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Hannah Gadsby.

“The devil’s greatest trick was to convince everyone that he did not exist.”

— Baudelaire

“There is no record of civilization that is not also a record of barbarism.”

— Walter Benjamin


It’s not new exactly. The left and its evil twins have long been guilty of the tyranny of reductio ad absurdum. After all if the gentleman in Berlin with the train schedule and record keeping fetish hadn’t set up an exhibit of “deviant art” then surely the gentlemen in Moscow with the ditch fetish would have done the same. And of course given enough rope and trees that sort of thing has and can again find a home in New York or Paris or Rome.

People like to ignore that Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Donatello, Raphael, and Caravaggio were all on the company payroll and the Vatican’s iteration of Murder Incorporated was, through its money laundering operations, the Bardi, Perucci, Medici and Borgia, willing to do business with their sworn enemies, the Muslim Ottomans, and everyone else.

There were after all two sets of books – the one they showed the tax man and the one they did not.

And so to Hannah Gadsby.

She’s a lesbian so you’re not supposed to criticize her.

She’s a woman and post #MeToo you’re not supposed to criticize her.

Donald Trump is squatting in the Oval Office and shitting on the world, so you’re supposed to worship AOC as if she’s Jack Kennedy, MLK, and Joan of Arc all rolled into one social media savvy package and nuance, subtlety and paradox can all go fuck themselves.*

Cults are after all, full of persnickety literalists.

And when Gadsby says something that is not just factually wrong, a-historical and worse, the rhetorical version of being a fellow traveler and useful idiot of the fascist, reactionary right, you’re supposed to say oh well, she’s had it rough and Harvey Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, misogyny, misogyny, misogyny!

And of course, Harvey is a parade float of vile details and a poster boy for a corrupt, decadent and depraved system.

But that doesn’t mean Gadsby isn’t a thug.

We refer to her recent stand up performance in which she declares that Picasso was a misogynist, abusive to women, and sick in the head and we’re not supposed to discuss any of it.

We hasten to add that we fell down this sink hole after reading what to our shock was, for once, a reasonable article in the otherwise dead on arrival The Guardian in which one of their regular opinionistas admitted that moral ambiguity is complex – after all, William Burroughs shot his wife (J. Volmer was his partner but the point stands) and that unlike Gadsby the writer likes Picasso. And that history is full of ugly people making beautiful things.

What they fail to grasp or if grasped fail to mention is that such is the nature of existence itself. As we have mentioned before the sad fact is that if not for the sin of slavery there would not be Jazz or the Blues.

Let that dilemma sink in and try and figure a way out of the logical and moral cul de sac.

And so back to Gadsby.

Here’s a quote:

“As an example, she draws a line between two ostensibly disparate figures and eras: “This guy [Picasso] was sick in the head and he abused women — and nobody ever [mentions it]; it just gets absorbed into his story and this marvellous idea [of Picasso].

And Donald Trump is the logical conclusion — in my head.”

Which, ironically, is Trump-esque in its substitution of, I believe, for I reason. It is idiotic, irresponsible and dangerous.

First people have been calling Picasso sick since about 1910. After the whores from Avignon even Braque thought he had slipped his nut and Pablo stashed those bitches under his bed (sic!) for years until the world caught up with him.

Secondly, calling him sick means you’re in goose step with the fascists. Reducing Picasso to sick+misogyny= Donald Trump is Trump saying, immigration + brown skin = they’re sending us rapists; it is the formulae for Work shall Set You free and Everyone is Equal it’s just that some are more equal than others. It is Trump-esque demagoguery; it is a version of, when I hear the word culture, I reach for my gun, or if your Gadsby, your microphone.

After all, history is full of people in white lab coats who declared lesbians were sick in the head, insisted that “sick in the head” was a precise medical term of pharmaceutical art, and proceeded to have people locked up and lobotomized so Gadsby’s in good company.

Third, if he was a misogynist then perhaps someone should mention it to Francoise Gilot and ask her what it says about her and her art?

Or Helen Parmeline.

Or Lee Miller.

Fourth, what then about Gertrude Stein? Let alone Alice?

Are we to believe that generalissimo Stein would have said, well I don’t care if he’s beating Fernande I like the little cubes? And even if she did believe that considering that she had a mouth like a public phone exchange combined with a telegram office, nesting inside the social media of her time, the idea that she wouldn’t have called him out somewhere to someone isn’t just absurd, it isn’t just fake news, it’s the sinew of a-historical fascism.

And let’s consider if even for just a moment that Fernande was hardly a wall flower and Olga was as likely a monster as a ballerina and was Dora Maar anyone’s idea of stable?

And if Picasso was a thug how do we separate the classical works from everything else?

Gadsby we are told has a degree in art history.

Yeah, well there are plenty of plumbers with advanced degrees and plenty of people running museums who would be better employed fixing a leaky sink.

What then about Vanessa Bell who after visiting Picasso in his studio in Paris, wrote to her circle of friends that he was the single most intelligent person in Europe?

Surely had he been a rutting pig and an abusive monster the harridans, assorted mutants, and murder’s row of observational geniuses that formed Bloomsbury would have said something about it?

A Room of One’s own is seminal and yet while perfectly willing to offer up a class based snob episode of verbal projectile vomiting about James Joyce being an undergraduate popping his pimples, and confusing it with art, Virginia had nothing negative to say to her sister about the diminutive Spaniard.

Neither did Djuna Barnes. Or Sylvia Beach. Or Adrienne Monnier. Or Janet Flanner.

Or Natalie Barney.

Who in turn was host to, Jean Cocteau, who had plenty to say about Picasso except for when he was gossiping about his deals with the Nazis, Vichy and Coco Channel.

But Barney was also host to F. Scott Fitzgerald, Anatole France, Sherwood Anderson, Colette (a one time lover of Barney), Gertrude Stein, Sylvia Beach, Peggy Guggenheim and Isadora Duncan – who played for both sides.

And Barney entertained all of those shy people devoid of eccentricities at her Sapho palace on the Rue Jacob, where she told them stories about her lady friends, and had her novels and stories published in France, in French and received positive reviews.

And not one of those freaks has left a letter or any mention anywhere that they thought Picasso was insane, a misogynist or any more or less cracked than any of the other mutants and freaks in those circles.

Which brings us to this other a-historical gem by Gadsby:

“for the first time in history, women have control over the writing and dissemination of their own stories — unmediated by men. That’s never happened before — we’ve been cock-blocked the whole way through, since the Bible. This is an exciting moment.”

Well that must be news to Anna Akhmatova, wherever she is. As well as Dorothy Parker and Anais Nin**

And since it was a lesbian who published Ulysses one must assume Gadsby means that Sylvia was cockblocking Jim.

And When T.S. Eliot was able to turn his attention away from being afraid of Jews, and he gave Djuna Barnes’ lesbian romp, Nightwood, a glowing review, it was because Djuna had waved her engorged wang in his face and said, obey!

And surely then Gadsby means that Jane Heap, lesbian extraordinaire, didn’t run a radical, Avant Garde magazine, with her lover, Margaret Anderson, and wasn’t in charge of being one of the first to publish a who’s who of  masculine deviants, named, Hemingway, Eliot, Joyce, Hart Crane, W.B. Yeats, Ezra Pound, Sherwood Anderson, Andre Breton, Ford Maddox Ford, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, e.e. cummings, and Mina Loy.

So perhaps what Gadsby means is that if you could get passed the vaginal gatekeepers you could get published?

And keep in mind that Mina Loy’s son-in-law, Julien Levy, owned a gallery in New York that showed work by Duchamp, Bernice Abbot and Picasso.

And another word here about that Sapphic wonderland on the Rue Jacob:

“Annie Winifred Ellerman, another visitor to Barney’s salon, who was better known as Bryher, was born in Margate in 1894, the daughter of John Ellerman a shipowner and financier. (In 1933 he was stated to be the richest Englishman who had ever lived.)

Bryher’s circle of friends in Paris included Hemingway, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein and Sylvia Beach who she helped financially when Shakespeare and Co was going through hard times. Bryher decided on a marriage of convenience to the American writer Robert Almon who she married in 1921, although she had already fallen in love with the poet Hilda Doolittle (H.D.) in 1918. Bryher and Almon divorced in 1927 and Bryher married a writer Kenneth MacPherson who was H.D.’s lover… The ménage a trois lasted until 1947 when MacPherson died and although no longer living with H.D, Bryher’s relationship lasted with her until H.D.’s death in 1946.”

Which means that a wealthy lesbian gave a broke lesbian the cash to publish Ulysses which had been serialized in The Dial, by two other lesbians.

Like a proper left thug Gadsby’s point is either that we should exile artists of whom she does not approve, or ignore that culture qua culture is a byzantine web of interconnected relationships in which the lesbian with the attitude and the trust fund, is responsible for the art hanging on the wall of the museum you claim is a temple to the power of the cock.

And the ersatz left media wants us to pretend the alternative facts are the truth.

The fact is if not for a handful of mostly American and British lesbians, Modern Art would have vanished up a chimney at Auschwitz.

And that brings us to the idea – such as it is – that even if what Gadsby says was true, so the fuck what?

You want Lightning Hopkins, Mingus, Monk, Coltrane and Bitter Fruit?

Than you pays your money and you takes your chances.

When asked by a Nazi, sniffing around his studio during the war, and holding a postcard depicting Guernica, did you do this? Picasso said: No, you did.

The dilemma, the terrible dilemma is not the crime, but the fact that the crime is essential.


See Gadsby here:

See The Guardian briefly sober up, here:

For a useful if cursory guide to Paris back in the day:

*AOC cult fever is now lurching into the part of the spectrum where she thinks her status can be compartmentalized from the machinery of the state. She is being profiled in both The New Yorker and Rolling Stone.

If there are two more moldy corporate hypocritical bastions of liberal decay and collaboration we are unaware of them.

**We are fully aware that Akhmatova was an unhappy recipient of Stalin’s idea of generosity. We are also aware that when told by friends that fellow poet Joseph Brodsky was being shipped off to a Gulag, she said ruefully, well the geniuses at the KGB are giving him the perfect biography.

Akhmatova, unlike Gadsby, was a genius and able to embrace irony as both a personal fact of her identity and as a detail of human existence.

32 comments on “Hannah Gadsby.

  1. I’ve come to fear the reactionary left more than the reactionary right. I fear them because they can cause so much more damage. Their reactionary nature usually goes unnoticed and, even when rarely acknowledged, it gets rationalized. The left has been sabotaged from within.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. rauldukeblog says:

      First, thanks for the link! Great article. I’m up to the part where old Company Hand, Cord Myer opines on the ugly truth.

      The only counterpoint I’d make (so far) is that the systemic schismatic nature of the “left” goes back to its origins during both the French Revolution with Encyclopedists vs the Rousseau clique but really in more strict left terms comes to the fore during various intercine squabbles between Marx and other leftists.

      Marx at one point argues for mass revolution and revolutionary violence and then changes and advocates revolution from above with a leadership cadre in charge.

      That same argument occurs between the German left (Luxemburg and Liebknecht) and Lenin and also between Trotsky and Lenin at the ’03 meeting that generated the split between what became Bolsheviks and Mensheviks.

      Yada, yada, yada.

      But to the matter at hand: I agree – the right, as such, is easier to identify especially when they put on their uniforms of either white hoods or brown shirts or boring blue suits and bloviate from a seat on Capital Hill.

      The “left” is far more gelatinous and insidious.

      After all AOC isn’t wrong about the perilous condition of the environment but is catastrophically wrong about so much else.

      This is the standard dilemma. To criticize the “left” on x is to jeopardize one’s one opposition to the right’s support for y.

      Interestingly enough this is one of the core issues with the lobster king’s antagonism towards European leftists and Co.

      His criticism is devoid of context because it elides the fact that the liberals and conservatives were the godparents of the fascist right against the left so telling Foucault & co that Stalin was a thug while wiping up the blood from having a hand up Hitler, Mussolini and Franco’s asses was a bit much for the average European intellectual circa 1945 and again in the 1960s.

      Camus makes this specific point in the post war period and says criticism of Stalin is equated with support for Franco and criticism of Franco becomes support for Gulags.

      Which I would add creates a wider context for The Stranger which I haven’t read anywhere (that is the novel is not contextualized as also being about the left/right schism – hmm, perhaps a post is percolating;-))

      One of the more fraught and interesting points of friction in all of this is in the left and art.

      Most if not all of the great hall of fame Modernists were leftists or left friendly but they were also all resolutely independent minded and very aware of irony both personally and as a historical and cultural force which made them unwilling to march in dialectical lockstep.

      There’s a biography of Hemingway that makes the point that he was an aristocratic leftist – an oxymoron obviously but so was Picasso and a great many others.

      The next thing you know cadres of leftists are calling them decadent and depraved.

      Which of course is true, and they were the first to admit it, but that doesn’t mean the Lager or the Gulag are justified.

      Which of course brings us to Hannah Gadsby.

      It’s a left version of meet the new boss same as the old boss.

      The idea (as such) of reducing any complex thing like Picasso, to x+y=Trump would be funny were it not so sinister.

      But worse still there’s the left or left of center media giving her a hand job in support.

      And any critical pushback leads to people screaming you’re a MAGA goon.

      And speaking of doctrinaire leftists, the far more intelligent and haute version (vs Gadsby’s bowling alley sophistication) is the London Review of Books which has in its current issue a piece on the writing of Victor Serge.

      Serge’s trajectory is interesting and illustrates this whole issue.

      He stood up (literally at meetings) to call out other leftists as too strict, too unimaginative, to committed to ideological trench warfare and a refusal to be flexible.

      Needless to say he was isolated and exiled.

      You are absolutely right about the rationalization of the reactionary qualia and internal sabotage.

      Gadsby is yet another dead canary amid an increasingly large mountain of feathers.


      1. I’ve only skimmed that long piece I linked. I didn’t have the time to give it a thorough reading. But I’m always glad when someone goes to the effort of writing in detail. All the quotes and references are a bonus. It was Chomsky and some of the other initial examples given that were of interest. There is something about the reactionary mind that is hard to pin down. Even Corey Robin underestimates it.

        Robin has argued that it is easier to convert from the left to the right than the other way around. There is some truth to that. But he stops with that observation and has yet to develop it further. The probable reason for that is he’s still attached to a left/right paradigm and apparently lacks any knowledge of the social sciences (or, for that matter, the hard sciences like neurocognitive studies), instead seeing everything through the lens of politics. His insight ends exactly where it becomes most relevant to the world we live in.

        I give him full credit for exploring the reactionary mind as no one had done before. His ideas have been quite useful to my own thinking. But I’m wondering if he has fallen prey to a common intellectual malady. He established a framework of understanding that was popularized and became his claim to fame as a public intellectual. To scrap that and apply it to the left as well would not win him many friends, even among his supporters, especially those on the left. It would take immense intellectual courage for him to write a book about the left in the way he did with the right.

        I don’t see it happening. Someone else will have to take his ideas to the next level. That is someone not afraid of taking on the likes of Chomsky. The closest to this might be Chris Knight’s Decoding Chomsky. But Knight had a narrow focus on Chomsky alone, not offering a full analysis of the political left or anything along those lines. Still, I sense that Knight’s work could be mined for that purpose.


    2. Here is part two. And Chris Knight is brought up.

      It really is a damning critique. I was never able to think of Chomsky the same again after reading Knight’s work. I had troubled feelings about Chomsky for many years before that, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. I remember being irritated when Chomsky refused to offer any advice for political action when asked, arguing instead that every individual is isolated in having to figure it out for themselves. Chomsky is not so stupid to not know that never in all of history has change happened through isolated individuals. It was total bullshit. And I’ve now come to realize it is common bullshit for Chomsky.

      Anarchism is so effectively excluded from mainstream thought and public debate. For all the claims of universities having a leftist bias, they aren’t places of employment friendly to anarchists and for obvious reasons. Anarchism doesn’t mix well with bureaucracy and hierarchical authority, especially in organizations funded by a an alliance of big gov and big biz. That should make one suspicious about how Chomsky managed to attain one of the most successful careers as an academic, more widely cited by other academics than any other. Chris Knight, maybe more than anyone else, explains how that is possible.


      1. rauldukeblog says:

        There’s a lot in the article that is very smart and provocative in a positive sense.

        Needles to say “the Zionist entity” spoils the mood but no more or less than when I read T.S. Eliot.

        But the rest is on point. The totality of the system defies all but the most agile minds’ ability to summarize its nature.

        Trying to sum up “America Inc” is difficult and usually requires either the relative brevity of a Gatsby or the bulk of a Moby Dikc or fifty years of Springsteen.

        A song here and a poem there do the job but they tend to get swallowed by the great absorption bladder – the Borg collective machinery.

        Chomsky is ultimately tepid. He’d “radical” in an off the shelf manner that fits the dominant system.

        If he were an authentic radical he’d probably be dead having had an “accident” years ago.

        Your comment about his refusal to offer any concrete examples of action is crucial.

        I made a similar point vis ContraPoints/Natalie Parrot and the “Dirt Bag Left” style of Chapo.

        Keyboard warriors making money off of Patreon a wholly owned subsidiary of the google empire.

        Chomsky is really just a haute liberal and not much of a leftist at all.


      2. I didn’t see the part about Zionism. I only skimmed it this morning before work. What caught my attention was mostly the stuff about Knight. But I’ll go back to it and read it all the way through when I get the chance, probably not until the weekend.


      3. rauldukeblog says:

        No worries as I said it’s not that big a deal in the scheme of things even if still irritating.


      4. rauldukeblog says:

        To clarify: I may have misunderstood but he seemed clearly to be using “Zionist entity” in the SOP Hamas rhetorical style or the Iranian style and it’s just silly if not der strummer esque.

        Given his astute comments elsewhere it’s a kind of carbuncle but I can manage to read Eliot so it’s not lethal – but of course it tends to inflame people who don’t read Eliot and tend to be lethal.

        But again the rest is right at the heart of things.


      5. I read the first two pieces in the series and then read the last two that have since come out. I couldn’t find any reference to “the Zionist entity”. I did a search of the text and still couldn’t find it. What exactly are you referring to? Maybe he changed the text since you last read it. Or maybe somehow I’m missing it. I don’t know. All I could find was some discussion about anti-Semitism and related issues in the first post — such as: “One of the main reasons why most of the “conspiracy” community offers so much wild speculation, utter bullshit, anti-Semitism, and fascism is because left-liberal academics surrendered this field to the ultra-right.” From what I can tell, he is not praising or promoting anti-Semitism — quite the opposite. And it’s only in the third part that he talks of Zionism:

        “Over the years, there have been plenty of reactionary “movements” or ideologies which use a progressive veneer to shift people rightwards. Zionism has been one of these: during the first decades of the Zionist entity’s existence, there was quite a successful effort to present the state of Israel as an exciting experiment in socialism, and to frame Arab nationalist resistance as the genocidal heir to European Nazism. […] The current mainstream anti-Trump campaign is one, too: it’s so suffused with Orientalist racism, anti-Semitic tropes, and Nazi-originated anti-Communism that most Democrats now sound like Birchers and show no signs of the fever breaking.”

        The specific point he makes is that both Zionism and anti-Semitism can equally be used for the reactionary co-optation and conversion of the political left. So it’s not specifically a criticism of all Zionism on principle for it’s rather a nuanced analysis of how the reactionary mind can draw upon a wide array of ideological rhetoric in its manipulative tactics. The allure of the reactionary is multifaceted and mercurial. It can be anything to anyone and everything to everyone. It can alchemically transmute even the most left-wing idea, principle, or belief into its ideological inversion. Nothing is safe from its entrancing word magic. And so none of us are immune. I would add that conflating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism plays right into muddying the water that allows the reactionary to thrive.

        It shuts down thought and dissent, as is what many intend for it to do. It makes certain views politically incorrect, beyond the pale, and unspeakable. It is social control that enforces conformity. Difference of opinion is not allowed or you will be charged with being the worst of the worst, anti-Semite. Debate is unnecessary when, by default, one side is already judged right and the other wrong. That is what this series is about, the closing of the American mind and the shutting down of leftist dissent.

        By the way, Zionism and anti-Semitism aren’t the only or even primary examples he uses. They are mentioned in passing in the context of numerous other examples and as part of a larger discussion that has nothing to do with Jews or anything directly related to Jews. His focus is mostly on pseudo-progressives and pseudo-leftists, specifically in the US. His take on the power of the reactionary mind in a reactionary era is spot on. And his critique is damning of Obama as a leading reactionary figure and force. Even Chomsky is quoted as calling Obama a reactionary with the idea that we should still support professional politicians like him because lesser evil voting is simply about the lesser reactionary. Of course, the even greater reactionary is Chomsky himself. The author states that, “Chomsky is of a kind with John Oliver”, from part four:

        I can see why he makes such a connection, as both are major media figures regularly heard in the mainstream who can always be trusted, in the end, to come to the defense of the establishment of safety and security. I compared Chomsky to John Locke because, more than anything else, he is a stodgy old school classical liberal — the kind Thomas Paine would’ve considered a dangerous opponent. But maybe better yet, he is like Edmund Burke. American Revolutionaries couldn’t understand how Burke pushed for progressive reforms and supported the emerging revolution and then all of a sudden unleashed a scathing counter-revolutionary screed. Likewise, many left-wingers feel confused by how easily Chomsky can make damning judgments of American imperialism that are entirely true and in the next breath betray everything a viable left-wing would stand for.

        From that last piece in the series, there is this unforgiving appraisal: “Regardless, he’s now so safe that in the past few years, he’s not only been interviewed on at least 3 occasions by the Times, he’s been quoted by Tucker Carlson on Fox News (Tucker is one of the main ideologists for a brand of American national-socialism, but that’s for another post). Chomsky shows no signs of introspection in regards to whether this indicates he’s “doing something very wrong.” ” He repeatedly points out in obsessive detail Chomsky’s inconsistencies and contradictions. I have to agree. The guy is either totally dishonest and simply at the point of defending the indefensible or he has become so splintered and dissociated as to be mentally ill. Chris Knight argued that Chomsky divided himself in two and he even quotes Chomsky as saying this about himself. I also lean toward the latter interpretation in giving him the benefit of the doubt, since our entire society has gone mad. The splitting of the psyche is a common defense mechanism when reality is no longer tolerable. This is what Derrick Jensen detailed in several of his books. It’s a believable explanation when you know of the social science research that demonstrates the amazing contortions and acrobatics the human psyche is capable of.

        I was sad to see Paul Street brought up a number of times. It turns out he came around to supporting the war of aggression against Libya, as influenced by Chomsky’s own advocacy of “humanitarian intervention”. That depresses me more than Chomsky’s bullshit. Street has been one of the strongest alternative voices. The fact that even he turned reactionary when lives were at stake is fucked up. We on the left really are in an impossible situation with having to fight against the very pseudo-leftist figures representing us not only in the mainstream media but also the supposed alternative media. I’m feeling ever more hopeless as time goes on. The reactionary mind is a disease that has reached epidemic level.


      6. rauldukeblog says:

        Curious. I believe you but the line was there so as I said perhaps I misread/misunderstood but I’ll reread though it may take while.

        I’ll be better able to respond then.


      7. rauldukeblog says:

        Question: The article is via “Lorenzo’s” blog so perhaps it was the blog that used the phrase and I mistakenly read it being in the body of the article?


      8. rauldukeblog says:

        regarding my previous message I think that’s the answer as here is the line:

        “Over the years, there have been plenty of reactionary “movements” or ideologies which use a progressive veneer to shift people rightwards. Zionism has been one of these: during the first decades of the Zionist entity’s existence,…”


      9. Yeah. I somehow didn’t see that, as I was looking for it in the first two pieces. Anyway, in the very next paragraph he writes that, “The current mainstream anti-Trump campaign is one, too: it’s so suffused with Orientalist racism, anti-Semitic tropes, and Nazi-originated anti-Communism that most Democrats now sound like Birchers and show no signs of the fever breaking.” So, it appears he is being critical of anti-Semitism. Whatever he thinks of Zionism, by itself it doesn’t imply anti-Semitism. But I don’t know why he chose that particular wording. He seems to be specifically critical of the “progressive veneer” of Zionism as dishonestly used by reactionaries, rather than it being obvious what is his position of non-reactionary expressions of Zionism. He never conflates Zionism with reactionary thought, even a he argues that it has been co-opted by reactionaries. Still, I can see why you read it in a particular way. And I would be curious to know the reason for referring to it as “the Zionist entity”, as it creates confusion in the context of the multiple places where he implies being against anti-Semitism.


      10. I guess this is the basic point. As with the Forward article I linked, the Lorenzoae series appears to make the case that we can speak of anti-Semitism separately from Zionism versus anti-Zionism. That is even more clear when we acknowledge that Palestinians are also Semites and so, like many Israelis, many Palestinians also want independent statehood for a particular ethnicity within the broad Semitic umbrella. If being against independent statehood of Israel is anti-Semitic, that would automatically mean that being against independent statehood of Palestine is also anti-Semitism. This is unhelpful. We shouldn’t so casually and thoughtlessly throw around charges of anti-Semitism, especially at a time when anti-Semitism is regaining foothold. Speaking clearly and maintaining distinctions is even more important now. But that shouldn’t stop us from calling a spade a spade when that is the case.


      11. I can’t too highly recommend the Forward article.

        Thousands of ethnic groups, many of them violently oppressed for centuries or longer, lack their own independent statehood. Many of these groups have even experienced genocide in recent history. Numerous native people were wiped out or nearly wiped out by genocide, and yet the survivors have never been given back their land.

        Even the Palestinians have long experienced oppression, which is how they lost their Jewish identity in the first place. They survived, as did many Jews in Europe, by hiding and eventually forgetting their Jewish past. There are probably more people of Jewish ancestry who don’t know of it than those who do.

        “One might object that it’s hypocritical for Palestinians to try to repeal Jewish statehood inside Israel’s original boundaries while promoting Palestinian statehood in the West Bank and Gaza. One might also ask whether Zahalka’s vision of Jewish and Palestinian equality in a post-Zionist state is naïve given that powerful Palestinian movements like Hamas want not equality but Islamic domination.

        “These are reasonable criticisms. But are Zahalka and his colleagues — who face structural discrimination in a Jewish state — anti-Semites because they want to replace Zionism with a civic nationalism that promises equality to people of all ethnic and religious groups?

        “Of course not.”

        It’s obviously complex. If genocide justified independent statehood, there would be at least hundreds more small nation-states around the world. But being against statehood for every violently oppressed group that has ever existed is not the same thing as being bigoted, as many people base their skepticism of ethno-nationalism based on ideals of universalism. This is why anti-Zionism can’t be equated to anti-Semitism.

        “In 2018, however, when the Pew Research Center surveyed Americans’ attitudes about Israel, it discovered the reverse pattern: Americans over the age of 65 — the very cohort that expressed the most anti-Semitism — also expressed the most sympathy for Israel. By contrast, Americans under 30, who according to the ADL harbored the least anti-Semitism, were least sympathetic to Israel.

        “It was the same with education. Americans who possessed a high school degree or less — the most anti-Semitic educational cohort — was the most pro-Israel. Americans with “postgraduate degrees” — the least anti-Semitic — were the least pro-Israel.

        “As statistical evidence goes, this is hardly airtight. But it confirms what anyone who listens to progressive and conservative political commentary can grasp: That younger progressives are highly universalistic. They’re suspicious of any form of nationalism that seems exclusive. That universalism makes them suspicious of both Zionism and the white Christian nationalism that in the United States sometimes shades into anti-Semitism.”


      12. I must admit that I don’t feel any desire to defend Lorenzoae. I don’t know what it means that he used that wording. Nor do I want to speak on the behalf of someone else, to rationalize the language. I can’t claim to know if that indicates anti-Semitism or not. But it does seem more complicated than I can figure out. He makes clear he dislikes the kind of person who is anti-Semitic. Still, that doesn’t disprove the possibility that has picked up the language used by those who are anti-Semitic. People are complicated. If people weren’t complicated, there wouldn’t be anti-Zionist Semites and anti-Semitic pro-Zionists, which do exist and apparently in large numbers. People are complicated and weird, and that is a thousand times more true under reactionary conditions. Even people who mean well can end up acting and speaking in less than optimal ways in a reactionary society. That is how so many left-wingers turn reactionary in so many different ways. In a reactionary society, too often people on both sides of a conflict are reactionary to some degree. Heck, I don’t dismiss that I’m likely reactionary in many ways, no matter how much I try not to be. The shittiness gets lodged deep in the psyche. And knowing this makes me feel shitty… and tired. Reading that series of blog posts, ignoring for the moment that one use of language, is really depressing. When someone as smart and knowledgeable as Chomsky can not get it, that doesn’t offer much hope for our society. It’s fucked up. It’s frustrating and that can lead to anger. I know I feel plenty of anger. And I can sense that the anti-Semitism issue, for good reason, pisses you off. I really don’t know what to think of it all. I’m the wrong person to talk about this, as I tend to be a pox on all houses kind of guy. A not very forgiving attitude, I realize. It can make me feel like an asshole sometimes. I’m sorry about that.

        Liked by 1 person

      13. rauldukeblog says:

        I’ve been trying to construct a response and haven’t got much that’s different from my previous efforts.

        I think an attempt to define the nature of history would be the starting point followed by a definition of terms.

        in reverse order, from that, the issue with terminology is crucial because what I might mean by x is different from what someone else means by x.

        That is down to the psychological components at work in all of this as you rightly point out people are screwy.

        As to the “nature of history” I return to a famous piece by Walter Benjamin:

        “A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.”

        No event or fact can be amputated from what came before it.

        As a result I view the anti-Zionist but not anti-Semitic argument as a distinction without a difference. Even if I grant the premise there is as I see it no way without cheating logic, to amputate Zionism from hatred of Jews and violence against Jews.

        From that point I can merge the two issues of the nature of history and the uses of language.

        While it is theoretically possible to be anti-Zionist and not anti-Semitic (based on issues of who or what is a Semite, etc) the fact is it’s ultimately irrelevant at best and toxic at worst.

        One may mean no harm in being anti-Zionist and may sincerely believe in an anti-Nationalist agenda with an ultimate goal of a mono-polar world with cultural diversity.

        But at the same time a significant cadre of people use the same language to mean something completely different.

        As you say, Hamas are hardly any rational or honest person’s idea of a Jeffersonian debating club.

        They of course are the extreme example but the daft Muppets of The Majority Report, TYT, etc, are not any different in their goal even if they don’t realize it or rationalize it in different ways.

        They clearly do not advocate violence but it is also quite clear that they rationalize excuses for other people’s violence which in the end is not any different than the Trump-esque ginning up of the atavistic mob.

        It is no small issue that they lead the charge against the incendiary rhetoric of Trump and his malignant trolls but remain blissfully unconcerned about how their “anti-Zionist” but “not anti-Semitic” rhetoric has exactly their same effect.

        They clearly read the comments on YouTube and ignore the trolls even though they are a perfect illustration of your apt point about the virus of reactionary thinking which afflicts people across the socio-cultural political spectrum.

        As a result it ceases to be only theoretical and even if I grant the premise in the end there is no meaningful distinction between a Michael Brooks claiming he is anti-Zionist but not anti-Semitic vs some goon in a white hood or a boring blue suit or a member of congress saying Jews have dual loyalty, etc.

        Shylock may have been created by a gang of brilliant Elizabethan dramatists but that doesn’t mean it’s not toxic. It means it’s a brilliant piece of hatred.

        I return again to analogy.

        One could make the case that the USA is illegitimate and has no “right to exist.”

        One could point to a mountain of skulls and generate an inventory of crimes.

        But to what end?

        Do we really want to march into museums and take da Vinci and the boys off the walls because the Medici and the Borgia were thugs?

        The issue here strikes me as being that existence may in fact be best described as a raw deal; a trap “a death trap, a suicide rap”

        In a famous paraphrase of Camus on Sisyphus and suicide: “Should I shoot myself or should I have another cup of coffee.”

        What if history qua history is a circular firing squad?

        The ancient Greeks thought so.

        The Modernists thought so.

        That’s why though sympathetic to the “left” many of them were at odds with dialectical certainties and the reactionary and tyrannical efforts of so many on the left.

        It’s also why no one really discusses them except in perfunctory ways – the truth is too terrifying and depressing.

        As an example let’s consider that this very issue is essentially unchanged from its iteration a hundred years ago. And that was not so very different from the previous version and so on.

        What if the only thing that changes are the costumes and the technology?

        What if human consciousness is a closed circle set to repeat?

        One of if not the most fascinating aspect of Alexndre Kojeve is his attempt to wiggle out of the inevitable cul de sac of Marixism.

        He was smart enough to recognize that an “end of history” would require either the Eloi of The Time Machine – people lovely to see but devoid of anything else – or a gang of thugs who would be in charge of a vast museum of the past which showcased things like Art but kept it from having any significance because it would, if left to wander, become a virus.

        So, either a dull null pseudo culture or a tyrannical Orwellian nightmare regime.

        Ignoring the right v left arguments about it what seems more important to me is that the very existence of Kojeve and the case he makes is far more significant.

        That is, he existed, and the argument occurred, as symptoms of a deeper problem – namely, that existence is a trap.

        All oppositions represent this point.

        Religious v atheist or agnostic. Zionist v anti, left v right, etc, etc.

        For all of their specific points of friction (many of which are decidedly lethal) the deper dilemma is, why does this circle keep spinning.

        Finally I arrive at a question I’ve been working on for some time.

        Let’s consider that Jaynes was slightly off target as follows:

        Bicameralism did evolve to a point where normally one does not “hear” the other hemisphere as an “external voice of command.”

        But what if that “external VOC” didn’t vanish but instead, moved inside and continued to operate but in disguise?

        What if human consciousness involves moments where the switch, so to speak, gets moved, and though the “VOC” is not “god” or “gods” in the “exterior” but are “impulses” in the interior creating “reactionary” impulses filtered through a swamp of prisms ranging from video, to memory, to “culture” and so on in a kind of endlessly refracting hall of mirrors?

        What if, in effect, human beings are still bicameral in the Jaynesian sense but have been programed to believe otherwise and are constantly being told otherwise?

        I’ll leave off here.

        To be continued.

        Liked by 1 person

    3. It just occurred to me that Chomsky is a gatekeeper. As an academic authority and public intellectual, he helps determine what is allowable debate. For example, he dismisses “conspiracy theory”, even though more than most he knows of the long history of conspiracies committed by those in power and often successfully. And interestingly, it was originally the CIA that spread that narrative of “conspiracy theory” to discredit critics and to control the boundaries of thought.

      Chomsky is part of the tactic of “this far left and no further”. He’ll talk the talk, but won’t walk the walk. That is how the system operates and maintains itself. There is an illusion of freedom through a tightly controlled narrative of free speech. Chomsky is allowed to speak about almost anything in academia and in the corporate media, as long as he does nothing about it, as long as he takes no actions that are a real threat to the powerful.

      It’s the same with anyone within the controlled forums of speech (and that includes NPR with its corporate funding and its disproportionate number of guests from right-wing think tanks and corporate lobbyist groups). The New York Times recently put out a piece offering irrefutable evidence that we don’t have a functioning democracy. A journalist/commentator is allowed to do that in corporate media, as long as he or she doesn’t advocate the American people take radical change to take back their government and enforce democracy.

      It’s similar to politicians. They are free to say anything they want on the campaign trail. And when elected, they’ll have congressional committees and put out official reports about all kinds of problems that need to be addressed. Will anything be done that benefits the American public? Will anything change for the better? No and no. But politicians are free to speak, within limits. And there will always be lively debate staged for public consumption.

      All the talk of problems helps diffuse the righteous outrage of the public. It’s part of the spectacle. Talk means nothing without action and the ruling elite understand that, which is why they allow empty rhetoric, especially from pseudo-radicals like Chomsky.

      You can see how effective this is by how quickly so many leftists continue to come to the defense of Chomsky, in spite of all that we know about his actual record in his career and political positions. But Americans know this and don’t know this, as they do with so much else. Even with the attention Chomsky gets, how often do you hear a genuine critique of Chomsky other than stereotypical right-wing blather? Almost never. Certainly, Chris Knight isn’t part of mainstream debate. The comfortable working relationship Chomsky had with the Pentagon largely goes without notice.

      That in no way undermines all the scathing criticisms Chomsky has lodged against American corporatist empire. Those like Chris Knight make a distinction, admiring the criticism while themselves criticizing the failure. This disconnect matters not because it makes Chomsky particularly bad but because it is so common in our society. Chomsky is simply no better than most others of his ilk. He is part of the system and he has learned to play the game well. His genuine criticisms of the powers that be are all the more reason we should hold him and our entire society to a higher standard. As I’ve said before, I’d love to see how harshly Chomsky would dissect his own behavior in the way he has done with the political actions of so many others.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I should make an important point. This complicity requires no overt, conscious, and intentional deviousness. All that is required is to go along to get along, within the stated and unstated rules of the system. It’s not hard to discover what will allow a successful career and what will tank it, as there are always plenty of examples of both to guide one’s actions. These incentives and disincentives largely operate below the threshold of awareness. Working within the system, there are always gentle nudges to remind one of where the boundaries are.

        No doubt Chomsky is among the most sincere people around. I’ve never thought otherwise. He believes his own rationalizations, and some of them are whoppers in the telling of Chris Knight. He hews closely to the official narrative. It’s important to remember that pseudo-radicalism isn’t outside of the system for it is a key element of the master narrative. Pseudo-radicals aren’t merely tolerated but are necessary. They are controlled opposition. Chomsky is simply a different and more respectable variation of Alex Jones, Jordan Peterson, Sam Harris, and John Oliver.

        He is useful. That can be seen in how, as a sheepdog, he consistently redirects voters back to corporate candidates like Hillary Clinton. His actions speak louder than his words. But self-awareness on his part is not needed at all. Lesser-evilism is a powerful script that isn’t only a tool of manipulation but, more importantly, a mind virus. We constantly underestimate the power of the reactionary mind. Chomsky has warned us that we need to develop intellectual defenses, and I’d add we need psychological defenses even more. Chomsky himself is a main example of what happens when these defenses are insufficient.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Take another example: Bernie Sanders. He is the second figure the mainstream likes to portray as an official ‘radical’.

        Between Chomsky and Sanders, this is what goes for leftist politics in allowable debate and in the controlled narrative. And we should be unsurprised that, in both cases, Chomsky and Sanders act like sheepdogs. They each played their role in finally throwing their support behind Hillary Clinton, the very kind of politician that both agree is the main problem with our government and society.

        That is amazing when you give it much thought. This pattern repeats over and over, demonstrating a cultural norm and psychological normalization deeply embedded within the collective psyche. It doesn’t require a conspiracy.

        It’s a combination of fear and lack of imagination, under the sway of a reactionary society gone mad. Such intolerable and irresolvable tension creates division, disconnection, and dissociation. And this anxiety, constant and pervasive, does weird things to the mind.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. rauldukeblog says:

        I’m a bit behind the curve in responding to your posts all of which are quite interesting.

        If I miss anything apologies but:

        I’ve been suspicious of Chomsky’s patina and the white smoke pouring out of his ass for some time. I mentione dit in a post several months ago in regards to some of the Young Turks talking heads who perfectly illustrate your point about the paint by numbers quality of the faux contemporary left critique of everything.

        It all sounds “radical” because it’s both sitting next to a bunch of bankers and insurance salesman and also because if one says hey Chomsky sounds daft on x y or z they all pounce in the predictable manner and start screaming you’re a trump supporter or some sort of right wing goon.

        Chomsky’s odd tics are fully on display in an (in)famous debate he had with Foucault back in the 70s. you can find it on youtube.

        It highlights the split between the Euro/French intelligencia and the American.

        Foucault doesn’t shy away from the idea that violence has to be on the table in any revolutionary project notwithstanding the very real potential for cannibalization and catastrophe.

        But of course he’s French and every time he steps outside he’s in a city full of monuments to revolutionary violence.

        Chomsky not only denies the point, not only denies the historical context (in a far more sophisticated version of the lobster king style) but uses that denial as a means to say there’s something “sick in the head” about Foucault.

        There’s plenty to be critical of with the man but of course precisely as is the case with Peterson the crucial issue for a European/French intellectual either on the left or not on the right is the war.

        We get Saving Pvt Ryan.

        They get a tour of the crematoria.

        It’s a very different reality.

        More to follow


      4. rauldukeblog says:

        The rejection of conspiracies qua conspiracies is certainly odd.

        History is obviously and in a sense banal it its encyclopedia of plots and counter plots from et Brutus to don’t go to Ford’s Theater.

        But it’s also odd in that so much of the cultural legacy is a monument to conspiracies from Othello to Gatsby.

        Freud’s essentially an alienist – a Sherlock Holmes with a cigar instead of a pipe (there’s an entertaining film called the 7% Solution where Freud and Holmes team up) and he’s investigating the central conspiracy of the world – the family and the individual.

        The anti-conspiracy argument is thus clearly blatantly reactionary even under the best of circumstances.

        It’s a relatively massive post but my excavation of the lit critic James Wood tackles the issue vis his criticism of Pynchon and DeLillo who both incorporate conspiratorial narrative structures into their books and when the evidence is examined Wood sounds like the worst sort of UKIP moron with a populist, reactionary sentimentality for the England of We shall fight them on the Beaches etc.

        I agree about Sanders. He sounds radical only because Pelosi Inc sound so corporate.

        And of course Fox and Co wouldn’t know authentic left views if you dropped a copy of Isaac Deutcher’s Trotsky bio on their heads.

        As a result everyone profits.

        A EU politician made the comment yesterday that the Five Star neo fascists in Italy actually want more immigration from Africa because it means more votes for them.

        As you say the psychology of it is what’s truly amazing.

        There is clearly a bread and circus atmosphere – Orwellian and so on – and the weird state one feels is of course Pynchon and P.K.D territory and a host of others all correctly detecting the off kilter Matrix nature of things.


      5. I’ve come to think of the sincerity as being an important part, but easily overlooked. Being sincere, as is the case with Chomsky and Sanders, carries immense social and political currency. That is what makes them persuasive sheepdogs, though in all sincerity they’d never think of themselves that way. As it has been said: Sincerity — fake that and you’ve got it made. And I’d add: Fool yourself about your own sincerity, all the better. There is something about sincerity and (Jaynesian) consciousness that hides so much behind its appearances. It’s the first step in telling a compelling narrative about ourselves, about our own motivations, a necessary step before telling any other compelling narrative.

        “When I hear alt-righters, Trump supporters, and other similar types, I suspect they don’t believe or disbelieve much of what they claim. Most people want to be told a story, specifically a story that makes sense of the world. For some, the Holocaust is too immense to be made sense of and so it must be denied. It isn’t an issue of true or false, rather sincerity or bullshit. In On Bullshit, Harry Frankfurt makes this distinction and explains that sincerity is unconcerned with truth in the world or what is true for others for it is about being true to yourself, being true to your belief system and ideological worldview, true to the story that you tell yourself. It’s about belief disconnected from all else, the cozy and comforting constraints of the moral imagination.

        “We live in a society overflowing with bullshit, not to say this is a new state of affairs. What has changed, as far as I can tell, is simply we’ve become overly sensitive to it. Travel and media have forced us into contact with more diverse people, cultures, and stories. With so many claims of truth, the war of rhetoric is won through sincerity of belief and story. It is a psychological defense against the onslaught of an overwhelming and dangerous world, as we perceive it in our fear-ridden condition. This phenomenon of bullshit is most blatant among reactionaries. That is because the reactionary by nature is more sensitive, that is what turned them reactionary in the first place. The liberal-minded have more tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty, stress and anxiety, but we all have our limits.”


      6. rauldukeblog says:

        You’re describing a corrupt system of patronage and Chomsky is a crown prince of one corner of that system.

        One of the reasons detective fiction resonates with me is its precise delineations of the subtle connections that bind people together into the “conspiracy” of society.

        Of course Anna K killing herself in Tolstoy’s other fat novel is in a sense an excavation of the conspiratorial subtleties of society and how lethal they can be.

        And of course Chomsky has as you say offered on point critiques and “it’s hard to be a saint in the city” but one wishes he had or would say something else.

        I often imagine waking up one day to the news that a general strike is spreading – after all social media is both a tool of the system and a Trojan Horse – but the Ice T quote is telling – we’re inside a bubble and there’s mass anxiety but no rage and the rage tends to gain expression in problematic if not sideways manners (i.e., e.g., “Picasso is Trump”) that are self defeating.


      7. I’m still at work. But I managed to watch the whole video of the debate between Foucault and Chomsky. It was enlightening. I got a better sense of Chomsky.

        He isn’t radical in either the political or etymological sense. Foucault was digging down to the roots. Chomsky was not. Instead, Chomsky came across as a pedantic intellectual and an old school Enlightenment philosopher, more akin to someone like John Locke. This is what struck me. Chomsky disavows any action or movement that does not already have known results, that isn’t predetermined and predictable, that isn’t safe and guaranteed. Basically, he precludes radicalism and revolution on principle, since there is no way to know the results ahead of time.

        That explains a whole hell of a lot. It suddenly makes sense why he will always support those like Hillary Clinton. She is a known and so everyone knows exactly what we’ll get from more of someone like her — that is more of the same, but at least its comforting to some in its familiarity. An unknown is, well, unknowable. Anything might happen and that scares Chomsky. He’d rather have a continuation of the harm, suffering, and deaths of millions upon millions at the hands of American imperialists than to risk unexplored possibilities that threaten his bourgeois class position and lifestyle.

        And Foucault was striking at the heart of his mild-mannered ideology of safety. It’s control for the sake of control. He doesn’t want to overthrow the system of control but bend it slightly away from its most horrific ends. But even this he offers with little enthusiasm, as he doesn’t really believe in it. It’s just a comforting story to rationalize his hypocrisy.

        Liked by 1 person

      8. rauldukeblog says:

        On point especially vis Chomsky as a Locke to Foucault’s more flexible questioning. Chomsky is an MIT “type” and radical in comparison to the solid middle liberal but only on the surface. Dig down and he is in European terms bourgeois thus conservative and predictable and as you say an advocate for predictability.


      9. About Foucault and Chomsky, I realize where their conflict comes from. It’s simply the old divide between the revolutionaries and counterrevolutionaries. Chomsky falls on the side of reaction. The test issue that determines one’s reactionary status, maybe more than anything else, is if they oppose radical change simply because it is unknown.

        The reactionary always presents change in terms of nostalgia, even when their actions are drastic in creating something new. Chomsky’s appeal to classical liberal idealism gives hint to this nostalgia. He wants the ideals without the revolutionary mess that established them in society by force. And he fears further revolution that might lead anywhere, which is the entire point of revolution. Otherwise, revolution would never be necessary, much less inevitable when radical change is suppressed.

        This is where Chomsky shows himself to be a standard liberal, specifically of the Cold War variety. He wants safety and security. He opposes the thought that we can’t know a result in advance, that reality isn’t entirely controllable, that sometimes we have to confront a problem and clear away the refuse before attempting anything new. This leaves him only one option, to cling to a mainstream view no matter what.

        In this worldview, Foucault is a ‘nihilist’ in the original sense. That was an accusation made by reactionaries against revolutionaries. It painted all radical change as being empty of meaning, as if only known ideologies of power and authority are justified. It’s the attempt to paint radical challengers as believing in nothing other than destruction. But those in a fight with violent oppression don’t have the luxury of patiently waiting around in subordination to the system with the faith that somehow reform will magically come from within.

        Liked by 1 person

      10. rauldukeblog says:

        A pitch perfect summation. Chomsky as high end liberal and high end liberals as reactionaries.


  2. Below is something I quoted in a post back in the early Obama administration. We live in a reactionary era and it gets ever more reactionary as time goes on. Almost everything and everyone is becoming reactionary. That is because we are well into modernity and beyond, many centuries past the the Renaissance, Reformation, and Enlightenment; and more than two millennia past the Axial Age. Nostalgia, the fertile soil of the reactionary mind, applies to us all. Even the fairly recent FDR with his New Deal offers plenty of fodder for nostalgia to feed upon. Heck, Democrats are capable of feeling nostalgic for Obama and Bush. And the rapidity of change will get faster and faster, until we are all dizzy and barfing on the reactionary roller coaster.

    ““A man of the past”—recently I had been re-reading John Stuart Mill’s essay, “The Spirit of the Age” (1831), and was taken by the peculiar way he employed that phrase. The essay is about what it is like to live in an age of “change,” what it was doing to people, existentially speaking. Mill thought that “men are then divided, into those who are still what they were, and those who have changed.” I expected the first group to be those who have been left behind—the superannuated—and the second to be the men of progress. But Mill thought it was the opposite: those who embrace change are “men of the present age”; by changing with the times they stay the same. Those who do not change with the times are changed into “men of the past.” To the former, “the spirit of the age is a subject of exultation; to the latter, of terror.” It then occurred to me how, because of the incessant speed of the Internet, no one is able to change fast enough to remain in the present; we were all being turned into “men of the past.””


  3. Frank Hudson says:

    I’m not sure I’m very far along in my thinking about these issues, which I do in my spare time while making art and barely taking care of the business of living. You are correct that few have thought this through very far, and others speak about it as if they have reached self-evident conclusions.

    So from my amateur standing, I’ll say that it seems there are two questions/credos much of this can be reduced to.

    If we believe that what art does for us has value, even the most modest claims for palliative value, then it is likely necessary that we have to accept the likelihood, probably the necessity, that we will need to take in art made by imperfect people who are possibly even monstrous people. The imperfect is of course an all-inclusive group containing all artists, art and cultural critics, and experiencers of art. But how large is the group of monstrous artists? Larger or smaller in percentage of monsters compared to the other groups of people? I can’t say, but it wouldn’t surprise me either way.

    The second would be “Is there value in looking at the lives of artists, or would it be better in a world of anonymous art or art produced or considered in a way that the artist is immaterial?” Here I believe I find value in that for two reasons. New Criticism aside, I still feel it helps illuminate the work. I could be wrong. Others would claim that the fullest appreciation of art, separate from its maker and maker’s intent, is such deep work that to take on the side-issues of the artist’s life and working theories detracts from a purely aesthetic task. My other reason is simpler: I find it encouraging. I read and find them sinning or sinned against, foolish and by-chance wise, blind or perceptive, empathetic and prejudiced, and it gives me hope in continuing to create.

    I have no problem with Hannah Gadsby dissing Picasso’s domestic behavior or working beliefs while creating his work. I doubt you do either, even if you don’t seem to agree with her findings. How good, how illuminating is her analysis? I don’t really know, it was mostly a side-light in her filmed standup piece, and she’s young. If it’s shallow, life may give her time to think again and again (self-dialectic is commonly powerful). My impression of her main argument in her performance, her own self-dialectic on humor as a palliative vs. need for curative actions, opened up some interesting questions worth asking.

    She’s likely correct that Picasso’s attitudes and behavior regarding women wasn’t something talked about at much in the 20th Century. By the time of his substantial fame, a lot of the critical establishment thought such was irrelevant, and the patriarchy must have felt so powerless in the face of the dominant lesbian art cartel you fearlessly expose (I kid, I kid!) that they dared not speak about it. Your citations of silence on this matter on the part of contemporaries could just as well be given as evidence for her case as for character witnesses to what a warm and caring partner Picasso was.

    So, my credo: it’s relevant, but so’s the art.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. rauldukeblog says:

      You raise several very interesting points.

      I would begin with some biographical facts about Picasso precisely because they not only refute Gadsby’s point(s) but because they highlight the ways in which I see her as being ironically, Trump-esque in her use of alternative facts which amid the current reactionary hysteria pose a not unimportant problem.

      That they are coming from the “left” is also highly problematic in that the right tends to be easier to identify on account of the glow from the burning crosses and the tiki torches;-)

      So to the question of biographical details.

      What is curious about this vis Picasso is that we have volumes of eyewitness accounts from a multitude of dispirit sources including very bright antagonistic ones such as Francoise Gilot.

      What we find is as one might or should expect that a Spaniard, and a man, born at the end of the 19th century, was macho, viewed women as more or less binary propositions alternating between whore and Madonna and capable of a Don Juan existence accelerated and expanded by being able to live as a celebrity and ultimately as a pasha in the S. of France.

      What we don’t find is a single verifiable accusation of violence (he did hit Fernand once circa 1905 ish) and no episodes of intoxication, and violence.

      Among the sources are not just a who’s who of observational male geniuses from J.P. Sartre and Camus to Braque, Matisse, and Penrose, but de Bouvoir, Gilot, Stein, Lee Miller and others.

      Given the egos involved and the cut throat world of art one would expect at least one or two reports of violence but what we have is nothing and a lot of passionate tumult.

      Did he fuck around? Yes but that also raises a complex set of issues. De Bouvoir was part of a cadre who viewed monogamy and the institution of marriage as bourgeois at best and reactionary at worst tilting into issues of Vichy and so on and so what are we to do with a major feminist (however problematic) who reports nothing about Picasso as a “misogynist?”

      And who viewed relationships between men and women as in need of a massive overhaul?

      This is no idle question as it touches directly upon historical context.

      As you correctly point out early 20th century ossified patriarchal power (notwithstanding the lesbian mafia;-)) wasn’t going to tell Picasso to stop but crucially, in an era that for Picasso and his contemporaries was viewed as a second Dark Age, otherwise conventional attitudes towards relationships, between men and women, women and women, both and the wider society were all up in the air.

      This can’t be overstated.

      Post Saving Pvt. Ryan we’re in an era where “the war” is as much a cartoon as a touch stone for assorted civic requirements but the sheer horror of it has, as one should expect, been lost.

      Again to turn to Sartre and de Bouvoir but also Camus, we find their war years and post war years not just richly detailed but almost porcine in the details and what is revealed is a profound psychological schism between before and after.

      Sartre, (in)famously said of the Occupation, “we were never so free as during those years.”

      He meant it in a hardcore Existential sense of having to choose and each choice being fraught with consequences.

      I think if we are going to excavate Picasso’s life as a contextualizing prism for his art (a process I think is healthy)then we owe it to him and to ourselves generally but also specifically in an anti-Trump, anti-Fascist ethos, to be complete.

      Let’s consider an artifact.

      Picasso having written two surrealist plays does a staged reading of them during the Occupation.

      A photo of the evening is taken by no less a “shutterbug” than Brassai and present are, Camus, Sartre, de Bouvoir, Eluard, Braque, a famous French actress whose name I’m blanking on, Andre Breton, and a few other major league hep kats.

      Surely even if Camus and Sartre were unlikely to say something to Picasso directly, then we should find something in their voluminous notes and diaries mentioning that he was a misogynist, or crazy or both.

      And yet, crickets.

      This then rebounds to the points about the small but powerful army of lesbians at the heart of the Modernist moment.

      Gadsby’s point requires either them to be savants blind to everything except their own pleasure, or complicit and participatory which in turn requires us to be advocates of alternative facts.

      Jane Heap and her partner go to the effort of bucking the patriarchy, publishing a who’s who of 20th century male geniuses but decide to be complicit and silent?

      Hilda Doolittle as a wall flower?

      Sylvia Beach as a shrinking violet afraid to say something?

      Gertrude Stein?


      It is possible that one or two of them might have done so but all of them?

      It would require us to work overtime to make the case and in the end we must return to the evidence and despite Beach writing a memoir, and Janet Flanner writing about the scene for The New Yorker for decades, there’s no evidence only, a reaction to the art and the art as the other side of the coin of the man.

      And her I must say I disagree with your point that the silence as such of eyewitnesses could be evidence of Gadsby’s point.

      The women involved were simply too powerful, too urgent in their passions to be silent or silenced and even if everyone of them was silenced by men, eventually the material would have come to light and it just isn’t there.

      We should also be mindful of self-serving memoirs but even no less a problematic “source” than Cocteau reports nothing about Picasso except the boilerplate gossip.

      “Picasso” is an industry. Surely Gilot would have laid out the details but what she did say was that he acted like a bastard at the end but how many people in break ups and divorces say that?

      Gadsby in this case not only becomes Trumpian but in a further irony becomes a kind of anti-feminist in denial about the crucial contribution to civilization made by a cadre of lesbians and polyamorous eccentrics.

      I do agree with you generally that she can be given a kind of mulligan on the basis of relative youth but (and this is a crucial point) were in a moment where the margin for error is slim and getting thinner by the day.

      The same rhetorical blunderbuss aimed by the right would (correctly) draw howls of protest from the round up the usual suspects on the left.

      And one of the key arguments made by the liberals and the left is that left unchecked the rhetoric of “alternative facts” the Orwellian gaslighting of a regime bent on power, becomes not just systemic but ossified.

      If Gadsby were just shooting off her mouth at a night club it would be problematic but her elevation by the sketchy, clickbait driven media with its print first correct later if at all ethos, poses a not inconsiderable threat.

      This is a crucial point as I see it.

      Goose and gander after all and when and where the Trumpists spew bs they should be confronted but all the same for the anti-Trump cadres.


      So what to do about bad people making great art?

      Eliot is a good example as on the one hand the poems are crucial but a crucial piece of understanding what he meant in The Waste Land and Prufrock is how in his Univ of Virginia lectures (collected and published as, Under Strange Gods) he says, the safety of a free society requires the incarceration of the Jews.

      In other words, I measure my life in teaspoons, and the night is etherized like a patient etc but he means let’s fuck up the Jews and the leftists (he even wrote a lengthy letter to The Daily Mail praising their praise for Mussolini as a fortress against the “godless Bolshies”).

      My view is that rather than suppress it, it should be included in the critical editions of his work along with notes detailing how when he talks smack about “monied Jews in furs” he is understood as a upper class bigot

      And a bastard of a man.

      And a genius like Genet, and Baudelaire.

      Genet is another interesting case study.

      Some of his work was recently suppressed in France amid the current run of “blame the Jews” (again) hysteria.

      My view is publish it and include notes and hold a series of symposia.

      Light and more light as disinfectant and of course the fascists are immune to logic so not printing wont stop them from being goons and printing it wont stop them from claiming the elites are out to screw them but it might enlighten some otherwise uninformed citizens.

      Vs Picasso who did not so far as I’m aware advocate locking up anyone except fascists.

      Of course these things get sticky very fast.

      As I mention in the post what are we to do about Da Vinci & co or the fact that Jazz and The Blues are the product of slavery?

      This then gets to the distinction I draw between my view and Gadsby.

      I’m not unaware that “fascist” is both currently in heavy diluting rhetorical rotation and a loaded word.

      But making the leap from Picasso wasn’t always kind to his women (sic!) to he’s “sick in the head” and like Trump is the style of Trump and any number of other right wing demagogues and assorted fascists thugs.

      And of course pushback then gins up a mob hysteria which itself echoes the thunder dome of witch hunts

      From here I come down on the idea that the greater dilemma – that is greater and more complex than relatively simple arguments about good vs bad – is that we may be screwed by the very nature of the system.

      Posing for a moment as a moral relativist, Augustine says in City of God: Concern yourself not with whether your actions are good or evil, for both are of the mind of god.

      Oh dear.

      Perhaps but if the Gestapo, or the KGB, or the Hoovers are kicking in your door, it’s time to decide and pdq.

      But one does not exclude the other.

      Walter Benjamin who I quote also of course famously saw History as one continuous catastrophe.

      It may very well be our fate to be trapped in endless cycles of these sorts of problems or endless until New Orleans and Miami etc turn into aquatic theme parks and submarines.

      I have gone on at length and I’m not sure I’ve done more than scratch the surface.

      I’ve probably missed a key point or two so apologies in advance.

      But I appreciate the comments and look forward to more.



  4. rauldukeblog says:

    I also want to add a clarification and slight expansion to my previous missive.

    I do not want to suggest that misogyny is only a question of physical violence when it can of course take multiple forms.

    The suggestion by Gadsby and others (which undermines her point that it has and currently goes undiscussed – Picasso as brute has been a theme for decades and subject of a book turned into a film with Anthony Hopkins called – Surviving Picasso) that there is something “sick” about the art and that if she floats she’s a witch “logic” (a classic ergo hoc propter hoc) that the sickness is misogyny is defective because she doesn’t offer any evidence.

    This is Jordan Peterson territory screaming about the yeti of his imagination – the dreaded “Postmodern Neo Marxist” with a few references to Foucault et al but no textual examples.

    Gadsby’s not only on shaky ground right out of the gate but in bad company.

    Picasso left somewhere around 60,000 works of art and of those something like 45,000 to 50,000 are paintings and drawings.

    The eye off center and abstracted is the standard “see he’s a nut” example but then there’s all of those classical pieces and one is left in a position of saying yes but for every style that shows x there’s another that shows y.

    Gadsby’s made an accusation.


    None except that she can point to some paintings and say she doesn’t like them and she can point to some bad relationships and say she doesn’t approve.

    Well, that makes her a lot like a lot of other people.

    Of course Picasso said good taste is for the bourgeoisie.

    Liked by 1 person

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