“Have you forgotten the other bankruptcies? What was Christianity doing in the various catastrophes of society? What became of Liberalism? What has Conservatism produced, in either its enlightened or its reactionary form? … If we are indeed honestly to weigh out the bankruptcies of ideology, we shall have a long task ahead of us.”
— Victor Serge, Midnight in the Century
“…the dimension of time has been shattered, we cannot love or think except in fragments of time each of which goes off along its own trajectory and immediately disappears. We can rediscover the continuity of time only in the novels of that period when time no longer seemed stopped and did not yet seem to have exploded, a period that lasted no more than a hundred years.”
— Italo Calvino, If on a winter’s night a traveler
Michiko Kakutani, former She Muppet of The New York Times, has a new book coming out soon. The Guardian coughed up some space for her to lament the collapse of truth in the age of Trump.
Invoking the bogeymen usually reserved for target practice on the right – Postmodernists and leftists – Kakutani is arrived to tell thee that she alone has survived with objective truth in her hands.
While editors, not writers, select headlines we begin with the bold faced lie used by The Guardian:
“The death of truth: how we gave up on facts and ended up with Trump.”
This sets the stage. “The truth” used to exist because “we” had the “facts” but now “we” have Trump.
Except of course arguments about objective truth are as old as the dirt, systemic distortion and shredding of the facts is hardly an invention of Trump or the malignant trolls who support him and spout Orwellian bullshit about “professionals” hired to act as if they’ve been shot, or that environmental collapse is a “Chinese hoax” or a “left-tard hoax.”
And just as, if not more importantly, the headline reduces Trump to a single cause and effect which elides the facts and thus is a negligent and mendacious contradiction of the premise in the headline.
Bigotry, fascism, cults of personality, the ill-effects of capitalism, the treachery of the aristocratic liberals, the mendacity of the media, the Southern Strategy of the Republicans, with their coded and not so coded dog-whistle calls to gin up the atavistic base of white supremacists, suffering under the vapor trail of the hangover that is the defeat of the Confederacy, are all factors in the rise of Trump.
As are the corrupt bargains of the neo-liberals, the corruption and thuggery of the intelligence agencies, and paramilitary local police, Russian sabotage, and the enforced apathy of millions of citizens who have been beaten into a state of passive aggressive indifference by a system, that is by any reasonable definition, an economic gulag and thunder dome, that pits all against all.
And then there’s Kakutani herself.
Formally of the New York Times, which helped sell the war in Iraq and has blood on its hands. But not a word about that little historical sideshow, from the she Muppet or for that matter a word from The Guardian.
For The Guardian, situational ethics are old hat. With you no matter what should be their masthead. They are so without a sense of ethics, that faced with telling the truth and pointing out that it is ironic to have a former grand dame of The Grey Lady, complain about the death of objective truth precisely because The Times is a establishment whore, they instead, ignore the inconvenient truth, and hype Kakutani to use her as a wee cudgel with which they hope to beat Trump.
And while Trump deserves every verbal assault imaginable the fact (sic!) is that The Guardian is trading integrity for cheap points that will in the end cost them as much if not more than a Trump victory.
For Kakutani, memory is a function of perpetual selective amnesia. Judith Miller?(1) Who? Weapons of Mass Destruction? Mission Accomplished? Say what?
And so Kakutani having jettisoned the facts is free to launch her assault on the liars – for whom she has contempt not because they are liars but because they have given lying a bad name which makes it difficult if not impossible to have The New York Times as your coat of arms.
As we mentioned in a recent post (2), the true moral dilemma at the heart of Trumpism is that while his caterwauling about “Fake News” is designed to destroy the press and give him a permanent get out of jail free card, and is a reflection of his pathological narcissism, the truth (sic!) remains – Network, Broadcast News, Night Crawler, and Citizen Kane are not irrelevant and are in fact as damning today as they were previously.
William Randolph Hearst may or may not have told Frederic Remington, you supply the pictures and I’ll supply the war, but what matters is that we know the press has been fabricating alternative facts since day one.
But to address that, Kakutani would have to bite the hand that feeds her.
Instead, she lines up for execution, ideas and people usually reserved for target practice by the conservatives, and the reactionary neo-fascists like Jordan Peterson and the cyber Brownshirts who use him as their spirit animal guide.
First up, right wing fascism and left wing fascism.
“Two of the most monstrous regimes in human history came to power in the 20th century, and both were predicated on the violation and despoiling of truth, on the knowledge that cynicism and weariness and fear can make people susceptible to the lies and false promises of leaders bent on unconditional power.”
Well, she’s not wrong. But she’s not correct either. How did Fascism come to power in the West? Was it because the Nazis lied? Yes certainly, and it’s also true that they came to power because the liberals and the conservatives told the truth – they did not want the left to come to power and in order to defeat them they advocated alliances with Mussolini, Franco, and Hitler. And let it not be forgotten that had they been successful, the Western liberals and conservatives, would have installed the arch fascist, anti-Semite, and mass murdering Kulchuk and the White Russians to continue the war against Imperial Germany.
Winston Churchill went to Italy, and stood by Mussolini (then on the payroll of British intelligence) and told the adoring crowds, that he was the West’s champion who would defeat the godless Bolsheviks. And since Kakutani, former literary critic, is so fond of using literary guideposts as appeals to authority, it is worth pointing out that noted fascist and Jew hating genius, T.S. Eliot was also a vocal supporter of Il Duce, and wrote to the local British press to say how much he appreciated their refusal to give in to what he categorized as cheap sentimentality, and instead celebrate the noble god fearing great deeds of Mussolini and his Blackshirts. And some three weeks after that, he was no doubt pleased to read about the hundreds of dead union members, and leftists in Turin who Mussolini and his thugs had murdered.
But of course, why let the dreary facts get in the way of a good rant.
Certainly not Kakutani or The Guardian.
None of which is to say or even suggest that Hitler and Stalin wren’t monsters. But it is to highlight that Kakutani, ostensibly railing against the abuse of factual argument, is engaged in a shabby abuse of factual argument. And while that is by itself cause for both mirth and concern, what is far worse, and cause for genuine alarm, is that it showcases the extent to which, as always, the aristocratic liberals are willing to sacrifice everyone else to preserve their power and to give aid to both the morally bankrupt status quo and the fascist attempt to destroy the status quo.
Consider Kakutani’s use of Hannah Arendt:
“As Hannah Arendt wrote in her 1951 book The Origins of Totalitarianism, “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e the standards of thought) no longer exist.””
Once again what strikes any intelligent reader is not that Kakutani is wrong, though she most certainly is, but that she is wrong in the manner of someone who has made no effort to hide her gross intellectual negligence. Instead she has barfed a cut and paste hatchet job that is slightly above the Jordan Peterson level of demagoguery 101. And that of course is not something that requires much effort. After all if Peterson has any idea who Hannah Arendt was we’ll eat a hockey puck.
And why do we draw your attention to Arendt? Because while she does indeed say, exactly what Kakutani claims, she also unloads a series of intellectual hairballs of such magnitude that they rise to the level of rhetorical fatbergs.
“Equality of condition, as the Jacobins had understood it the French Revolution, became a reality only in America, whereas on the European continent, it was at once replaced by a mere formal equality before the law.”
This is such a distortion of the facts, such a misleading, and misreading of the record, such an abuse of history, that one’s first impulse might be to consider it farce. But that passes quickly and what we have instead is not only that Arendt is cherry picking, but that Kakutani is as well and in the service of making the claim that by appealing to Arendt, she bolsters her claim to be standing the watch against the barbarians who, cherry pick the truth to create dangerous sets of alternative facts that can easily help establish tyrannical nightmares.
Arendt’s work and the stunning elisions, distortions and outright pratfalls, would require an entire other book to document, and so must wait for another time as our task here, is to pin Kakutani to the wall as an agent of the aristocratic liberals, who are determined to push back against the left by using Trump as a pretext.
This is the crucial issue.
It is no accident that Kakutani’s primary target is Postmodernism. By using the Jordan Peterson method of screaming that Michel Foucault and Karl Marx are hiding under your bed – leather restraints and a worn copy of Das Kapital at the ready – she not only takes aim at Trump but fires off a bank shot designed to restore the aristocratic liberals to their position of authority, at the expense of the increasingly angry resurgent left.
The context here is the rise of Bernie Sanders and more recently, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The rejection of Clintonian neoliberalism, the contempt that the increasingly militant left has for Nancy were capitalists get used to it Pelosi, the manufactured “crisis of civility” in which the haute liberals wring their hands and whine that such boorish behavior will only energize Trump’s base, are not a reflection of their fear or contempt for Trump and his base, but are a reflection of their fear and contempt for the left.
Kakutani is a princess of the liberal establishment. She stands with Rob Reiner who said that Robert De Niro’s Fuck Trump would only help Trump when the truth is, if you are so feckless, and such a moral hermaphrodite that a famous actor saying Fuck Trump is enough to make you vote for a racist demagogic neo-fascist, then who the fuck wants you (to paraphrase the simplistic Joe Rogan) on our team anyhow?
“Arendt’s words increasingly sound less like a dispatch from another century than a chilling description of the political and cultural landscape we inhabit today – a world in which fake news and lies are pumped out in industrial volume by Russian troll factories, emitted in an endless stream from the mouth and Twitter feed of the president of the United States, and sent flying across the world through social media accounts at lightning speed.”
Indeed, as are establishment media platforms like The New York Times that gave Trump billions of dollars in free advertising, in exchange for what little remained of their souls, and billions derived from clickbait.
But in addition, in an attempt to raise the alarm about troll factories, how about a word or two about Nixon’s assault on the media – the enemies list, itself an ugly incestuous bastard child of the Hollywood Blacklist, which in its turn fed into the Truman regime’s loyalty oaths (not overturned until Bill Clinton was into his second term) or perhaps some discussion of the Yellow Press, with its ginned up violence against the Irish, the Jews, the Yellow Peril, opium dens, crack babies, and communists, hippies or “super predators?”
But no, of course not. Why would Kakutani dive into the shit pile that is the history of American journalism when her goal is to pretend that the assault on objective truth is recent, and down to the intellectual malfeasance of the Postmodernists and the left.
As she says, by way of another bank shot that uses Margaret Atwood as a cue ball to hit Orwell, and claim the right to use Animal Farm and 1984 as warnings:
“…what Margaret Atwood has called the “danger flags” in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm – that make a people susceptible to demagoguery and political manipulation, and nations easy prey for would-be autocrats.To examine how a disregard for facts, the displacement of reason by emotion, and the corrosion of language are diminishing the value of truth, and what that means for the world.”
A disregard for the facts, indeed.
And so on to a litany of Trumpian offences – his egregious thuggish, dictatorial assaults on the judiciary, the civil service, and of course the press.
Except of course we return to where we started – the press is as often as not a shithole in which for every Woodward and Bernstein, there is a Judith Miller or Stephen Glass. Or Juan Thompson, Brian Williams, or Jayson Blair and Michael Finkel – both, along with Miller, formerly of The New York Times.
And then Kakutani finally gets around to sticking her rhetorical sow cow:
“How did this happen? How did truth and reason become such endangered species, and what does the threat to them portend for our public discourse and the future of our politics and governance?”
And her answer (first the head fake):
“It’s easy enough to see Trump as having ascended to office because of a unique, unrepeatable set of factors: a frustrated electorate still hurting from the backwash of the 2008 financial crash; Russian interference in the election and a deluge of pro-Trump fake news stories on social media; a highly polarising opponent who came to symbolise the Washington elite that populists decried; and an estimated $5bn‑worth of free campaign coveragefrom media outlets obsessed with the views and clicks that the former reality TV star generated.”
Unrepeatable? Why? Are the systemic defects of capitalism only to appear once? Again here is Kakutani sadly telling tales of dead kings, begging us to stand up for the truth but ignoring the facts – demagogues repeat with the frequency of the tide rolling in and rolling out and capitalism is an endless series of boom and bust, predicated on the ruling classe’s ability to exploit the market, and control the levers of power. And a note about that “five billion” – that may have been free advertising for Trump but notice that Kakutani leaves out that it was a revenue cash cow for the media including her former employer The New York Times, who received an increase in clicks which generate money. Thus, Kakutani is either too stupid to understand the system and thus not worth listening to, or smart enough to avoid any facts that would get in the way of her agenda – which, hobbled by her cherry picking, is not worth taking seriously but should be seriously taken as an example of liberal mendacity.
And then, reversing course away from her pissing on the facts, Kakutani throws up the smoke and mirrors of the intellectual manque by appealing to the effete haute intellectuals – Trump, if invented by a novelist, she says, would remind one of Ubu Roi and a character discarded by Moliere – oh my dear, how droll – why even Moliere wouldn’t bother to make use of Trump.
But then, to show she’s down with the woke and hip to the jive, Kakutani flys her pop culture street cred by referencing Conan O’Brien’s Triumph the Insult Comic Dog.
Trump, she tells us is indeed a clown, and a pathological liar but his ascendancy is a result of the contemporary witches brew of technology and not a regurgitation of any other demagogic tyrant.
Except of course for Father Coughlin.
Or Huey Long.
And she adds the banal received wisdom that the current climate is down to “the toxic polarisation that’s overtaken American politics”
Well where does that leave Preston Brooks?(3)
Where does it leave the Civil War or the Alien and Sedition Act which allowed the Founding Fathers to arrest a newspaper publisher because they didn’t like what he was saying? (4)Where does it leave the lethal toxicity of the gossip columnists who were used by the government to destroy people? Where does it leave Fatty Arbuckle and the countless others ruined by the violence of the toxic polarization that has been endemic to America since the Federalists ginned up the mob to believe that Thomas Jefferson was, if elected, going to confiscate their bibles and burn them?
For decades now, she tells us, objectivity has been under assault.
“For that matter, relativism has been ascendant since the culture wars began in the 1960s. Back then, it was embraced by the New Left, who were eager to expose the biases of western, bourgeois, male-dominated thinking; and by academics promoting the gospel of postmodernism, which argued that there are no universal truths, only smaller personal truths – perceptions shaped by the cultural and social forces of one’s day. Since then, relativistic arguments have been hijacked by the populist right.”
And there it is. The liberal dog whistle – Trump is the fault of the 1960s radicals.
The “New Left” who, poor naive scoundrels, were eager to expose the biases of western bourgeois, male dominated thinking.
Which is exactly the same argument Jordan Peterson is peddling minus only his use of “cultural Marxism” which is itself, regurgitated Nazi propaganda.
But Kakutani is smarter than Peterson and knows better than to use that phrase leaving it hanging in the air as a suggestion, for which she can offer plausible deniability.
Notice she does not say the New Left was wrong (per se) but sticks the landing by saying that they lead directly to the alternative facts demagoguery of the alt-right – and therefore might as well stand accused as the one who have commited the crime of producing Trump.
“Relativism, of course, synced perfectly with the narcissism and subjectivity that had been on the rise, from Tom Wolfe’s “Me Decade” 1970s, on through the selfie age of self-esteem. No surprise then that the “Rashomon effect” – the point of view that everything depends on your point of view – has permeated our culture, from popular novels such as Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies to television series like The Affair, which hinge on the idea of competing realities.”
Except of course Rashomon by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, (the story upon which the later film is partially based) was written in 1915. And that is two years after the New York Armory Show in which the wider public was first exposed to Cubism which, had of course, sprung up from the collaboration of two European geniuses who were responding to the thunderous transformations in psychology and society in Europe.
All of which obviously predates the New Left. And of course is contextualized by the rise of the industrial nation-states, the reality bending technological changes wrought by cars and air travel, recorded music, the telegraph and a host of other factors none of which are Trumpian or have anything to do with the 1960s except in the sense that the revolutionaries of the New Left were the inheritors of the radicals of the preceding decades.
So again Kakutani, while barfing up her lies, distortions and half truths, not only gets the facts wrong but dances a jig on her own behalf because, she claims, she is telling us the truth.
Which brings us to this:
“I’ve been reading and writing about many of these issues for nearly four decades, going back to the rise of deconstruction and battles over the literary canon on college campuses; debates over the fictionalised retelling of history in movies such as Oliver Stone’s JFK and Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty; efforts made by both the Clinton and Bush administrations to avoid transparency and define reality on their own terms;”
Well first, who cares if she’s been reading about it? And secondly given what we’ve already detailed clearly she needs to read more, and better books or fewer worse books.
But what does she mean by “the rise of deconstruction?”
Technically she means the school of thought that holds that how we define who is in control of defining the narrative is as important, if not more important, than the narrative itself. In other words, not only a regurgitation of Hume and Bundle Theory, which pushes us back to the 18th century but also basic Buddhism, with its meditations on the idea of the self as ultimately an illusion comprised of an endless set of begets, which upon examination fly away into the ether.
Thus, as with the a-historical pettifogging neo-fascist blather of Jordan Peterson, Kakutani is not just wrong on points, she is as a result wrong morally, and is making common cause with the reactionaries.
Consider her dig at Oliver Stone’s JFK. Notice that ironically the very language – the use of Stone’s JFK, denoting that the myth of Kennedy is a question of who is telling the story and thus, ironically she is being Postmodern – but what is at stake of course is yet another distortion of the facts.
For Kakutani, Stone’s film is a example of the fabrication of alternative facts that subvert the official record.
But of course Kakutani does not bother to mention the extent to which the pre Trump establishment rammed the official set of alternative facts down the nation’s throat, and sold the world the set of interconnected lies about those six seconds in Dallas.(5) And don’t forget, that it was a conservative republican, Arlen Specter, who invented the great alternative fact called, the magic bullet.
But for Kakutani, it is sufficient to invoke Oliver Stone as both accusation and proof of guilt that establishes the left as the fellow traveler and useful idiot of the Trumpian right because, per Kakutani, Stone traffics in flimsy, paranoid conspiracy theories that thrive precisely because the objective truth has been hijacked.
Thus, again without saying it, Kakutani positions herself with the establishment and dismisses the counter culture, which rightly looks to the coup that killed JFK, as one of the rally points in which the industrial scale Orwellian assault gained its power.
Again rejecting the facts, Kakutani references another naif who she tells us, it is right to proclaim that, ignorance was now fashionable with both left and right embracing the doctrine of relativity in which expertise was suspect and one opinion was as good as any other.
Except of course for Mark Twain in the middle of the 19th century, making the case that America, if not humanity itself, was full of liars, conmen, distorters, and assorted morons who couldn’t discern shit from the truth if their lives depended on it.
What is The Man who Corrupted Hadleyburg, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court or the Million Pound Note, if not a clarion call to be aware of the human capacity for peddling bullshit and calling it faith and the human habit of fabricating, alternative facts.
Consider that the introduction to Huck Finn has Twain as Huck talking about Twain being more or less honest.
In other words, postmodern deconstructed and appearing vaguely in and around a vast cloud of cigar smoke, as master Twain snarls with barely concealed contempt at the fools.
But the issue here is Kakutani’s attack on the right and the left – the suggestion of (i)moral equivalency in which the misguided leftists are the parents responsible for the monster Trump.
“The postmodernist argument that all truths are partial (and a function of one’s perspective) led to the related argument that there are many legitimate ways to understand or represent an event. This both encouraged a more egalitarian discourse and made it possible for the voices of the previously disfranchised to be heard. But it has also been exploited by those who want to make the case for offensive or debunked theories, or who want to equate things that cannot be equated.”
Is that in fact the postmodern argument?
Madness and Civilization says no such thing.
In criticising Darkness at Noon, Merleau-Ponty says no such thing.
Does Baudrillard say that?
Do Deleuze and Guattari?
And is that the philosophy behind Pynchon or Borges or for that matter is that what Cervantes meant when he subverted the authority of the singular narrator in Quixote back in the 16th century? Is that the truth behind Jacques the Fatalist?
And it bares repeating that Hume predates the 1960s and the Buddhists predate Hume so when Kakutani dismisses the idea that “truth” is a slippery bastard, what exactly is she saying?
Of course, lese majeste, she allows for how the New Left gave voice to the previously disenfranchised but of course, she adds, the cost has been too great.
But then consider how she links that moment in time to the Handmaid’s Tale fascists:
“Creationists, for instance, called for teaching “intelligent design” alongside evolution in schools. “Teach both,” some argued. Others said, “Teach the controversy.”
Not false but, the Scopes Monkey Trial was in 1925 not 2016.
In order for Kakutani to be right, we would have to blame Darwin for igniting the creationists and the call to teach Intelligent Design.
And in a sense that’s not wrong, but it means at best Kakutani is right but for the wrong reasons and the anti-Darwinian crusade predating Trump by a century plus means that again, the facts refute Kakutani’s entire argument.
The assault on truth, on facts, came with us out of the ocean and went with us as we learned how to stand up and walk.
What is the myth of the Ten Commandments if not an manifestation of the anxiety generated by one set of facts versus another?
Go kill me a son, says god to Abraham because, faith is a belief in alternative facts. It is tyrannical, and subversive, and it is constant.
But then Kakutani digs deep to tell us that – Charlottesville and Trump’s claims about moral equivalence are the result of both his fascism and the misguided rebellion of the left.
Which is in fact Trump’s argument repurposed by Kakutani in order to claim that there is ultimately a moral equivalence between the left and Trump.
Sorry Michiko but you can go fuck yourself.
And to paraphrase Robin Williams, in the dictionary, under irony, see irony and thus, Kakutani quotes Christiane Amanpour who says apropos of the genocide in the crack-up of Yugoslavia:
“I believe in being truthful, not neutral. And I believe we must stop banalising the truth.”
Well yes, but shouldn’t Kakutani who begins by appealing to the moral and intellectual authority of Arendt, step in here to say, the banality of evil is Arendt’s touchstone and that singular thesis predates Trump and the 60s?
Of course not. Instead we get this:
“As the west lurched through the cultural upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s and their aftermath, artists struggled with how to depict this fragmenting reality. Some writers like John Barth, Donald Barthelme and William Gass created self-conscious, postmodernist fictions that put more emphasis on form and language than on conventional storytelling. Others adopted a minimalistic approach, writing pared-down, narrowly focused stories emulating the fierce concision of Raymond Carver. And as the pursuit of broader truths became more and more unfashionable in academia, and as daily life came to feel increasingly unmoored, some writers chose to focus on the smallest, most personal truths: they wrote about themselves.”
Notice the use of “lurched” with its suggestion of a drunken stupor – a lack of purpose or conscious action and instead as a result the attempts at reform are transformed from intentional rebellion, to the spasmodic defects of a political tourette’s syndrome, devoid of moral justification or intellectual rigor.
As a result, Apartheid, Jim Crow, lynchings, segregation, misogyny, and the industrial scale genocides in Central and South America, and Southeast Asia, are elided from the narrative. COINTELPRO, Tuskegee, MKUltra, death squads in Vietnam, run by the CIA, support for Pinochet – all of it, per Kakutani just sort of happened, like bad weather.
Thus Kakutani, enters through the front door of reasonable liberal and exists through the back door of revisionist liberal reactionary with fabricated alternative facts to suit her narrative.
The rebellions of the 60s, rising in part from the civil rights struggles of the 50s and the righteous rebellions of the 1930s (themselves reaching back to the 19th century and so on back to the 18th century) which were attempting to stem the tide of the fascism and systemic mendacity Kakutani began her missive with, are all erased precisely because she is a sloppy, first rate huckster.
She has created a false narrative into which she inserts Barth, Barthelme and Gass (6) as if they were nothing more or less than either idiot savants or irresponsible* instead of towering talents, committed to doing what they could to stand the watch against the the establishments war on not just the truth but human dignity.
One wonders what exactly Kakutani thinks the response to Kissinger and My Lai should have been? What does one say in response to Pinochet and the Mothers of the Disappeared? Consider that the South American Boom – Marquez, Cortazar, Fuentes, etc were all committed leftists and fabulists using fable, myth and magic to deconstruct the official “truth” and then ask what exactly Kakutani believes would haven the better response?
Must we remind Kakutani that Picasso’s Guernica is a taffy pull of fable, myth and the surreal, and that precisely because it is not realistic, it triumphs over the attempts to destroy reality?
The answer apparently, is yes we do need to remind her.
And we need to point out that the minimalism of Carver was a fabrication of Captain Fiction (Gordon Lish), who rewrote the original stories, and transformed them into Hemingway Lite to fool the public into believing Carver was someone he was not. Or, one could say that Lish and the publishing industry created a set of alternative Carvers.
And that Carver himself, said in response to Barthelme, that when he hears the words formal experimentation he reaches for a bottle of booze – a construction not so very different from, when I hear the word culture I reach for my gun.
And yes, we mean to contextualize Carver by reference to fascism not because Carver was even remotely a fascist, but because the context of his contempt for postmodernism was the Reaganite counter revolution of the 80s.
Minimalism was not just a lark but a product of the media machine that served Reagan from its knees. It, and Carver, were sold as a slick package stripped of complexity in an era dominated by the reactionary corporate fascism of Reagan’s It’s morning in America. And in a work that claims to be about defending the idea and ideals of objective Truth, Kakutani leaves out any truth that contradicts her version of events. Thus, we are treated to the spectacle of the former literary critic of The New York Times, ignoring the fact that Raymond Carver’s work was, Fake News, and the truth was that his real work, remained buried for a generation while the machine turned a profit from bull shit – slick, packaged bull shit.
To compound this outrage Kakutani delves into pure unadulterated reactionary contempt for the avant garde.
She offers up literary fop and Reagan-worshiping, Tom Wolfe, calling for an end to experimentation. This leads her to jump to pointing out that writers like Louise Erdrich and Don DeLillo ignored him and instead followed in the wake of giants like William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf. The implication being that those two towering figures, with their literary fireworks, and their attempts to deal with multiple realities, were moral failures and are responsible for the demagoguery and fascism of Trump.
But, per Kakutani, Faulkner is a fraud specifically because he embraced the idea that there are multiple truths within the mono-truth – that ancient Greece can be found in a dilapidated plantation house in Alabama. And without saying it directly Kakutani is dismissing Mrs. Dalloway, and To The Lighthouse because Woolf dared to go where few others had ever been before.
Which of course means that, if true, Kakutani has Wile e Coyote style blown herself up with her ACME anti-postmodern device because of course Faulkner, heir to 19th and 20th century giants from Dostoevsky and Joyce predates the counterculture of the 60s. But more importantly of course is the fact that Faulkner reached back to ancient Greece to say, the past aint even hardly past and, the facts and the truth seldom have much to do with each other and that what you call the now is better summed up by his contemporary Eugene O’Neill who said: there is no such thing as the future, no such thing as the present only the past happening over and over again right now.
Thus, literary critic of the paper of record, Kakutani reveals herself to be a fraud and the very definition of a hack making common cause with the establishment. One assumes then that everything from Rites of Spring to Nude Descending a Staircase are next on her hit list.
And then like a fish returning to spawn, the aristocratic liberal must mention Philip Roth and the more mentioned than actually read, Writing American Fiction.
Here we refer you to our deconstruction of Roth’s intellectual perfidy (7), and at this point we do not wish to dwell on Roth’s reactionary half-truths – on his smug bourgeois dismissal of the Beat rebellion and their honorable defense of freedom, or on his reactionary defence of American apartheid, by pretending that it did not exist, his collaboration and apologies for the regime by making common cause with the right wing and Podhoretz, his contemptuous, feckless, and hypocritical digs at Mailer, or his a-historical borderline racist refusal to acknowledge James Baldwin or M.L.King, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
What matters here is that Kakutani doubles down on Roth’s establishment collaboration in her effort to offer up the left, in order to either appease the fascists or buy herself and her liberal aristocratic friends more time.
While Kakutani wants to rally her troops, such as they are, around the weak bubbler that is Roth, we instead are reminded of Pablo Neruda.
Following the American backed coup that installed the fascists led by Pinochet, Neruda retreated with his wife Mathilde, to their home at Isla Negra.
There, after either being poisoned or waiting for his cancer to kill him, they waited for the thugs.
They did not have to wait long.
A few days before he died, the army arrived and busted down the door and ransacked the house.
They tore open cabinets, destroyed paintings and first editons of Baudelaire and Whitman.
When they were done, the officer in charge came to Neruda’s bedroom. He apologized, saying that they had been told there was something dangerous in the house.
Neruda pulled himself out of bed and shuffled to the officer.
He stood in front of him and said:
No need to apologize. They did not lie to you. There is something dangerous here.
It’s called poetry.
And we say, Michiko Kakutani is not right.
Editor’s Note. The Violent Ink wishes to apologize for the extraordinary number of typos in this post. We are working to correct them and apologize for any inconvenience.
1 Judith Miller was a reporter with The New York Times who had an affair with Scooter Libby, a mandarin of the Bush Cheney junta. He fed her cooked information which she duly wrote up for The Times as part of the effort to distort reality and sell the war. All of the following were reporters caught either fabricating sources or plagiarizing the work of others.
Judith Miller, Stephen Glass, Juan Thompson, Brian Williams, Jayson Blair and Michael Finkel – both, along with Miller, formerly of The New York Times.
2 See the following:
4 See, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philadelphia_Aurora
5 Consider one of Kakutani’s establishment voices on the idea of “objective truth”
“We wonder whether a genuine mystery is being concealed here or whether any similar scrutiny of a minute section of time and space would yield similar strangeness – gaps, in consciousness, warps and bubbles in the surface of circumstances. Perhaps, as with the elements of matter, investigation passes a threshold of common sense and enters a sub-atomic realm where laws are mocked, where persons have the life-span of beta particles and the transparency of neutrinos, and where a rough kind of averaging out must substitute for the absolute truth. The truth about those six seconds in Dallas is especially elusive; the search for it seems to demonstrate how perilously empiricism verges on magic.”
— John Updike
6 William Gass was no fan of the establishment.
7 Regarding Roth and his essay, Writing American Fiction:
See The Guardian article here:
An for a brief and critical appraisal of Kakutani see the following:
Addendum: Regarding Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism.
The work seems a train wreck of contradictions, unsupported assertions and distinctions without any difference.
Given its length of over 500 pages we do not propose to refute each point.
A few examples will have to suffice.
First as it connects to Kakutani it is worth noting that Kakutani’s premise, that the assault on objective truth is a recent phenomenon, and that its faults are the result primarily of leftists and postmodernists, it is well worth considering that she cherry picks Arendt who, mentions that the culture wars over truth and alternative facts is a subject to be found in Plato.
From the introduction:
“Plato, in his famous fight against the ancient sophists, discovered that their “universal art of enchanting the mind by arguments” (Phaedrus 261) had nothing to do with truth but aimed at opinions which by their very nature are changing and which are valid only at “the time of the agreement and as long as the agreement lasts.” (Theaetetus 172)”*
Well, how very Trumpian or, Postmodern.
“He also discovered the very insecure position of truth in the world, for from “opinions comes persuasion and not from truth” (Phaedrus 260).”
Thus, Kakutani’s appeal to authority blows up in her face. Far from being a support to the idea that the assault on facts is a recent issue, Arendt traces it back to antiquity.
Among the issues with Arendt generally, we take note of her comment that, per de Tocqueville, the growing late 18th century hatred of the aristocracy was down to a sense among the peasants that the aristocrats while losing substantive power had lost none of their privileges and as a result they came to be seen as parasites deserving of hatred. There is something to this if one were to focus on Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès’ What is the Third Estate, (in which, for example, he writes: “The nobility, however, is also a foreigner in our midst because of its civil and political prerogatives.”) but needless to say, Arendt does not. Instead we have this:
“Foremost among them is de Tocqueville’s great discovery (in L’Ancien Regime et La Revolution, Book II, chap, 1) of the motives for the violent hatreds felt by the French masses for the aristocracy at the outbreak of the Revolution – a hatred which stimulated Burke to remark that the revolution was more concerned with the “condition of a gentleman” than with the institution of the king. According to de Tocqueville, the French people hated aristocrats about to lose their power more than it hated them before precisely because their rapid loss of real power was not accompanied by any considerable decline in their fortunes. As long as the aristocracy held vast powers of jurisdiction they were not only tolerated but respected. When noblemen lost their privileges, among others, the privilege to exploit,and oppress, the people felt them to be parasites, without any real function in the rule of the country.
In other words neither oppression nor exploitation, as such, is ever the main cause for resentment; wealth without visible function is much more intolerable because nobody can understand why it should be tolerated.”
Well, needles to say this is a train wreck. How does one distinguish between the system that is oppressive, and those who are both functionaries of that system, and define it, and engage in acts of oppression? Where does one end and the other begin? How are the oppressed to distinguish one from the other and even if they could how could it fail to be a distinction without a difference?*
The French monarchy and the aristocracy maintained considerable arbitrary power up to the chaotic days of mid July 1789. The use of arbitrary detention was one of the great weapons of state terror and it was used widely well into the opening phases of the Revolution. Backed by the force of the army the monarchy may have been financially crippled but it retained great power.
Secondly Arendt has it that there was a great psychological shift based on a realization that the crown was destitute or at least insolvent. Certainly among the likes of the educated, such as Sieyes but among the rest of the society?
Exactly what would a 18th century peasant base such an assumption on? His lordship only whips or rapes three times per week instead of five? What would an average Jaques or Marie of the era know or understand about relative wealth?
Obviously Arendt is firing blanks. (And Kakutani is probably betting most people haven’t read Arendt so she’s free to cherry pick the details).
As to the idea that people will tolerate being oppressed because they believe the ruling class serves some purpose that justifies the oppression of the peasantry, it is clearly refuted by any number of historical examples where the exploited simply reached a breaking point regardless of the perception that the aristocrats serve some purpose or not.
A lack of food and massive casualty rates did not convince the Russian workers and peasants that the Czar was pointless but they did convince them that it was pointless to go on listening to the Czar tell them to starve and die.
Arendt seems very much to be chewing far more than she’s bitten off.
*Regarding the muddle that was 18th and early 19th century Europe, one might consider the strange trajectory of, Jean-Baptiste de Boyer, Marquis d’Argens. A radical, anti-clerical exile, famous for any number of thing including the single most popular “pornographic” novel of the era. He was for a time a diplomat and a favorite of the court of the King of Prussia. Was he an example of the hated aristocracy; a parasite? Was he a hero of the anti-clerical peasantry? Both? Neither? Were his “pornographic” works popular for their depictions of corrupt lascivious priests, or for the depictions of sex? Were his readers jealous or disgusted or both? Were his novels read for their sexuality or their philosophical meditations? Both? Neither?
History is not the neat set of categories as imagined by Ms. Kakutani.
*Regarding Plato’s argument with the Sophists, it is well worth remembering (or learning as the case may be) that the founder of the Sophist’s school was Protagoras. Plato considered him to be a dangerous relativistic thinker who did not accept objective facts.
Here’s Karl Popper on the ancient Greeks (emphasis in the original):
“With the sole exception, perhaps, of Protagoras, who seems to argue against it, all serious thinkers before Aristotle made a sharp distinction between knowledge, real knowledge, certain truth (saphes, alethiea; later: episteme), which is divine…and opinion (doxa), which mortals are able to possess, and is interpreted by Xenophanes as guesswork that could be improved…”
Protagoras is mostly remembered, if at all, for a formulation that held: Man is the measure of all things.”
It was that and the ideas that followed from it that led Plato in one of his more authoritarian fits of demanding discipline to his views, to castigate Protagoras as a relativist.
Thus, Kakutani is revealed both as a hack, and a run of the mill reactionary coughing up nonsense. Arguments about objective truth, and the facts that support it, and those who claim reality qua reality is a patchwork of guesses, and thus, subjective, are as old as the dirt.
Trump is not a product of the 1960s or the revolutionary fervor of 1917 or the fascism of the 1930s.
We are here reminded of Lucien Febvre’s magisterial deconstruction of the idea that Rabelais was the beginning of Modernism. After reconstructing the era of Gargantua and Pantagruel, he stuck the landing by saying that while the first caveman to rub two sticks together to start a fire was, undoubtedly a genius, it doesn’t mean he’s responsible for the electric stove.
Of course Febvre was a scholar and Kakutani is a former critic for The New York Times.
A further note regarding the idea that anxiety and social tension about truth and subjectivity are recent developments. Here is a quote from a former editor of The New York Times Athens bureau, Theognis of Megara(emphasis added):
“Hope is the only good god remaining among mankind;
the others have left and gone to Olympus.
Trust, a mighty god has gone, Restraint has gone from men,
and the Graces, my friend, have abandoned the earth.
Men’s judicial oaths are no longer to be trusted, nor does anyone
revere the immortal gods; the race of pious men has perished and
men no longer recognize the rules of conduct or acts of piety.”
The genuine cause for concern is not the idea that these are recent developments but that they have been with us since the beginning and are as old as the dirt.