A new history of the Norwegian prize bestowed on champions of peace-and leftist politics.
On October 9, 2009, the five obscure Norwegians who choose the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize announced the year’s laureate: President Barack Obama. At that point, the newly elected U.S. president had been in office for nine months. In fact, when nominations for the 2009 award formally closed on the previous February 1, he had been in office for 12 days. Even some of the most diehard supporters of both Obama and the Peace Prize were dismayed. President Obama, who pronounced himself “humbled” at the announcement, seemed bemused.
For the Nobel panel, however, the president’s actual attainments were not an issue. The Nobel committee hailed Obama for creating a “new climate in international politics” and for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” His diplomacy, the panel said, “is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.” As Jay Nordlinger, a senior editor and columnist at National Review, dryly notes in his new book, Peace, They Say (Encounter, 467 pages), “It is a most perspicacious panel that knows the values and attitudes, the mind and hearts, of the world’s population (7 billion).”
As it happens, the Nobel committee knew very well what those values and attitudes should be: conveniently, their own. The committee stated in the press release announcing Obama’s elevation: “For 108 years, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has sought to stimulate precisely that international policy and those attitudes for which Obama is now the world’s leading spokesman.”
In other words, Obama was the Nobel committee’s messiah, the incarnation of its Absolute Idea—or, more prosaically, the personification of their international brand. Yet another way to think about it is that Obama was the Nobel committee’s first postmodern laureate: a personage whose identity was not based on any measurable accomplishment or unvarying principle, but was entirely constructed in the perceptions of his admiring Nobel committee audience.
As Nordlinger observes: “Was Barack Obama not an American president after the committee’s own heart? He was practically a soulmate of theirs, sharing basically the same worldview. If the Norwegian Nobel Committee—if Scandinavian political elites—could design an American president, he would look a lot like Obama.” His selection, Nordlinger notes, “blessed a new day.”
In the years since Obama was lauded for what he had not yet done, his much admired policies and attitudes have included an announced unilateral withdrawal date for American troops in Afghanistan (to occur after a temporary surge of troops in the same theater); unilateral concessions to Russia on anti-missile defense, both at home and abroad; novel insults to and pressures on the conservative government of Benjamin Netanyahu to make Israel better conform to the Obama administration’s vision of a problematic Middle East peace; a soul-shake with Venezuelan Communist dictator Hugo Chávez; a cold shoulder to a nascent popular rebellion in Iran; and a similar combination of rhetorical hostility and practical non-support toward the very serious uprising against the Assad dictatorship in Syria. Most pertinent, Obama has offered much rhetoric but relatively little action against the growing threat of a nuclear-armed Iran and its avowed aim of annihilating Israel.
Such a huge gap between the expectations and undeniable prestige engendered by the Nobel Peace award and the far less impressive achievements of its recipients is not atypical. It is one of the most important themes of Nordlinger’s lucid and insightful book. As he puts it: “Some people have given up on the Nobel Peace Prize. They think it’s a joke, a farce, a crock—a scandal. I myself have thought that from time to time.”
But Nordlinger has not given up. In this lengthy chronology-cum-meditation, he has made a painstaking and evenhanded effort to chronicle the prize in terms of its accomplishments, to balance the good that it has done against its often anti-Western (especially anti-American) selections. He has even come up with suggestions for improvement. The likelihood that his suggestions will be taken is fairly close to nil, for reasons that he himself provides.
The fact is that the closer one gets to the present day, the less impressive the Nobel balance sheet proves to be. This is probably not an accident. At the time of its inception, as the posthumous project of Swedish dynamite-manufacturer Alfred Nobel, the prize was designed as an annual achievement award for “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity among nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” In its earlier days, the Nobel roster encompassed such idealists as Frank B. Kellogg (whose name is affixed to a 1928 treaty outlawing war as an instrument of policy), Albert Schweitzer and Martin Luther King Jr. It even included a former general, George Marshall, the guiding spirit behind the Marshall Plan.
But how is one to justify, in terms of that charter, such names on the roster as Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, which worked long and hard to minimize the growing nuclear threat of Iran? Or Rigoberta Menchu, a Guatemalan native with a doctored personal history who has been an apologist for Marxist violence in Central America and beyond? Or, above all, Yasir Arafat, awarded the prize in 1994 with Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin. Arafat was honored for a Middle Eastern peace process he had no intention of honoring. And escalating campaigns of violence he encouraged lasted until his confinement two years before his death in 2004.
And then there is the ever problematic Jimmy Carter, given the award in 2002, a full two decades after he left the White House, “for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.” No mention of his often feckless and meddlesome role in forestalling official U.S. foreign policy, something ex-presidents are supposed never to do, or of the fact that evidently loomed most in the Nobel committee’s mind: He was not George W. Bush, the American president then fully launched into the post-9/11 war on terror.
Nordlinger recounts that the Nobel committee chairman of the day, Gunnar Berge, specifically said: “[the Carter award] should be interpreted as a criticism of the line that the current administration has taken. It’s a kick in the leg to all who follow the same line as the United States.” In all, Nordlinger counts five Nobels that could be considered not-so-veiled assaults on the Bush administration.
Why? The most important thing about the prize is that it is handed out by a committee selected by the parliament of Norway, a country of some five million people on the periphery of Europe and, until recently, one of the most homogenous societies on the continent. Norway practices the secular socialism of the rich: redistribution of the natural-resource wealth of a nation large in size and small in population. It has never been powerful. It has been the historical standard-bearer of the peaceful arbitration of international disputes.
Norway’s values and attitudes could hardly be described as those shared by the “majority of the world’s population.” But its checkbook speaks volumes. For years, it has featured among the top 10 donors to the United Nations, lately handing over a little less than one billion dollars annually. This may speak well of Norway’s ideals, but no less of its shrewd ability to create a force-multiplier for its foreign policy that it could not afford in conventional terms. For Norway, high-minded generosity is a disguised form of self-interest.
The same goes for the Nobel Peace Prize, which, as Nordlinger points out, is by dint of its selection process bound up intimately with the parliamentary politics of Norway.
The chairman of the Nobel committee that chose Barack Obama, for example, was Thorbjorn Jagland, a longtime chieftain in Norway’s leftist Labor Party. Jagland had been a not very illustrious prime minister and foreign minister. He was also once vice president of the Socialist International and was named secretary general of the Council of Europe in the same year he won his Nobel committee post. Other political parties are represented on the committee, but, as Nordlinger observes, “Norwegian political life is tilted sharply to the left.”
At its most honorable, as Nordlinger fair-mindedly notes, that bias has expressed itself in terms of genuinely laudable choices. But as its socialist inclinations have become more obvious, so has the Nobel committee’s sense of self-righteousness, not to mention its mission creep. Along with chastising the Bush administration, and U.S. policy generally, the committee has awarded the prize for such things as micro-finance (Mohammad Yunus, 2006); selfless medical activity (Médicins Sans Frontières, 1999); and for publishing the not-very-accurate facts on global warming (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and Al Gore, 2007). The 2011 Nobel went to a trio of women headed by just elected Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf “for their nonviolent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”
Significantly, the second paragraph of that 2011 Nobel Prize press release cited a United Nations Security Council resolution, passed in 2000, which “for the first time made violence against women in armed conflict an international security issue.” The Nobel Prize committee’s thinking on what constitutes peace, it seems, now owes a lot to the UN.
Indeed, in recent years, it is striking how often the Nobel Prize committee has found the UN, its various organs, and those who serve its objectives to be the world’s greatest peacemakers and how much they, in turn, reciprocate the regard.
Along with Gore and the Climate Change Panel, there is of course ElBaradei. But there is also the United Nations itself, which won along with Kofi Annan (2001), then its secretary general, who would describe the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 as “illegal,” even though it was launched in response to a crumbling UN sanctions regime against Saddam Hussein and in accord with the UN’s own Resolution 1441. There is Marrti Ahtisaari, former president of Finland, long-serving senior UN bureaucrat, and special envoy for Kofi Annan in Kosovo, who won the 2008 Prize for “his important efforts, on several continents and over more than three decades, to resolve international conflicts.” The list goes on.
Some laureates are now engaged in supporting the UN in other ways. Muhammad Yunus, for example, is on the Board of the UN Foundation, which mobilizes “the energy and expertise of business and nongovernmental organizations to help the UN tackle issues including climate change, global health, peace and security, women’s empowerment, poverty eradication, energy access, and U.S.-UN relations.” Another board member is Annan. Yet a third is Gro Harlem Brundtland, who, although not a laureate, is another socialist Norwegian former prime minister and matriarch of the UN-sponsored concept of sustainable development.
Remarkably enough, all of the UN’s issues have increasingly become the Peace Prize’s issues. Indeed, one detects an accelerating torrent of formulaic, UN-style prose in the language of the Nobel committee. The torrent occasionally dries up, as it did in 2010, with the award to Chinese human-rights defender Liu Xiaobo, “for his long and nonviolent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.” But Liu’s award feels like an exception in the second decade of the Nobel’s second century.
Nordlinger feels that for all its hypocrisies and pro-Communist or anti-Western biases, the Nobel Peace Prize is still worth keeping—precisely because of those exceptional cases. He would pare it back drastically, in terms of frequency and the range of its UN-style mission, and have it focus on its primary purpose of honoring those who do the most to promote “fraternity among nations.”
Above all, he would have those who bestow the prize practice an apparently unknown virtue: modesty. “To declare someone a ‘champion of peace,’ in Alfred Nobel’s phrase, is a bold act,” he advises. “To declare him the greatest champion in all the world is an even bolder one. With all the humility we can muster, we must try to be sure we know what we are talking about.”
Increasingly, however, it looks like the history of the Nobel Peace Prize is moving in exactly the opposite direction.
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Terror is a choice.
Ari Fuld described himself on Twitter as a marketer and social media consultant “when not defending Israel by exposing the lies and strengthening the truth.” On Sunday, a Palestinian terrorist stabbed Fuld at a shopping mall in Gush Etzion, a settlement south of Jerusalem. The Queens-born father of four died from his wounds, but not before he chased down his assailant and neutralized the threat to other civilians. Fuld thus gave the full measure of devotion to the Jewish people he loved. He was 45.
The episode is a grim reminder of the wisdom and essential justice of the Trump administration’s tough stance on the Palestinians.
Start with the Taylor Force Act. The act, named for another U.S. citizen felled by Palestinian terror, stanched the flow of American taxpayer fund to the Palestinian Authority’s civilian programs. Though it is small consolation to Fuld’s family, Americans can breathe a sigh of relief that they are no longer underwriting the PA slush fund used to pay stipends to the family members of dead, imprisoned, or injured terrorists, like the one who murdered Ari Fuld.
No principle of justice or sound statesmanship requires Washington to spend $200 million—the amount of PA aid funding slashed by the Trump administration last month—on an agency that financially induces the Palestinian people to commit acts of terror. The PA’s terrorism-incentive budget—“pay-to-slay,” as Douglas Feith called it—ranges from $50 million to $350 million annually. Footing even a fraction of that bill is tantamount to the American government subsidizing terrorism against its citizens.
If we don’t pay the Palestinians, the main line of reasoning runs, frustration will lead them to commit still more and bloodier acts of terror. But U.S. assistance to the PA dates to the PA’s founding in the Oslo Accords, and Palestinian terrorists have shed American and Israeli blood through all the years since then. What does it say about Palestinian leaders that they would unleash more terror unless we cross their palms with silver?
President Trump likewise deserves praise for booting Palestinian diplomats from U.S. soil. This past weekend, the State Department revoked a visa for Husam Zomlot, the highest-ranking Palestinian official in Washington. The State Department cited the Palestinians’ years-long refusal to sit down for peace talks with Israel. The better reason for expelling them is that the label “envoy” sits uneasily next to the names of Palestinian officials, given the links between the Palestine Liberation Organization, President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction, and various armed terrorist groups.
Fatah, for example, praised the Fuld murder. As the Jerusalem Post reported, the “al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the military wing of Fatah . . . welcomed the attack, stressing the necessity of resistance ‘against settlements, Judaization of the land, and occupation crimes.’” It is up to Palestinian leaders to decide whether they want to be terrorists or statesmen. Pretending that they can be both at once was the height of Western folly, as Ari Fuld no doubt recognized.
May his memory be a blessing.
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The end of the water's edge.
It was the blatant subversion of the president’s sole authority to conduct American foreign policy, and the political class received it with fury. It was called “mutinous,” and the conspirators were deemed “traitors” to the Republic. Those who thought “sedition” went too far were still incensed over the breach of protocol and the reckless way in which the president’s mandate was undermined. Yes, times have certainly changed since 2015, when a series of Republican senators signed a letter warning Iran’s theocratic government that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (aka, the Iran nuclear deal) was built on a foundation of sand.
The outrage that was heaped upon Senate Republicans for freelancing on foreign policy in the final years of Barack Obama’s administration has not been visited upon former Secretary of State John Kerry, though he arguably deserves it. In the publicity tour for his recently published memoir, Kerry confessed to conducting meetings with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif “three or four times” as a private citizen. When asked by Fox News Channel’s Dana Perino if Kerry had advised his Iranian interlocutor to “wait out” the Trump administration to get a better set of terms from the president’s successor, Kerry did not deny the charge. “I think everybody in the world is sitting around talking about waiting out President Trump,” he said.
Think about that. This is a former secretary of state who all but confirmed that he is actively conducting what the Boston Globe described in May as “shadow diplomacy” designed to preserve not just the Iran deal but all the associated economic relief and security guarantees it provided Tehran. The abrogation of that deal has put new pressure on the Iranians to liberalize domestically, withdraw their support for terrorism, and abandon their provocative weapons development programs—pressures that the deal’s proponents once supported.
“We’ve got Iran on the ropes now,” said former Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman, “and a meeting between John Kerry and the Iranian foreign minister really sends a message to them that somebody in America who’s important may be trying to revive them and let them wait and be stronger against what the administration is trying to do.” This is absolutely correct because the threat Iran poses to American national security and geopolitical stability is not limited to its nuclear program. The Iranian threat will not be neutralized until it abandons its support for terror and the repression of its people, and that will not end until the Iranian regime is no more.
While Kerry’s decision to hold a variety of meetings with a representative of a nation hostile to U.S. interests is surely careless and unhelpful, it is not uncommon. During his 1984 campaign for the presidency, Jesse Jackson visited the Soviet Union and Cuba to raise his own public profile and lend credence to Democratic claims that Ronald Reagan’s confrontational foreign policy was unproductive. House Speaker Jim Wright’s trip to Nicaragua to meet with the Sandinista government was a direct repudiation of the Reagan administration’s support for the country’s anti-Communist rebels. In 2007, as Bashar al-Assad’s government was providing material support for the insurgency in Iraq, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sojourned to Damascus to shower the genocidal dictator in good publicity. “The road to Damascus is a road to peace,” Pelosi insisted. “Unfortunately,” replied George W. Bush’s national security council spokesman, “that road is lined with the victims of Hamas and Hezbollah, the victims of terrorists who cross from Syria into Iraq.”
Honest observers must reluctantly conclude that the adage is wrong. American politics does not, in fact, stop at the water’s edge. It never has, and maybe it shouldn’t. Though it may be commonplace, American political actors who contradict the president in the conduct of their own foreign policy should be judged on the policies they are advocating. In the case of Iran, those who seek to convince the mullahs and their representatives that repressive theocracy and a terroristic foreign policy are dead-ends are advancing the interests not just of the United States but all mankind. Those who provide this hopelessly backward autocracy with the hope that America’s resolve is fleeting are, as John Kerry might say, on “the wrong side of history.”
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Michael Wolff is its Marquis de Sade. Released on January 5, 2018, Wolff’s Fire and Fury became a template for authors eager to satiate the growing demand for unverified stories of Trump at his worst. Wolff filled his pages with tales of the president’s ignorant rants, his raging emotions, his television addiction, his fast-food diet, his unfamiliarity with and contempt for Beltway conventions and manners. Wolff made shocking insinuations about Trump’s mental state, not to mention his relationship with UN ambassador Nikki Haley. Wolff’s Trump is nothing more than a knave, dunce, and commedia dell’arte villain. The hero of his saga is, bizarrely, Steve Bannon, who in Wolff’s telling recognized Trump’s inadequacies, manipulated him to advance a nationalist-populist agenda, and tried to block his worst impulses.
Wolff’s sources are anonymous. That did not slow down the press from calling his accusations “mind-blowing” (Mashable.com), “wild” (Variety), and “bizarre” (Entertainment Weekly). Unlike most pornographers, he had a lesson in mind. He wanted to demonstrate Trump’s unfitness for office. “The story that I’ve told seems to present this presidency in such a way that it says that he can’t do this job, the emperor has no clothes,” Wolff told the BBC. “And suddenly everywhere people are going, ‘Oh, my God, it’s true—he has no clothes.’ That’s the background to the perception and the understanding that will finally end this, that will end this presidency.”
Nothing excites the Resistance more than the prospect of Trump leaving office before the end of his term. Hence the most stirring examples of Resistance Porn take the president’s all-too-real weaknesses and eccentricities and imbue them with apocalyptic significance. In what would become the standard response to accusations of Trumpian perfidy, reviewers of Fire and Fury were less interested in the truth of Wolff’s assertions than in the fact that his argument confirmed their preexisting biases.
Saying he agreed with President Trump that the book is “fiction,” the Guardian’s critic didn’t “doubt its overall veracity.” It was, he said, “what Mailer and Capote once called a nonfiction novel.” Writing in the Atlantic, Adam Kirsch asked: “No wonder, then, Wolff has written a self-conscious, untrustworthy, postmodern White House book. How else, he might argue, can you write about a group as self-conscious, untrustworthy, and postmodern as this crew?” Complaining in the New Yorker, Masha Gessen said Wolff broke no new ground: “Everybody” knew that the “president of the United States is a deranged liar who surrounded himself with sycophants. He is also functionally illiterate and intellectually unsound.” Remind me never to get on Gessen’s bad side.
What Fire and Fury lacked in journalistic ethics, it made up in receipts. By the third week of its release, Wolff’s book had sold more than 1.7 million copies. His talent for spinning second- and third-hand accounts of the president’s oddity and depravity into bestselling prose was unmistakable. Imitators were sure to follow, especially after Wolff alienated himself from the mainstream media by defending his innuendos about Haley.
It was during the first week of September that Resistance Porn became a competitive industry. On the afternoon of September 4, the first tidbits from Bob Woodward’s Fear appeared in the Washington Post, along with a recording of an 11-minute phone call between Trump and the white knight of Watergate. The opposition began panting soon after. Woodward, who like Wolff relies on anonymous sources, “paints a harrowing portrait” of the Trump White House, reported the Post.
No one looks good in Woodward’s telling other than former economics adviser Gary Cohn and—again bizarrely—the former White House staff secretary who was forced to resign after his two ex-wives accused him of domestic violence. The depiction of chaos, backstabbing, and mutual contempt between the president and high-level advisers who don’t much care for either his agenda or his personality was not so different from Wolff’s. What gave it added heft was Woodward’s status, his inviolable reputation.
“Nothing in Bob Woodward’s sober and grainy new book…is especially surprising,” wrote Dwight Garner at the New York Times. That was the point. The audience for Wolff and Woodward does not want to be surprised. Fear is not a book that will change minds. Nor is it intended to be. “Bob Woodward’s peek behind the Trump curtain is 100 percent as terrifying as we feared,” read a CNN headline. “President Trump is unfit for office. Bob Woodward’s ‘Fear’ confirms it,” read an op-ed headline in the Post. “There’s Always a New Low for the Trump White House,” said the Atlantic. “Amazingly,” wrote Susan Glasser in the New Yorker, “it is no longer big news when the occupant of the Oval Office is shown to be callous, ignorant, nasty, and untruthful.” How could it be, when the press has emphasized nothing but these aspects of Trump for the last three years?
The popular fixation with Trump the man, and with the turbulence, mania, frenzy, confusion, silliness, and unpredictability that have surrounded him for decades, serves two functions. It inoculates the press from having to engage in serious research into the causes of Trump’s success in business, entertainment, and politics, and into the crises of borders, opioids, stagnation, and conformity of opinion that occasioned his rise. Resistance Porn also endows Trump’s critics, both external and internal, with world-historical importance. No longer are they merely journalists, wonks, pundits, and activists sniping at a most unlikely president. They are politically correct versions of Charles Martel, the last line of defense preventing Trump the barbarian from enacting the policies on which he campaigned and was elected.
How closely their sensational claims and inflated self-conceptions track with reality is largely beside the point. When the New York Times published the op-ed “I am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration,” by an anonymous “senior official” on September 5, few readers bothered to care that the piece contained no original material. The author turned policy disagreements over trade and national security into a psychiatric diagnosis. In what can only be described as a journalistic innovation, the author dispensed with middlemen such as Wolff and Woodward, providing the Times the longest background quote in American history. That the author’s identity remains a secret only adds to its prurient appeal.
“The bigger concern,” the author wrote, “is not what Mr. Trump has done to the presidency but what we as a nation have allowed him to do to us.” Speak for yourself, bud. What President Trump has done to the Resistance is driven it batty. He’s made an untold number of people willing to entertain conspiracy theories, and to believe rumor is fact, hyperbole is truth, self-interested portrayals are incontrovertible evidence, credulity is virtue, and betrayal is fidelity—so long as all of this is done to stop that man in the White House.
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Review of 'Stanley Kubrick' By Nathan Abrams
Except for Stanley Donen, every director I have worked with has been prone to the idea, first propounded in the 1950s by François Truffaut and his tendentious chums in Cahiers du Cinéma, that directors alone are authors, screenwriters merely contingent. In singular cases—Orson Welles, Michelangelo Antonioni, Woody Allen, Kubrick himself—the claim can be valid, though all of them had recourse, regular or occasional, to helping hands to spice their confections.
Kubrick’s variety of topics, themes, and periods testifies both to his curiosity and to his determination to “make it new.” Because his grades were not high enough (except in physics), this son of a Bronx doctor could not get into colleges crammed with returning GIs. The nearest he came to higher education was when he slipped into accessible lectures at Columbia. He told me, when discussing the possibility of a movie about Julius Caesar, that the great classicist Moses Hadas made a particularly strong impression.
While others were studying for degrees, solitary Stanley was out shooting photographs (sometimes with a hidden camera) for Look magazine. As a movie director, he often insisted on take after take. This gave him choices of the kind available on the still photographer’s contact sheets. Only Peter Sellers and Jack Nicholson had the nerve, and irreplaceable talent, to tell him, ahead of shooting, that they could not do a particular scene more than two or three times. The energy to electrify “Mein Führer, I can walk” and “Here’s Johnny!” could not recur indefinitely. For everyone else, “Can you do it again?” was the exhausting demand, and it could come close to being sadistic.
The same method could be applied to writers. Kubrick might recognize what he wanted when it was served up to him, but he could never articulate, ahead of time, even roughly what it was. Picking and choosing was very much his style. Cogitation and opportunism went together: The story goes that he attached Strauss’s Blue Danube to the opening sequence of 2001 because it happened to be playing in the sound studio when he came to dub the music. Genius puts chance to work.
Until academics intruded lofty criteria into cinema/film, the better to dignify their speciality, Alfred Hitchcock’s attitude covered most cases: When Ingrid Bergman asked for her motivation in walking to the window, Hitch replied, fatly, “Your salary.” On another occasion, told that some scene was not plausible, Hitch said, “It’s only a movie.” He did not take himself seriously until the Cahiers du Cinéma crowd elected to make him iconic. At dinner, I once asked Marcello Mastroianni why he was so willing to play losers or clowns. Marcello said, “Beh, cinema non e gran’ cosa” (cinema is no big deal). Orson Welles called movie-making the ultimate model-train set.
That was then; now we have “film studies.” After they moved in, academics were determined that their subject be a very big deal indeed. Comedy became no laughing matter. In his monotonous new book, the film scholar Nathan Abrams would have it that Stanley Kubrick was, in essence, a “New York Jewish intellectual.” Abrams affects to unlock what Stanley was “really” dealing with, in all his movies, never mind their apparent diversity. It is declared to be, yes, Yiddishkeit, and in particular, the Holocaust. This ground has been tilled before by Geoffrey Cocks, when he argued that the room numbers in the empty Overlook Hotel in The Shining encrypted references to the Final Solution. Abrams would have it that even Barry Lyndon is really all about the outsider seeking, and failing, to make his awkward way in (Gentile) Society. On this reading, Ryan O’Neal is seen as Hannah Arendt’s pariah in 18th-century drag. The movie’s other characters are all engaged in the enjoyment of “goyim-naches,” an expression—like menschlichkayit—he repeats ad nauseam, lest we fail to get the stretched point.
Theory is all when it comes to the apotheosis of our Jew-ridden Übermensch. So what if, in order to make a topic his own, Kubrick found it useful to translate its logic into terms familiar to him from his New York youth? In Abrams’s scheme, other mundane biographical facts count for little. No mention is made of Stanley’s displeasure when his 14-year-old daughter took a fancy to O’Neal. The latter was punished, some sources say, by having Barry’s voiceover converted from first person so that Michael Hordern would displace the star as narrator. By lending dispassionate irony to the narrative, it proved a pettish fluke of genius.
While conning Abrams’s volume, I discovered, not greatly to my chagrin, that I am the sole villain of the piece. Abrams calls me “self-serving” and “unreliable” in my accounts of my working and personal relationship with Stanley. He insinuates that I had less to do with Eyes Wide Shut than I pretend and that Stanley regretted my involvement. It is hard for him to deny (but convenient to omit) that, after trying for some 30 years to get a succession of writers to “crack” how to do Schnitzler’s Traumnovelle, Kubrick greeted my first draft with “I’m absolutely thrilled.” A source whose anonymity I respect told me that he had never seen Stanley so happy since the day he received his first royalty check (for $5 million) for 2001. No matter.
Were Abrams (the author also of a book as hostile to Commentary as this one is to me) able to put aside his waxed wrath, he might have quoted what I reported in my memoir Eyes Wide Open to support his Jewish-intellectual thesis. One day, Stanley asked me what a couple of hospital doctors, walking away with their backs to the camera, would be talking about. We were never going to hear or care what it was, but Stanley—at that early stage of development—said he wanted to know everything. I said, “Women, golf, the stock market, you know…”
“Couple of Gentiles, right?”
“That’s what you said you wanted them to be.”
“Those people, how do we ever know what they’re talking about when they’re alone together?”
“Come on, Stanley, haven’t you overheard them in trains and planes and places?”
Kubrick said, “Sure, but…they always know you’re there.”
If he was even halfway serious, Abrams’s banal thesis that, despite decades of living in England, Stanley never escaped the Old Country, might have been given some ballast.
Now, as for Stanley Kubrick’s being an “intellectual.” If this implies membership in some literary or quasi-philosophical elite, there’s a Jewish joke to dispense with it. It’s the one about the man who makes a fortune, buys himself a fancy yacht, and invites his mother to come and see it. He greets her on the gangway in full nautical rig. She says, “What’s with the gold braid already?”
“Mama, you have to realize, I’m a captain now.”
She says, “By you, you’re a captain, by me, you’re a captain, but by a captain, are you a captain?”
As New York intellectuals all used to know, Karl Popper’s definition of bad science, and bad faith, involves positing a theory and then selecting only whatever data help to furnish its validity. The honest scholar makes it a matter of principle to seek out elements that might render his thesis questionable.
Abrams seeks to enroll Lolita in his obsessive Jewish-intellectual scheme by referring to Peter Arno, a New Yorker cartoonist whom Kubrick photographed in 1949. The caption attached to Kubrick’s photograph in Look asserted that Arno liked to date “fresh, unspoiled girls,” and Abrams says this “hint[s] at Humbert Humbert in Lolita.” Ah, but Lolita was published, in Paris, in 1955, six years later. And how likely is it, in any case, that Kubrick wrote the caption?
The film of Lolita is unusual for its garrulity. Abrams’s insistence on the sinister Semitic aspect of both Clare Quilty and Humbert Humbert supposedly drawing Kubrick like moth to flame is a ridiculous camouflage of the commercial opportunism that led Stanley to seek to film the most notorious novel of the day, while fudging its scandalous eroticism.
That said, in my view, The Killing, Paths of Glory, Barry Lyndon, and Clockwork Orange were and are sans pareil. The great French poet Paul Valéry wrote of “the profundity of the surface” of a work of art. Add D.H. Lawrence’s “never trust the teller, trust the tale,” and you have two authoritative reasons for looking at or reading original works of art yourself and not relying on academic exegetes—especially when they write in the solemn, sometimes ungrammatical style of Professor Abrams, who takes time out to tell those of us at the back of his class that padre “is derived from the Latin pater.”
Abrams writes that I “claim” that I was told to exclude all overt reference to Jews in my Eyes Wide Shut screenplay, with the fatuous implication that I am lying. I am again accused of “claiming” to have given the name Ziegler to the character played by Sidney Pollack, because I once had a (quite famous) Hollywood agent called Evarts Ziegler. So I did. The principal reason for Abrams to doubt my veracity is that my having chosen the name renders irrelevant his subsequent fanciful digression on the deep, deep meanings of the name Ziegler in Jewish lore; hence he wishes to assign the naming to Kubrick. Pop goes another wished-for proof of Stanley’s deep and scholarly obsession with Yiddishkeit.
Abrams would be a more formidable enemy if he could turn a single witty phrase or even abstain from what Karl Kraus called mauscheln, the giveaway jargon of Jewish journalists straining to pass for sophisticates at home in Gentile circles. If you choose, you can apply, on line, for screenwriting lessons from Nathan Abrams, who does not have a single cinematic credit to his name. It would be cheaper, and wiser, to look again, and then again, at Kubrick’s masterpieces.