Responding to the unrepentant, Ben Bradley said that Nixon’s faithful, who defended their fallen chief by saying, yes but, only he could go to China, was like listening to someone say about a man they knew: he’s handsome, except for his face.
That Bradley was morally compromised for any number of reasons actually in this case works to his advantage or, to the advantage of the comment because who better to define a sinner than a fellow traveler. Having burned evidence in a, nothing to see here, now move along, tone appropriate for crooked cops and sinister priests, one could say about old Ben, yes but he did help bring down Nixon.
Selective amnesia, or successfully not remembering versus actually forgetting or genuinely being ignorant about the facts is a kind of kingdom of shadow and fog.
Former Silicon Valley tech geek, Wernher von Braun, re-purposed by America and graduated from trying to help Adolf stretch his legs, titled his autobiography: I aim for the Stars.
To which the philosopher Mort Sahl said: Yes and it should have been subtitled: But sometimes I miss and hit London.
Context rests on facts. Facts are irritating things for a variety of reasons (to paraphrase Ronald Reagan in one of his well documented moments of Zen) but we suspect the main reason people find them so annoying is because they require one to embrace contradictions.
The idea that a bad person could do a good thing or visa versa, leaves most people with a headache. The idea that the bedrock of history is contradiction leaves most people with a bad case of the jitters and shakes.
Moral certainty is easier – especially when you don’t let the facts get in the way of a good rant.
Point out (as we have in several previous posts) that if you want Born to Run and you don’t cherry pick the intelligence, also means accepting the post industrial waste land, the comic tragedies’ of Ireland and Italy as well as the tortured scat of yet another lapsed catholic freak genius, and most people resort to some version of: when I hear the word culture, I reach for my gun.
What do you mean, they say, that da Vinci was on the payroll of the local version of Murder Incorporated and helped the delusional inbred Bourbon warlords beat the inbred delusional dukes of Brittany to death?
He was a genius!
We didn’t say he wasn’t.
Proof of this condition is to be found in the fact (sic) that both the left and the right, in their most strident iterations, are equally certain that the world is based on an absolute trajectory of truth and lies.
Both sides are certain that anyone or anything that is at odds with this certainty is, obviously wrong – morally, practically and aesthetically.
It is of course an old argument.
As we’ve mentioned previously the fire and brimstone preachers who are certain that a gang of mostly dead and mostly French intellectuals are out to steal everyone’s vital essences, seem to have forgotten, or succeeded in not remembering, that the first fascist, Plato, was horrified by the Sophists because of what he insisted was their moral relativism and how it posed a threat to – well, everything.
A few centuries after the Agora was no longer cool, and the Church needed to re-brand itself after its stock had crashed, noted auteur and born again virgin, Augustine penned City of God and said: concern yourself not with whether your actions are good or evil for both are of the mind of God.
But outside of a few academics and some clerks at the Vatican, who reads that anymore?
And so, people – by which we mean most people – don’t read – very much and certainly not widely or with depth and the result is a kind of perpetual ignorance machine that allows a lot of people to stay employed, and get away with one personal foul after another – roughing the passer reduced to a shrug of the shoulders if it’s mentioned at all and instant replay – i.e. Historiography – transformed into a kind of whoopee cushion.
Consider if only for a moment, the hallowed pages of The London Review of Books.
With it’s evil twin, The New York Review of Books, TLRoB is one of the truly great contemporary iterations of the idea of The Library of Alexandria – a repository of knowledge.
Great writers – great in the sense of having a style and a grasp of the facts – excavate everything from other writers to politics, history, philosophy, architecture, psychology, and ancient pottery.
To cheapen the idea while still being serious, the two magazines are analogous to the warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Arc – they contain everything, even if there is a tendency to lose sight of valuable items.
But while great, TLRoB has about it that handsome except for his face quality Bradley meant in regards to his old nemesis.
In the case of TLRoB, it’s both the old English habit of insisting that its anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitic, and a curious habit of ignoring context when the facts are inconvenient.
The attic full of leather trench coats and “left” curios that turn ditches full of corpses and eye glasses into fetishes, is something we’ve addressed elsewhere.
What we’re aiming at here is not just the TLRoB’s odd handsome except for his face jive but how that is so widespread.
In the case of TLRoB we were reminded of all of this because in their current issue they dropped an elegant, except for its face, literary piñata about John Updike.
“Updike” as punching bag has, as the article (by Patricia Lockwood) more or less admits, become a kind of industry.
To be a literary feminist is to stand in line at an amphitheater waiting for your turn with the implements of persuasion – and then having at a reputation (again as the article says) defined by the late David Foster Wallace as, a “Penis with a thesaurus.”
As to how TLRoB’s hired gun (who right out of the gate admits to being not just a gun for hire but that having been hired to “write about” “Updike” is in truth being asked to wield an axe on a corpse and spray blood on the ceiling) rides two critical horses with one ass by both quoting Wallace (somewhat approvingly) and suggesting that he was in fact a not so secret fan of “Updike” and his “misogyny” – we have two responses: First, and least important, if one grants Wallace’s premise, and one was not feeling inclined to charity, one might say, yes but then that makes Wallace a noose with a hard on.
And secondly, and more importantly, it is precisely the “Updike” industry that matters – far more than his being as a prominent critic said, a minor writer with a major style or the critics who keep digging up his corpse and burning it at the stake because he wrote badly about sex and badly about women – or didn’t.
As the article makes clear from the first salvo:
“I was hired as an assassin. You don’t bring in a 37-year-old woman to review John Updike in the year of our Lord 2019 unless you’re hoping to see blood on the ceiling.”
And, as to the prefabricated atmosphere of “Updike criticism” (emphasis added):
“One woman, informed of my project, visibly retched over her quail. ‘No, listen,’ I told her, ‘there is something there. People write well about him,’ and I saw the red line of her estimation plunge like the Dow Jones. ‘Didn’t he write that thing,’ someone else said, ‘about how women don’t know how to piss, because their insides are too complicated?’ (Yes, in multiple books. It is at best puzzling, and at worst an indictment of both Pennsylvania public schools and Harvard.)”
Pennsylvania public schools and Harvard.
But not his publisher?
Or the literary establishment?
The literary agents, reviewers, and so on?
What goes missing in the except for his face article is anything approaching how the “Updike” sausage (sic!) got made.
There’s a brief mention of Anatole Broyard (now most famous if at all for being a partial inspiration for a Philip Roth novel – or not depending upon to which narrative one pledges allegiance) but the article quickly turns that into a side-hall dedicated to Broyard’s issues with his own identity rather than being a question of how “Updike Inc” was built, marketed, and sold.
There are to be sure, mention of the round up the usual suspects like the always good for a quote Gore Vidal, who both comes to bury Caesar and praise him – as a sterling example of what’s wrong with America (thus insuring Vidal’s ability to place his bet on both red and black and win no matter how the ball rolls) and there’s also an all you can eat buffet of “Updike” samples that allow one to both praise his “style” and condemn it – and him at the same time.
And yet, what’s not here is something summed up by Tom Lehrer’s imitation of von Braun: Once the rockets go up, who cares where they come down – that’s not my department says Wernher von Braun.
Place “Updike criticism” into the search engine of your choosing and be prepared for a tidal wave of for and against pieces that as Ms. Lockwood says, run the spectrum from, he was a hateful misogynist pig to, hey you’re being mean to my dad defenses that tend to wobble before they fall down – and then like one of those punching bags with the face of a clown, right themselves and again, look at you with a rictus grin begging to be hit.
But where is the discussion of the machine? By all means, make the case that “Updike” was x, or y, or x and y or z and three kinds of more filling fewer calories alternative operating in the vast wake of the era after Hemingway-Faulkner-Fitzgerald, (a point made by “Updike” contemporary Norman Mailer during one of his epic fits of self-immolation where he was both arsonist and chief of the fire brigade and threw gasoline and matches at Dick Cavet, Vidal and Janet Flanner).
But what any thoughtful reader is left with is not just the dog that didn’t bark absence of a consideration of the wider industry but how that is a template employed everywhere.
In the case of TLRoB what’s gone MIA are The New Yorker (where “Updike” got inside the machine as one of the chief conductors), The New York Times, Time, Newsweek, Life, and so on – the vast army of reviewers, agents, publishers, accountants, lawyers, and fixers – the world of byzantine court politics and blood feuds, the world of blackmail, both private and officially part of the overarching bureaucracy in the form of things like, The Congress of Cultural Freedom, which had its greasy tentacles inserted into orifices everywhere.
Since all of that is vanished from the excavation one is left with a sophisticated version of one of those crude Soviet photographs where formerly important apparatchiks and assorted creators of the system vanish or, as with Stalin, he appears in a kind of poor man’s Photoshop to be right behind Lenin as they depart the famous sealed train carriage.
In the case of TLRoB and its hired gun, what emerges is a subtext in which they position themselves as hip to the jive of #MeToo but unlike the plebs barfing in the Vulgate they are haute literary studs and so, cue “Updike” and D.F.Wallace and Vidal and Broyard and Harold Bloom.
Curiously absent amid the show trial stylings, one waits for ritual and proforma beheadings of Mailer and Roth as part of a now largely diminishing era of Great White Male Novelists – who fucked lots of women and wrote about it.
That such things are hardly new is less important than the paint by numbers “criticism” and we hasten to add not because we think any of them were or are great writers – in fact we think the trio are and were essentially all bad in essentially the same ways – but the thing about the “criticism” is the perfunctory brainwashing – or in the case of the average reader (to borrow a quip) it’s more like a light rinse in a shallow sink.
The subject “Updike” amputated from any authentic context is transformed into – well, “Updike” and thus elastic to the point of being so specifically x that he is thus ironically x+ whatever else anyone says.
As a result, “Updike” just sort of happened and no one was or remains responsible.
This is the shadow of gravity as if the truth was everywhere and nowhere.
This of course is also true everywhere else.
The official – that is, establishment media – response to the “College Admissions Scandal” was shock, shock to discover that wealthy people are cheating.
This of course is placed on a mountain of previous scandals in which the official response was, to be shocked, shocked to discover that x y and z were cheating.
After all, who recalls that the wider context for Gatsby was The Black Sox scandal?
And outside of a few sparsely attended graduate seminars who is going to discuss Gatsby as an excavation and curation of capitalism which if acknowledged in turn, means one could make the case that the whole system is, essentially, organized crime.
Don’t be silly, it’s not until Trump Inc, started selling foreign policy that things became dangerously corrupt.
It’s not as if Woodrow Wilson’s Hand, Colonel House, was the son in law of J.P. Morgan and it’s not as if Wilson’s decision to invade Mexico in 1912 had anything to do with Morgan’s interests in Mexican oil, which was being threatened by revolutionaries who had the radical idea that Mexico’s prosperity and its property belonged to, well, ya’know – the Mexicans.
Consider the outrage (the shock, the shock to discover) outrage of the gathering parliament of crows out to throw Trump off a balcony.
That legions of former government officials, were and are invested in corporations that form the DNA of foreign policy is somehow not on point.
Corporations doing business in Iraq?
Corporations building an oil infrastructure in Saudi Arabia?
Saudi Arabia buying trillions in US Treasury Bonds?
And cabinet members who have dinner with their old frat brothers who sit on the board of corporations that do business in Iraq and Saudi Arabia?
Or the Ukraine?
Don’t worry, because Uncle Sugar has put his portfolios in a blind trust.
That his seeing eye dogs are all former or future members of the government is not open for discussion.
Besides, you see that’s not corruption because we don’t define it as corruption.
When Jamal sells you a bag of pain killers it’s a crime.
When Pfizer sells you a bag of pain killers it’s a business opportunity.
And so, like a man coming down from an ether binge, the official narrative staggers from one accident to another.
The drugs kick in somewhere near Barstow and the clown car empties itself of “journalists” and politicians and academics and someone squirts water from a flower in their lapel.
“History” becomes a chalk outline on the sidewalk, washed away in the rain.
Only to reappear when the sun shines.
Nothing to see here, now move along.
See The London Review of Books article here:
For a brief look at Teapot Dome:
However take note that the cursory Wiki entry ignores (sic!) the larger narrative which includes US corporations supporting Mussolini’s liquidation of his domestic enemies, genocide in Italy’s colonization of Africa, and the sale of oil concessions to Italy (with personal profit for Mussolini and his cohorts and members of the US government and corporate figures).
Along with our previous excavation of the connection between members of the Eisenhower regime, and the United Fruit Company and the coup in Guatemala, one can, if one chooses, see that the habit of self induced amnesia has a long tradition.