tenderness toward, contemporary expressions of anti-Semitism.

Berman’s book extends a debate that began in Europe four years ago with French writer Pascal Bruckner’s The Tyranny of Guilt, which has just been published in English. Bruckner argues that:

In Judeo-Christian lands, there is no fuel so potent as the feeling of guilt. … From existentialism to deconstructionism, all of modern thought can be reduced to a mechanical denunciation of the West, emphasizing the latter’s hypocrisy, violence, and abomination. In this enterprise the best minds have lost much of their substance. … Remorse has ceased to be connected with precise historical circumstances; it has become a dogma, a spiritual commodity, almost a form of currency.

As the Europeanization of America proceeds — under an administration featuring apology tours, rejections of American exceptionalism, and an inability even to utter the words “terrorism” or “Islamofascism” (substituting “man-caused disasters” and refusing to acknowledge that “radical Islam” might be involved) — Bruckner’s book is an even clearer description of the intellectual collapse coming our way. Put it on the required reading list as well.

In the New York Times Book Review, Anthony Julius reviews Paul Berman’s The Flight of the Intellectuals – a book Michael Totten calls “your required reading this month.” (I would add Julius’s remarkable book on anti-Semitism, Trials of the Diaspora.)

The “flight of the intellectuals” is Berman’s phrase for Western public intellectuals running away their own heritage in the confrontation with a totalitarian Islamist threat. In a valuable interview with Totten, Berman has summarized the thinking as follows:

We look at ourselves in the Western countries and we say that, if we are rich, relatively speaking, as a society, it is because we have plundered our wealth from other people. Our wealth is a sign of our guilt. If we are powerful, compared with the rest of the world, it is because we treat people in other parts of the world in oppressive and morally objectionable ways. Our privileged position in the world is actually a sign of how racist we are and how imperialistic and exploitative we are. All the wonderful successes of our society are actually the signs of how morally inferior we are, and we have much to regret and feel guilty about.

Julius’s judicious review contains an even shorter summary of the elements of the contemporary intellectual’s thinking:

the false identification of liberal values with an oppressive West, and of political Islamism with an oppressed third world; an unreflective, unqualified opposition to every exercise of American power; a certain blindness regarding, or even tenderness toward, contemporary expressions of anti-Semitism.

Berman’s book extends a debate that began in Europe four years ago with French writer Pascal Bruckner’s The Tyranny of Guilt, which has just been published in English. Bruckner argues that:

In Judeo-Christian lands, there is no fuel so potent as the feeling of guilt. … From existentialism to deconstructionism, all of modern thought can be reduced to a mechanical denunciation of the West, emphasizing the latter’s hypocrisy, violence, and abomination. In this enterprise the best minds have lost much of their substance. … Remorse has ceased to be connected with precise historical circumstances; it has become a dogma, a spiritual commodity, almost a form of currency.

As the Europeanization of America proceeds — under an administration featuring apology tours, rejections of American exceptionalism, and an inability even to utter the words “terrorism” or “Islamofascism” (substituting “man-caused disasters” and refusing to acknowledge that “radical Islam” might be involved) — Bruckner’s book is an even clearer description of the intellectual collapse coming our way. Put it on the required reading list as well.

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Anthony Julius’s Trials of the Diaspora

In the New York Times Book Review, Harold Bloom reviews Anthony Julius’s monumental new book, Trials of the Diaspora. It is a cover review — an indication of the book’s importance — and a uniformly favorable one: a “strong, somber book” reflecting “extraordinary moral strength.” But even those complimentary terms, from one of America’s leading literary critics, do not begin to convey the scope and magnitude of Julius’s achievement.

The book’s subtitle is A History of Anti-Semitism in England, which itself understates the significance of the book, since the book covers aspects of the psychology and sociology of anti-Semitism that extend far beyond a single country’s experience. Julius has provided probably the most in-depth discussion of the “blood libel” in any volume meant for general readers; and without understanding the blood libel it is impossible to understand the literary power of Shakespeare’s Shylock or Dickens’s Fagin — and without understanding the power of those literary portrayals, one cannot understand modern English anti-Semitism. The literary analysis of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Dickens in this book is masterful, but even more significant is the connections Julius makes from literature to culture to politics.

Julius is one of England’s most prominent lawyers, best known in America for his representation of Deborah Lipstadt in the libel action that Holocaust denier David Irving brought against her. He also represented Ariel Sharon in connection with the Independent’s anti-Semitic cartoon of Sharon eating a Palestinian child (itself an allusion to the blood libel); he represented the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) against London’s then mayor, Ken Livingstone; both Haifa University and Hebrew University against the Association of University Teachers (AUT); and Israeli universities and Jewish academics against the National Association of Teachers, among other actions — all of which has given him a perhaps unique understanding of contemporary anti-Semitism in England. He is also a literary critic with a gift for a telling phrase, such as his description of certain Jewish ideologists as “proud to be ashamed they are Jews.”

Julius is particularly eloquent on two matters: first, the sheer surreality and incoherence of anti-Semitism:

The Holocaust should have altogether put paid to anti-Semitism. It should have rebutted once and for all the principal anti-Semitic fantasy of malign Jewish power; it should have satiated the appetite of the most murderous anti-Semites for Jewish death. And yet instead it precipitated new anti-Semitic versions or tropes: (a) Holocaust denial, (b) the characterizing of Zionism as an avatar of Nazism, and (c) the cluster of allegations that the Jews are exploiting the Holocaust in support of false compensation claims, the defense of Israeli policies, the defense of Zionism, etc. Many Arab and Muslim anti-Semites somewhat promiscuously embrace all three tropes – denying the Holocaust, praising Hitler, and representing Israel as the successor to the Nazi state.

And second: the enduring power throughout history and into the present of even a surreal and incoherent view of a small people.

Julius acknowledges the need for nuance and judgment in evaluating anti-Semitic sentiment at any particular historical point in time, and the unemotional discussion that characterizes his book makes his conclusion about the present particularly chilling:

Trials of the Diaspora has been written across a period of rising violence and abuse directed at English Jews. Of the present conjuncture, then, my provisional judgment is that it is quite bad, and might get worse. Certainly, it would seem that the closed season on Jews is over.

This is a very important book.

In the New York Times Book Review, Harold Bloom reviews Anthony Julius’s monumental new book, Trials of the Diaspora. It is a cover review — an indication of the book’s importance — and a uniformly favorable one: a “strong, somber book” reflecting “extraordinary moral strength.” But even those complimentary terms, from one of America’s leading literary critics, do not begin to convey the scope and magnitude of Julius’s achievement.

The book’s subtitle is A History of Anti-Semitism in England, which itself understates the significance of the book, since the book covers aspects of the psychology and sociology of anti-Semitism that extend far beyond a single country’s experience. Julius has provided probably the most in-depth discussion of the “blood libel” in any volume meant for general readers; and without understanding the blood libel it is impossible to understand the literary power of Shakespeare’s Shylock or Dickens’s Fagin — and without understanding the power of those literary portrayals, one cannot understand modern English anti-Semitism. The literary analysis of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Dickens in this book is masterful, but even more significant is the connections Julius makes from literature to culture to politics.

Julius is one of England’s most prominent lawyers, best known in America for his representation of Deborah Lipstadt in the libel action that Holocaust denier David Irving brought against her. He also represented Ariel Sharon in connection with the Independent’s anti-Semitic cartoon of Sharon eating a Palestinian child (itself an allusion to the blood libel); he represented the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) against London’s then mayor, Ken Livingstone; both Haifa University and Hebrew University against the Association of University Teachers (AUT); and Israeli universities and Jewish academics against the National Association of Teachers, among other actions — all of which has given him a perhaps unique understanding of contemporary anti-Semitism in England. He is also a literary critic with a gift for a telling phrase, such as his description of certain Jewish ideologists as “proud to be ashamed they are Jews.”

Julius is particularly eloquent on two matters: first, the sheer surreality and incoherence of anti-Semitism:

The Holocaust should have altogether put paid to anti-Semitism. It should have rebutted once and for all the principal anti-Semitic fantasy of malign Jewish power; it should have satiated the appetite of the most murderous anti-Semites for Jewish death. And yet instead it precipitated new anti-Semitic versions or tropes: (a) Holocaust denial, (b) the characterizing of Zionism as an avatar of Nazism, and (c) the cluster of allegations that the Jews are exploiting the Holocaust in support of false compensation claims, the defense of Israeli policies, the defense of Zionism, etc. Many Arab and Muslim anti-Semites somewhat promiscuously embrace all three tropes – denying the Holocaust, praising Hitler, and representing Israel as the successor to the Nazi state.

And second: the enduring power throughout history and into the present of even a surreal and incoherent view of a small people.

Julius acknowledges the need for nuance and judgment in evaluating anti-Semitic sentiment at any particular historical point in time, and the unemotional discussion that characterizes his book makes his conclusion about the present particularly chilling:

Trials of the Diaspora has been written across a period of rising violence and abuse directed at English Jews. Of the present conjuncture, then, my provisional judgment is that it is quite bad, and might get worse. Certainly, it would seem that the closed season on Jews is over.

This is a very important book.

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The Difference Between Drefyus and al-Qaeda

I have not read novelist Louis Begley’s new book Why the Dreyfus Affair Matters, which received a favorable review in today’s New York Times Book Review section. However, there are some things that may be confidently asserted even without having perused that tome.

One is that there is absolutely no analogy to be drawn between Captain Alfred Dreyfus on the one hand, and Khalid Sheik Muhammad and the other al-Qaeda operatives on the other, who have been imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay over the last several years.

A second is that there is no analogy between the machinations of the French Army’s High Command, which covered up the identity of the real German spy in Paris in the 1890s and instead chose to place the blame for a security breach on a loyal French Jew, and the efforts of the Bush administration to defend the United States against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks.

A third would be to note that if there is any common thread between the actors of 9/11 and those of the Dreyfus affair, it is not between the anti-Dreyfusards and the Bush administration but rather between the former and their fellow Jew haters in al-Qaeda, not to mention the lunatic Left, which has rationalized Islamist terrorism and attacked those who fight it.

One would think that such elemental facts would be known to the editors of the Book Review or to Ruth Scurr, who gave Begley’s book a rave. But apparently in this case political prejudices trump even the barest knowledge of history. Scurr applauds Begley when he asks: “Will some day in the near future the crimes of the Bush administration, like … the crimes against Dreyfus, disappear under the scar tissue of silence and indifference?” She goes on to note approvingly his desire for the emergence of “an American Zola or Proust” to speak up against Bush as those French writers did against the Dreyfus persecutors.

What can one say about such nonsense? Most Americans probably know little of the Dreyfus Affair. So it’s worth pointing out a few facts about the difference between our contemporary war on terror and the political and cultural conflict that turned France upside down over 100 years ago.

Unlike the al-Qaeda murderers who planned and executed 9/11, Dreyfus was innocent. One may criticize the zealousness of the Bush administration in their counter-offensive against al Qaeda. One may even criticize Guantanamo though when compared to the Devil’s Island accommodations offered Dreyfus, it looks more like a stay at the Waldorf than a prison. But in the end, the notion that KSM and other al-Qaeda members are the victims of persecution and, as Scurr put it, of “kangaroo trials,” is beyond absurd.

Unlike Bush’s critics, those who defended Dreyfus were speaking up for a genuine victim of injustice, a patriot wrongly accused and convicted solely because he was a Jew. But it is a telling insight into the depth of the political bias that Bush-haters have descended to observe that some are even prepared to analogize Dreyfus and al-Qaeda. The bizarre notion that virtually everything done by Bush after 9/11 was an attack on American liberty has become so firmly ingrained in the popular imagination that anything can and will be said to besmirch his administration. That it occurs to neither Begley nor Scurr that the anti-Semitism of the anti-Dreyfusards finds its echo in the forces that Bush sought to fight speaks volumes about the tone-deaf nature of their political vendetta.

Of course, the Dreyfus Affair does matter. For those who want to actually learn about the Dreyfus Affair, there is still no better place to turn to than Jean Louis Bredin’s 1986 The Affair: The Case of Alfred Dreyfus.

But it matters not just because speaking out against injustice is the duty of all decent persons but also because the forces that sought to delegitimize Jewish identity in the 1890s are once again on the march in Europe. The rise of anti-Semitism in Europe in our time is due, in no small measure, to the influence of political Islam and the unwillingness of many Westerners to defend their democratic traditions. If any analogy is to be found today for the persecution of Dreyfus, it is in the lies that are hurled by Europeans and their Islamist friends against the State of Israel.

The spectacle of Dreyfus’s degradation in the courtyard of the Ecole Militaire in Paris – as Dreyfus’s pitiful cries of his innocence and loyalty to France were drowned out by a mob screaming for the death of the Jews — helped motivate Theodor Herzl to write “The Jewish State” and launch the modern Zionist movement. Today, as then, there are many in Europe and elsewhere who cry out for Jewish blood or attempt to portray Israel’s terrorist foes as innocent victims. Those like Begley and Scurr — who seem to think the fight against Islamist terrorists is the real evil of the day – have the bully pulpit of venues such as the Times from which to vent their spleen against Bush. But there is no resemblance between such jeremiads and a defense of Western values or of the Jews for which Zola is better remembered than his novels.

I have not read novelist Louis Begley’s new book Why the Dreyfus Affair Matters, which received a favorable review in today’s New York Times Book Review section. However, there are some things that may be confidently asserted even without having perused that tome.

One is that there is absolutely no analogy to be drawn between Captain Alfred Dreyfus on the one hand, and Khalid Sheik Muhammad and the other al-Qaeda operatives on the other, who have been imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay over the last several years.

A second is that there is no analogy between the machinations of the French Army’s High Command, which covered up the identity of the real German spy in Paris in the 1890s and instead chose to place the blame for a security breach on a loyal French Jew, and the efforts of the Bush administration to defend the United States against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks.

A third would be to note that if there is any common thread between the actors of 9/11 and those of the Dreyfus affair, it is not between the anti-Dreyfusards and the Bush administration but rather between the former and their fellow Jew haters in al-Qaeda, not to mention the lunatic Left, which has rationalized Islamist terrorism and attacked those who fight it.

One would think that such elemental facts would be known to the editors of the Book Review or to Ruth Scurr, who gave Begley’s book a rave. But apparently in this case political prejudices trump even the barest knowledge of history. Scurr applauds Begley when he asks: “Will some day in the near future the crimes of the Bush administration, like … the crimes against Dreyfus, disappear under the scar tissue of silence and indifference?” She goes on to note approvingly his desire for the emergence of “an American Zola or Proust” to speak up against Bush as those French writers did against the Dreyfus persecutors.

What can one say about such nonsense? Most Americans probably know little of the Dreyfus Affair. So it’s worth pointing out a few facts about the difference between our contemporary war on terror and the political and cultural conflict that turned France upside down over 100 years ago.

Unlike the al-Qaeda murderers who planned and executed 9/11, Dreyfus was innocent. One may criticize the zealousness of the Bush administration in their counter-offensive against al Qaeda. One may even criticize Guantanamo though when compared to the Devil’s Island accommodations offered Dreyfus, it looks more like a stay at the Waldorf than a prison. But in the end, the notion that KSM and other al-Qaeda members are the victims of persecution and, as Scurr put it, of “kangaroo trials,” is beyond absurd.

Unlike Bush’s critics, those who defended Dreyfus were speaking up for a genuine victim of injustice, a patriot wrongly accused and convicted solely because he was a Jew. But it is a telling insight into the depth of the political bias that Bush-haters have descended to observe that some are even prepared to analogize Dreyfus and al-Qaeda. The bizarre notion that virtually everything done by Bush after 9/11 was an attack on American liberty has become so firmly ingrained in the popular imagination that anything can and will be said to besmirch his administration. That it occurs to neither Begley nor Scurr that the anti-Semitism of the anti-Dreyfusards finds its echo in the forces that Bush sought to fight speaks volumes about the tone-deaf nature of their political vendetta.

Of course, the Dreyfus Affair does matter. For those who want to actually learn about the Dreyfus Affair, there is still no better place to turn to than Jean Louis Bredin’s 1986 The Affair: The Case of Alfred Dreyfus.

But it matters not just because speaking out against injustice is the duty of all decent persons but also because the forces that sought to delegitimize Jewish identity in the 1890s are once again on the march in Europe. The rise of anti-Semitism in Europe in our time is due, in no small measure, to the influence of political Islam and the unwillingness of many Westerners to defend their democratic traditions. If any analogy is to be found today for the persecution of Dreyfus, it is in the lies that are hurled by Europeans and their Islamist friends against the State of Israel.

The spectacle of Dreyfus’s degradation in the courtyard of the Ecole Militaire in Paris – as Dreyfus’s pitiful cries of his innocence and loyalty to France were drowned out by a mob screaming for the death of the Jews — helped motivate Theodor Herzl to write “The Jewish State” and launch the modern Zionist movement. Today, as then, there are many in Europe and elsewhere who cry out for Jewish blood or attempt to portray Israel’s terrorist foes as innocent victims. Those like Begley and Scurr — who seem to think the fight against Islamist terrorists is the real evil of the day – have the bully pulpit of venues such as the Times from which to vent their spleen against Bush. But there is no resemblance between such jeremiads and a defense of Western values or of the Jews for which Zola is better remembered than his novels.

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Planet Academia

Have you been waiting for an American version of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich—a searing account of life in the American Gulag? Well, according to the New York Times Book Review, your wait is over. Rush right out and pick your own copy of Poems from Guantanamo: The Detainees Speak.

To be sure, the Times’s reviewer, Wellesley professor Dan Chiasson, admits that the poems may be somewhat lacking in artistic merit. But, hey, he suggests, you gotta make allowances:

It is hard to imagine a reader so hardhearted as to bring aesthetic judgment to bear on a book written by men in prison without legal recourse, several of them held in solitary confinement, some of them likely subjected to practices that many disinterested parties have called torture. You don’t read this book for pleasure; you read it for evidence. And if you are an American citizen you read it for evidence of the violence your government is doing to total strangers in a distant place, some of whom (perhaps all of whom, since without due process how are we to tell?) are as innocent of crimes against our nation as you are.

Perhaps all???

Chiasson may be carrying his anti-Bush paranoia a wee bit far, given that the Gitmo detainees now include such charming characters as Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, the mastermind of the 9/11 plot. I have yet to hear even the most ardent critic of the administration suggest that KSM is actually innocent.

But Chiasson seems to be writing from an alternative reality—call it Planet Academia—where the Gitmo detainees are not the world’s most vicious terrorists but, rather, political prisoners of a repressive American regime akin to Stalinist Russia. The only thing he can’t seem to figure is why Amerika, that bastion of fascism, would allow these poor souls to publish their writings: “imagine a volume of Osip Mandelstam’s poetry released by the Soviet government in 1938, or an anthology of poems by Japanese internment prisoners released by our government during the Second World War.” He speculates, rather cunningly, that this might actually be a plot by the U.S. government “to make Guantánamo and our abuses there unfold on an abstract ‘literary’ plane rather than in real life and real time,” and thereby to lessen our horror at what is transpiring behind the prison walls.

For my part, I have trouble figuring out why the Times editors would publish what amounts to a parody of liberal antiwar hysteria. Could it be that the dictator in the White House ordered the Times to run this essay in order to confine the antiwar activists to “an abstract literary plane” and thereby to hold them up to general public ridicule?

Have you been waiting for an American version of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich—a searing account of life in the American Gulag? Well, according to the New York Times Book Review, your wait is over. Rush right out and pick your own copy of Poems from Guantanamo: The Detainees Speak.

To be sure, the Times’s reviewer, Wellesley professor Dan Chiasson, admits that the poems may be somewhat lacking in artistic merit. But, hey, he suggests, you gotta make allowances:

It is hard to imagine a reader so hardhearted as to bring aesthetic judgment to bear on a book written by men in prison without legal recourse, several of them held in solitary confinement, some of them likely subjected to practices that many disinterested parties have called torture. You don’t read this book for pleasure; you read it for evidence. And if you are an American citizen you read it for evidence of the violence your government is doing to total strangers in a distant place, some of whom (perhaps all of whom, since without due process how are we to tell?) are as innocent of crimes against our nation as you are.

Perhaps all???

Chiasson may be carrying his anti-Bush paranoia a wee bit far, given that the Gitmo detainees now include such charming characters as Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, the mastermind of the 9/11 plot. I have yet to hear even the most ardent critic of the administration suggest that KSM is actually innocent.

But Chiasson seems to be writing from an alternative reality—call it Planet Academia—where the Gitmo detainees are not the world’s most vicious terrorists but, rather, political prisoners of a repressive American regime akin to Stalinist Russia. The only thing he can’t seem to figure is why Amerika, that bastion of fascism, would allow these poor souls to publish their writings: “imagine a volume of Osip Mandelstam’s poetry released by the Soviet government in 1938, or an anthology of poems by Japanese internment prisoners released by our government during the Second World War.” He speculates, rather cunningly, that this might actually be a plot by the U.S. government “to make Guantánamo and our abuses there unfold on an abstract ‘literary’ plane rather than in real life and real time,” and thereby to lessen our horror at what is transpiring behind the prison walls.

For my part, I have trouble figuring out why the Times editors would publish what amounts to a parody of liberal antiwar hysteria. Could it be that the dictator in the White House ordered the Times to run this essay in order to confine the antiwar activists to “an abstract literary plane” and thereby to hold them up to general public ridicule?

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Mailer’s Grotesquerie

Almost a month after Lee Siegel’s expansive, unfocused paean to Norman Mailer’s The Castle in the Forest appeared in the New York Times Book Review, Ruth Franklin, a senior editor at the New Republic, has published her own astute (and devastating) review of the novel. (It’s worth noting that Siegel, in praising Mailer as a novelist, focused for the most part on Mailer’s works of “literary non-fiction.”) Franklin’s review skirts but does not point out explicitly the novel’s Manichean theology–a vision of the positive nature of evil that has consumed Mailer from the outset of his literary career. But both pieces are worth reading, especially for the sharp relief into which Franklin’s perspicacity casts Siegel’s confused tribute. And make sure to read John Gross’s review of The Castle in the Forest in the March issue of COMMENTARY.

Almost a month after Lee Siegel’s expansive, unfocused paean to Norman Mailer’s The Castle in the Forest appeared in the New York Times Book Review, Ruth Franklin, a senior editor at the New Republic, has published her own astute (and devastating) review of the novel. (It’s worth noting that Siegel, in praising Mailer as a novelist, focused for the most part on Mailer’s works of “literary non-fiction.”) Franklin’s review skirts but does not point out explicitly the novel’s Manichean theology–a vision of the positive nature of evil that has consumed Mailer from the outset of his literary career. But both pieces are worth reading, especially for the sharp relief into which Franklin’s perspicacity casts Siegel’s confused tribute. And make sure to read John Gross’s review of The Castle in the Forest in the March issue of COMMENTARY.

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