Date created: April 2010
Birthdate April 13, 1949
Arab nationalism in its traditional form was the way in which secular Arab Christians like Edward had found and kept a place for themselves, while simultaneously avoiding the charge of being too 'Western.' It was very noticeable among the Palestinians that the most demonstrably 'extreme' nationalists
I have often noticed that nationalism is at its strongest at the periphery. Hitler was Austrian, Bonaparte Corsican. In postwar Greece and Turkey the two most prominent ultra-right nationalists had both been born in Cyprus. The most extreme Irish Republicans are in Belfast and Derry (and Boston and New York). Sun Yat Sen, father of Chinese nationalism, was from Hong Kong. The Serbian extremists Milo
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? (Just to give you an idea, Proust's reply was 'To be separated from Mama.') I think that the lowest depth of misery ought to be distinguished from the highest pitch of anguish. In the lower depths come enforced idleness, sexual boredom, and/or impotence. At the highest pitch, the death of a friend or even the fear of the death of a child.
Americans. They came right out with things. Hitchens family lore related the tale of how once, when I was but a toddler, my parents were passing with me through an airport and ran into some Yanks. 'Real cute kid,' said these big and brash people without troubling to make a formal introduction. They insisted on photographing me and, before breaking off to resume their American lives, pressed into my dimpled fist a signed dollar bill in token of my cuteness. This story was often told (I expect that Yvonne and the Commander had been to an airport together perhaps three times in their lives) and always with a note of condescension. That was Americans for you: wanting to be friendly all right, but so loud, and inclined to flash the cash.
Hitch: making rules about drinking can be the sign of an alcoholic,' as Martin Amis once teasingly said to me. (Adorno would have savored that, as well.) Of course, watching the clock for the start-time is probably a bad sign, but here are some simple pieces of advice for the young. Don't drink on an empty stomach: the main point of the refreshment is the enhancement of food. Don't drink if you have the blues: it's a junk cure. Drink when you are in a good mood. Cheap booze is a false economy. It's not true that you shouldn't drink alone: these can be the happiest glasses you ever drain. Hangovers are another bad sign, and you should not expect to be believed if you take refuge in saying you can't properly remember last night. (If you really don't remember, that's an even worse sign.) Avoid all narcotics: these make you more boring rather than less and are not designed
Many writers, especially male ones, have told us that it is the decease of the father which opens the prospect of one's own end, and affords an unobstructed view of the undug but awaiting grave that says 'you're next.' Unfilial as this may seem, that was not at all so in my own case. It was only when I watched Alexander [my own son] being born that I knew at once that my own funeral director had very suddenly, but quite unmistakably, stepped onto the stage. I was surprised by how calmly I took this, but also by how reluctant I was to mention it to my male contemporaries.
I was taken to a villa to meet Sabri al-Banna, known as 'Abu Nidal' ('father of struggle'), who was at the time emerging as one of Yasser Arafat's main enemies. The meeting began inauspiciously when Abu Nidal asked me if I would like to be trained in one of his camps. No thanks, I explained. From this awkward beginning there was a further decline. I was then asked if I knew Said Hammami, the envoy of the PLO in London. I did in fact know him. He was a brave and decent man, who in a series of articles in the London Times had floated the first-ever trial balloon for a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine. 'Well tell him he is a traitor,' barked my host. 'And tell him we have only one way with those who betray us.' The rest of the interview passed as so many Middle Eastern interviews do: too many small cups of coffee served with too much fuss; too many unemployed heavies standing about with nothing to do and nobody to do it with; too much ugly furniture, too many too-bright electric lights; and much too much faux bonhomie. The only political fact I could winnow, from Abu Nidal's vainglorious claims to control X number of 'fighters' in Y number of countries, was that he admired the People's Republic of China for not recognizing the State of Israel. I forget how I got out of his office.
I resolutely refuse to believe that the state of Edward's health had anything to do with this, and I don't say this only because I was once later accused of attacking him 'on his deathbed.' He was entirely lucid to the end, and the positions he took were easily recognizable by me as extensions or outgrowths of views he had expressed (and also declined to express) in the past. Alas, it is true that he was closer to the end than anybody knew when the thirtieth anniversary reissue of his Orientalism was published, but his long-precarious condition would hardly argue for giving him a lenient review, let alone denying him one altogether, which would have been the only alternatives. In the introduction he wrote for the new edition, he generally declined the opportunity to answer his scholarly critics, and instead gave the recent American arrival in Baghdad as a grand example of 'Orientalism' in action. The looting and destruction of the exhibits in the Iraq National Museum had, he wrote, been a deliberate piece of United States vandalism, perpetrated in order to shear the Iraqi people of their cultural patrimony and demonstrate to them their new servitude. Even at a time when anything at all could be said and believed so long as it was sufficiently and hysterically anti-Bush, this could be described as exceptionally mendacious. So when the Atlantic invited me to review Edward's revised edition, I decided I'd suspect myself more if I declined than if I agreed, and I wrote what I felt I had to.
Not long afterward, an Iraqi comrade sent me without comment an article Edward had contributed to a magazine in London that was published by a princeling of the Saudi royal family. In it, Edward quoted some sentences about the Iraq war that he off-handedly described as 'racist.' The sentences in question had been written by me. I felt myself assailed by a reaction that was at once hot-eyed and frigidly cold. He had cited the words without naming their author, and this I briefly thought could be construed as a friendly hesitance. Or as cowardice... I can never quite act the stern role of Mr. Darcy with any conviction, but privately I sometimes resolve that that's 'it' as it were. I didn't say anything to Edward but then, I never said anything to him again, either. I believe that one or two charges simply must retain their face value and not become debauched or devalued. 'Racist' is one such. It is an accusation that must either be made good upon, or fully retracted. I would not have as a friend somebody whom I suspected of that prejudice, and I decided to presume that Edward was honest and serious enough to feel the same way. I feel misery stealing over me again as I set this down: I wrote the best tribute I could manage when he died not long afterward (and there was no strain in that, as I was relieved to find), but I didn't go to, and wasn't invited to, his funeral.
In a public dialogue with Salman in London he [Edward Said] had once described the Palestinian plight as one where his people, expelled and dispossessed by Jewish victors, were in the unique historical position of being 'the victims of the victims': there was something quasi-Christian, I thought, in the apparent humility of that statement.
During the 1992 election I concluded as early as my first visit to New Hampshire that Bill Clinton was hateful in his behavior to women, pathological as a liar, and deeply suspect when it came to money in politics. I have never had to take any of that back, whereas if you look up what most of my profession was then writing about the beefy, unscrupulous 'New Democrat,' you will be astonished at the quantity of sheer saccharine and drool. Anyway, I kept on about it even after most Republicans had consulted the opinion polls and decided it was a losing proposition, and if you look up the transcript of the eventual Senate trial of the president
Wars, wars, wars': reading up on the region I came across one moment when quintessential Englishness had in fact intersected with this darkling plain. In 1906 Winston Churchill, then the minister responsible for British colonies, had been honored by an invitation from Kaiser Wilhelm II to attend the annual maneuvers of the Imperial German Army, held at Breslau. The Kaiser was 'resplendent in the uniform of the White Silesian Cuirassiers' and his massed and regimented infantry...
reminded one more of great Atlantic rollers than human formations. Clouds of cavalry, avalanches of field-guns and
I suppose that one reason I have always detested religion is its sly tendency to insinuate the idea that the universe is designed with 'you' in mind or, even worse, that there is a divine plan into which one fits whether one knows it or not. This kind of modesty is too arrogant for me.
About once or twice every month I engage in public debates with those whose pressing need it is to woo and to win the approval of supernatural beings. Very often, when I give my view that there is no supernatural dimension, and certainly not one that is only or especially available to the faithful, and that the natural world is wonderful enough
As he grew older, which was mostly in my absence, my firstborn son, Alexander, became ever more humorous and courageous. There came a time, as the confrontation with the enemies of our civilization became more acute, when he sent off various applications to enlist in the armed forces. I didn't want to be involved in this decision either way, especially since I was being regularly taunted for not having 'sent' any of my children to fight in the wars of resistance that I supported. (As if I could 'send' anybody, let alone a grown-up and tough and smart young man: what moral imbeciles the 'anti-war' people have become.)
Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith. We do not rely soley upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather than sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason. We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, openmindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake.
The Bible may, indeed does, contain a warrant for trafficking in humans, for ethnic cleansing, for slavery, for bride-price, and for indiscriminate massacre, but we are not bound by any of it because it was put together by crude, uncultured human mammals.
Thus, though I dislike to differ with such a great man, Voltaire was simply ludicrous when he said that if god did not exist it would be necessary to invent him. The human invention of god is the problem to begin with.
I got hold of a copy of the video that showed how Saddam Hussein had actually confirmed himself in power. This snuff-movie opens with a plenary session of the Ba'ath Party central committee: perhaps a hundred men. Suddenly the doors are locked and Saddam, in the chair, announces a special session. Into the room is dragged an obviously broken man, who begins to emit a robotic confession of treason and subversion, that he sobs has been instigated by Syrian and other agents. As the (literally) extorted confession unfolds, names begin to be named. Once a fellow-conspirator is identified, guards come to his seat and haul him from the room. The reclining Saddam, meanwhile, lights a large cigar and contentedly scans his dossiers. The sickness of fear in the room is such that men begin to crack up and weep, rising to their feet to shout hysterical praise, even love, for the leader. Inexorably, though, the cull continues, and faces and bodies go slack as their owners are pinioned and led away. When it is over, about half the committee members are left, moaning with relief and heaving with ardent love for the boss. (In an accompanying sequel, which I have not seen, they were apparently required to go into the yard outside and shoot the other half, thus sealing the pact with Saddam. I am not sure that even Beria or Himmler would have had the nerve and ingenuity and cruelty to come up with that.)
Long before it was known to me as a place where my ancestry was even remotely involved, the idea of a state for Jews (or a Jewish state; not quite the same thing, as I failed at first to see) had been 'sold' to me as an essentially secular and democratic one. The idea was a haven for the persecuted and the survivors, a democracy in a region where the idea was poorly understood, and a place where
During the Bosnian war in the late 1990s, I spent several days traveling around the country with Susan Sontag and her son, my dear friend David Rieff. On one occasion, we made a special detour to the town of Zenica, where there was reported to be a serious infiltration of outside Muslim extremists: a charge that was often used to slander the Bosnian government of the time. We found very little evidence of that, but the community itself was much riven as between Muslim, Croat, and Serb. No faction was strong enough to predominate, each was strong enough to veto the other's candidate for the chairmanship of the city council. Eventually, and in a way that was characteristically Bosnian, all three parties called on one of the town's few Jews and asked him to assume the job. We called on him, and found that he was also the resident intellectual, with a natural gift for synthesizing matters. After we left him, Susan began to chortle in the car. 'What do you think?' she asked. 'Do you think that the only dentist and the only shrink in Zenica are Jewish also?' It would be dense to have pretended not to see her joke.
On my desk is an appeal from the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia. It asks me to become a sponsor and donor of this soon-to-be-opened institution, while an accompanying leaflet has enticing photographs of Bob Dylan, Betty Friedan, Sandy Koufax, Irving Berlin, Estee Lauder, Barbra Streisand, Albert Einstein, and Isaac Bashevis Singer. There is something faintly kitsch about this, as there is in the habit of those Jewish papers that annually list Jewish prize-winners from the Nobel to the Oscars. (It is apparently true that the London Jewish Chronicle once reported the result of a footrace under the headline 'Goldstein Fifteenth.') However, I think I may send a contribution. Other small 'races' have come from unpromising and hazardous beginnings to achieve great things
If the Palestinian people really wish to decide that they will battle to the very end to prevent partition or annexation of even an inch of their ancestral soil, then I have to concede that that is their right. I even think that a sixty-year rather botched experiment in marginal quasi-statehood is something that the Jewish people could consider abandoning. It represents barely an instant in our drawn-out and arduous history, and it's already been agreed even by the heirs of Ze'ev Jabotinsky that the whole scheme is unrealizable in 'Judaea and Samaria,' let alone in Gaza or Sinai. But it's flat-out intolerable to be solicited to endorse a side-by-side Palestinian homeland and then to discover that there are sinuous two-faced apologists explaining away the suicide-murder of Jewish civilians in Tel Aviv, a city which would be part of a Jewish state or community under any conceivable 'solution.' There's that word again...
And thus to my final and most melancholy point: a great number of Stalin's enforcers and henchmen in Eastern Europe were Jews. And not just a great number, but a great proportion. The proportion was especially high in the secret police and 'security' departments, where no doubt revenge played its own part, as did the ideological attachment to Communism that was so strong among internationally minded Jews at that period: Jews like David Szmulevski. There were reasonably strong indigenous Communist forces in Czechoslovakia and East Germany, but in Hungary and Poland the Communists were a small minority and knew it, were dependent on the Red Army and aware of the fact, and were disproportionately Jewish and widely detested for that reason. Many of the penal labor camps constructed by the Nazis were later used as holding pens for German deportees by the Communists, and some of those who ran these grim places were Jewish. Nobody from Israel or the diaspora who goes to the East of Europe on a family-history fishing-trip should be unaware of the chance that they will find out both much less and much more than the package-tour had promised them. It's easy to say, with Albert Camus, 'neither victims nor executioners.' But real history is more pitiless even than you had been told it was.
What people still do not like to admit is that there were two crimes in the form of one. Just as the destruction of Jewry was the necessary condition for the rise and expansion of Nazism, so the ethnic cleansing of Germans was a precondition for the Stalinization of Poland. I first noticed this point when reading an essay by the late Ernest Gellner, who at the end of the war had warned Eastern Europeans that collective punishment of Germans would put them under Stalin's tutelage indefinitely. They would always feel the guilty need for an ally against potential German revenge.
The noble old synagogue had been profaned and turned into a stable by the Nazis, and left open to the elements by the Communists, at least after they had briefly employed it as a 'furniture facility.' It had then been vandalized and perhaps accidentally set aflame by incurious and callous local 'youths.' Only the well-crafted walls really stood, though a recent grant from the European Union had allowed a makeshift roof and some wooden scaffolding to hold up and enclose the shell until further notice. Adjacent were the remains of a mikvah bath for the ritual purification of women, and a kosher abattoir for the ritual slaughter of beasts: I had to feel that it was grotesque that these obscurantist relics were the only ones to have survived. In a corner of the yard lay a pile of smashed stones on which appeared inscriptions in Hebrew and sometimes Yiddish. These were all that remained of the gravestones. There wasn't a Jew left in the town, and there hadn't been one, said Mr. Kichler, since 1945.
In the early days of the December that my father was to die, my younger brother brought me the news that I was a Jew. I was then a transplanted Englishman in America, married, with one son and, though unconsoled by any religion, a nonbelieving member of two Christian churches. On hearing the tidings, I was pleased to find that I was pleased.
I regard anti-Semitism as ineradicable and as one element of the toxin with which religion has infected us. Perhaps partly for this reason, I have never been able to see Zionism as a cure for it. American and British and French Jews have told me with perfect sincerity that they are always prepared for the day when 'it happens again' and the Jew-baiters take over. (And I don't pretend not to know what they are talking about: I have actually seen the rabid phenomenon at work in modern and sunny Argentina and am unable to forget it.) So then, they seem to think, they will take refuge in the Law of Return, and in Haifa, or for all I know in Hebron. Never mind for now that if all of world Jewry did settle in Palestine, this would actually necessitate further Israeli expansion, expulsion, and colonization, and that their departure under these apocalyptic conditions would leave the new brownshirts and blackshirts in possession of the French and British and American nuclear arsenals. This is ghetto thinking, hardly even fractionally updated to take into account what has changed. The important but delayed realization will have to come: Israeli Jews are a part of the diaspora, not a group that has escaped from it. Why else does Israel daily beseech the often-flourishing Jews of other lands, urging them to help the most endangered Jews of all: the ones who rule Palestine by force of arms? Why else, having supposedly escaped from the need to rely on Gentile goodwill, has Israel come to depend more and more upon it? On this reckoning, Zionism must constitute one of the greatest potential non sequiturs in human history.
All questions of right to one side, I have never been able to banish the queasy inner suspicion that Israel just did not look, or feel, either permanent or sustainable. I felt this when sitting in the old Ottoman courtyards of Jerusalem, and I felt it even more when I saw the hideous 'Fort Condo' settlements that had been thrown up around the city in order to give the opposite impression. If the statelet was only based on a narrow strip of the Mediterranean littoral (god having apparently ordered Moses to lead the Jews to one of the very few parts of the region with absolutely no oil at all), that would be bad enough. But in addition, it involved roosting on top of an ever-growing population that did not welcome the newcomers.
If my mother's intention in whole or in part was to ensure that I never had to suffer any indignity or embarrassment for being a Jew, then she succeeded well enough. And in any case there were enough intermarriages and 'conversions' on both sides of her line to make me one of those many mischling hybrids who are to be found distributed all over the known world. And, as someone who doesn't really believe that the human species is subdivided by 'race,' let alone that a nation or nationality can be defined by its religion, why should I not let the whole question slide away from me? Why
Should I, too, prefer the title of 'non-Jewish Jew'? For some time, I would have identified myself strongly with the attitude expressed by Rosa Luxemburg, writing from prison in 1917 to her anguished friend Mathilde Wurm:
What do you want with these special Jewish pains? I feel as close to the wretched victims of the rubber plantations in Putamayo and the blacks of Africa with whose bodies the Europeans play ball
People spoke to foreigners with an averted gaze, and everybody seemed to know somebody who had just vanished. The rumors of what had happened to them were fantastic and bizarre though, as it turned out, they were only an understatement of the real thing. Before going to see General Videla [
I think I have a very good idea why it is that anti-Semitism is so tenacious and so protean and so enduring. Christianity and Islam, theistic though they may claim to be, are both based on the fetishizing of human primates: Jesus in one case and Mohammed in the other. Neither of these figures can be called exactly historical but both have one thing in common even in their quasi-mythical dimension. Both of them were first encountered by the Jews. And the Jews, ravenous as they were for any sign of the long-sought Messiah, were not taken in by either of these two pretenders, or not in large numbers or not for long.
If you meet a devout Christian or a believing Muslim, you are meeting someone who would give everything he owned for a personal, face-to-face meeting with the blessed founder or prophet. But in the visage of the Jew, such ardent believers encounter the very figure who did have such a precious moment, and who spurned the opportunity and turned shrugging aside. Do you imagine for a microsecond that such a vile, churlish transgression will ever be forgiven? I myself certainly hope that it will not. The Jews have seen through Jesus and Mohammed. In retrospect, many of them have also seen through the mythical, primitive, and cruel figures of Abraham and Moses. Nearer to our own time, in the bitter combats over the work of Marx and Freud and Einstein, Jewish participants and protagonists have not been the least noticeable. May this always be the case, whenever any human primate sets up, or is set up by others, as a Messiah.
Attempts to locate oneself within history are as natural, and as absurd, as attempts to locate oneself within astronomy. On the day that I was born, 13 April 1949, nineteen senior Nazi officials were convicted at Nuremberg, including Hitler's former envoy to the Vatican, Baron Ernst von Weizsacker, who was found guilty of planning aggression against Czechoslovakia and committing atrocities against the Jewish people. On the same day, the State of Israel celebrated its first Passover seder and the United Nations, still meeting in those days at Flushing Meadow in Queens, voted to consider the Jewish state's application for membership. In Damascus, eleven newspapers were closed by the regime of General Hosni Zayim. In America, the National Committee on Alcoholism announced an upcoming 'A-Day' under the non-uplifting slogan: 'You can drink
Very often the test of one's allegiance to a cause or to a people is precisely the willingness to stay the course when things are boring, to run the risk of repeating an old argument just one more time, or of going one more round with a hostile or (much worse) indifferent audience. I first became involved with the Czech opposition in 1968 when it was an intoxicating and celebrated cause. Then, during the depressing 1970s and 1980s I was a member of a routine committee that tried with limited success to help the reduced forces of Czech dissent to stay nourished (and published). The most pregnant moment of that commitment was one that I managed to miss at the time: I passed an afternoon with Zdenek Mlynar, exiled former secretary of the Czech Communist Party, who in the bleak early 1950s in Moscow had formed a friendship with a young Russian militant with an evident sense of irony named Mikhail Sergeyevitch Gorbachev. In 1988 I was arrested in Prague for attending a meeting of one of Vaclav Havel's 'Charter 77' committees. That outwardly exciting experience was interesting precisely because of its almost Zen-like tedium. I had gone to Prague determined to be the first visiting writer not to make use of the name Franz Kafka, but the numbing bureaucracy got the better of me. When I asked why I was being detained, I was told that I had no need to know the reason! Totalitarianism is itself a clich
Alcohol makes other people less tedious, and food less bland, and can help provide what the Greeks called entheos, or the slight buzz of inspiration when reading or writing. The only worthwhile miracle in the New Testament
When the late Pope John Paul II decided to place the woman so strangely known as 'Mother' Teresa on the fast track for beatification, and thus to qualify her for eventual sainthood, the Vatican felt obliged to solicit my testimony and I thus spent several hours in a closed hearing room with a priest, a deacon, and a monsignor, no doubt making their day as I told off, as from a rosary, the frightful faults and crimes of the departed fanatic. In the course of this, I discovered that the pope during his tenure had surreptitiously abolished the famous office of 'Devil
It comes as no surprise to find [Norman] Mailer embracing [in the book On God] a form of Manicheanism, pitting the forces of light and darkness against each other in a permanent stand-off, with humanity as the battlefield. (When asked if Jesus is part of this battle, he responds rather loftily that he thinks it is a distinct possibility.) But it is at points like this that he talks as if all the late-night undergraduate talk sessions on the question of theism had become rolled into one. 'How can we not face up to the fact that if God is All-Powerful, He cannot be All-Good. Or She cannot be All-Good.'
Mailer says that questions such as this have bedevilled 'theologians', whereas it would be more accurate to say that such questions, posed by philosophers, have attempted to put theologians out of business. A long exchange on the probability of reincarnation (known to Mailer sometimes as
Who but the sports-mad [Norman] Mailer would liken the battle between God and the Devil to a game of American football? The contest, for sure, has with [sic] own laws (so that after God and the Devil 'tackle a guy, they don't kick him in the head'), but each side is not above cheating
An old joke has an Oxford professor meeting an American former graduate student and asking him what he's working on these days. 'My thesis is on the survival of the class system in the United States.' 'Oh really, that's interesting: one didn't think there was a class system in the United States.' 'Nobody does. That's how it survives.
Rolf Ekeus came round to my apartment one day and showed me the name of the Iraqi diplomat who had visited the little West African country of Niger: a statelet famous only for its production of yellowcake uranium. The name was Wissam Zahawi. He was the brother of my louche gay part-Kurdish friend, the by-now late Mazen. He was also, or had been at the time of his trip to Niger, Saddam Hussein's ambassador to the Vatican. I expressed incomprehension. What was an envoy to the Holy See doing in Niger? Obviously he was not taking a vacation. Rolf then explained two things to me. The first was that Wissam Zahawi had, when Rolf was at the United Nations, been one of Saddam Hussein's chief envoys for discussions on nuclear matters (this at a time when the Iraqis had functioning reactors). The second was that, during the period of sanctions that followed the Kuwait war, no Western European country had full diplomatic relations with Baghdad. TheVatican was the sole exception, so it was sent a very senior Iraqi envoy to act as a listening post. And this man, a specialist in nuclear matters, had made a discreet side trip to Niger. This was to suggest exactly what most right-thinking people were convinced was not the case: namely that British intelligence was on to something when it said that Saddam had not ceased seeking nuclear materials in Africa.
I published a few columns on this, drawing at one point an angry email from Ambassador Zahawi that very satisfyingly blustered and bluffed on what he'd really been up to. I also received
Now is as good a time as ever to revisit the history of the Crusades, or the sorry history of partition in Kashmir, or the woes of the Chechens and Kosovars. But the bombers of Manhattan represent fascism with an Islamic face, and there's no point in any euphemism about it. What they abominate about 'the West,' to put it in a phrase, is not what Western liberals don't like and can't defend about their own system, but what they do like about it and must defend: its emancipated women, its scientific inquiry, its separation of religion from the state. Loose talk about chickens coming home to roost is the moral equivalent of the hateful garbage emitted by Falwell and Robertson, and exhibits about the same intellectual content.
Since I speak and write about this a good deal, I am often asked at public meetings, in what sometimes seems to me a rather prurient way, whether I myself or my family have 'ever been threatened' by jihadists. My answer is that yes, I have, and so has everyone else in the audience, if they have paid enough attention to the relevant bin-Ladenist broadcasts to notice the fact.
acked or criticized in any nasty or stupid manner by anybody else. It's family, in other words, and friends are family to me. I feel rather the same way about being an American, and also about being of partly Jewish descent. To be any one of these things is to be no better than anyone else, but no worse. When confronted by certain enemies, it is increasingly the 'most definitely no worse' half of this unspoken agreement on which I tend to lay the emphasis. (As with Camus
I am often described to my irritation as a 'contrarian' and even had the title inflicted on me by the publisher of one of my early books. (At least on that occasion I lived up to the title by ridiculing the word in my introduction to the book's first chapter.) It is actually a pity that our culture doesn't have a good vernacular word for an oppositionist or even for someone who tries to do his own thinking: the word 'dissident' can't be self-conferred because it is really a title of honor that has to be won or earned, while terms like 'gadfly' or 'maverick' are somehow trivial and condescending as well as over-full of self-regard. And I've lost count of the number of memoirs by old comrades or ex-comrades that have titles like 'Against the Stream,' 'Against the Current,' 'Minority of One,' 'Breaking Ranks' and so forth
So I close this long reflection on what I hope is a not-too-quaveringly semi-Semitic note. When I am at home, I will only enter a synagogue for the bar or bat mitzvah of a friend's child, or in order to have a debate with the faithful. (When I was to be wed, I chose a rabbi named Robert Goldburg, an Einsteinian and a Shakespearean and a Spinozist, who had married Arthur Miller to Marilyn Monroe and had a copy of Marilyn
One of the questions asked by al-Balkhi, and often repeated to this day, is this: Why do the children of Israel continue to suffer? My grandmother Dodo thought it was because the goyim were jealous. The seder for Passover (which is a shame-faced simulacrum of a Hellenic question-and-answer session, even including the wine) tells the children that it's one of those things that happens to every Jewish generation. After the Shoah or Endl
It doesn't happen to me anymore, because a fresh generation of Africans and Asians has arisen to take over the business, but in my early years in Washington, D.C., I would often find myself in the back of a big beat-up old cab driven by an African-American veteran. I became used to the formalities of the mise-en-sc
It was as easy as breathing to go and have tea near the place where Jane Austen had so wittily scribbled and so painfully died. One of the things that causes some critics to marvel at Miss Austen is the laconic way in which, as a daughter of the epoch that saw the Napoleonic Wars, she contrives like a Greek dramatist to keep it off the stage while she concentrates on the human factor. I think this comes close to affectation on the part of some of her admirers. Captain Frederick Wentworth in Persuasion, for example, is partly of interest to the female sex because of the 'prize' loot he has extracted from his encounters with Bonaparte's navy. Still, as one born after Hiroshima I can testify that a small Hampshire township, however large the number of names of the fallen on its village-green war memorial, is more than a world away from any unpleasantness on the European mainland or the high or narrow seas that lie between. (I used to love the detail that Hampshire's 'New Forest' is so called because it was only planted for the hunt in the late eleventh century.) I remember watching with my father and brother through the fence of Stanstead House, the Sussex mansion of the Earl of Bessborough, one evening in the early 1960s, and seeing an immense golden meadow carpeted entirely by grazing rabbits. I'll never keep that quiet, or be that still, again.
This was around the time of countrywide protest against the introduction of a horrible laboratory-confected disease, named 'myxomatosis,' into the warrens of old England to keep down the number of nibbling rodents. Richard Adams's lapine masterpiece Watership Down is the remarkable work that it is, not merely because it evokes the world of hedgerows and chalk-downs and streams and spinneys better than anything since The Wind in the Willows, but because it is only really possible to imagine gassing and massacre and organized cruelty on this ancient and green and gently rounded landscape if it is organized and carried out against herbivores.
is a culture, even a literature, possibly a language, and certainly a diplomatic and military relationship, that can accurately be termed 'Anglo-American.' But something in the very landscape and mapping of America, with seven eastern seaboard states named for English monarchs or aristocrats and countless hamlets and cities replicated from counties and shires across the Atlantic, that makes hyphenation redundant. Hyphenation
Actual class struggles apart, one of the aesthetic ways you could prove that there was a class system in America was by cogitating on the word, or acronym, 'WASP.' First minted by E. Digby Baltzell in his book The Protestant Establishment, the term stood for 'White Anglo-Saxon Protestant.' Except that, as I never grew tired of pointing out, the 'W' was something of a redundancy (there being by definition no BASPs or JASPs for anyone to be confused with, or confused about). 'ASP,' on the other hand, lacked some of the all-important tone. There being so relatively few Anglo-Saxon Catholics in the United States, the 'S' [sic] was arguably surplus to requirements as well. But then the acronym AS would scarcely do, either. And it would raise an additional difficulty. If 'Anglo-Saxon' descent was the qualifying thing, which surely it was, then why were George Wallace and Jerry Falwell not WASPs? After all, they were not merely white and Anglo-Saxon and Protestant, but very emphatic about all three things. Whereas a man like William F. Buckley, say, despite being a white Irish Catholic, radiated the very sort of demeanor for which the word WASP had been coined to begin with. So, for the matter of that, did the dapper gentleman from Richmond, Virginia, Tom Wolfe. Could it be, then, that WASP was really a term of class rather than ethnicity? Q.E.D.
Every article and review and book that I have ever published has constituted an appeal to the person or persons to whom I should have talked before I dared to write it. I never launch any little essay without the hope
I once spoke to someone who had survived the genocide in Rwanda, and she said to me that there was now nobody left on the face of the earth, either friend or relative, who knew who she was. No one who remembered her girlhood and her early mischief and family lore; no sibling or boon companion who could tease her about that first romance; no lover or pal with whom to reminisce. All her birthdays, exam results, illnesses, friendships, kinships
I have had my mother's wing of my genetic ancestry analyzed by the National Geographic tracing service and there it all is: the arrow moving northward from the African savannah, skirting the Mediterranean by way of the Levant, and passing through Eastern and Central Europe before crossing to the British Isles. And all of this knowable by an analysis of the cells on the inside of my mouth.
I almost prefer the more rambling and indirect and journalistic investigation, which seems somehow less
Every November of my boyhood, we put on red poppies and attended highly patriotic services in remembrance of those who had 'given' their lives. But on what assurance did we know that these gifts had really been made? Only the survivors
Many governments employ torture but this was the first time that the element of Saturnalia and pornography in the process had been made so clear to me. If you care to imagine what any inadequate or cruel man might do, given unlimited power over a woman, then anything that you can bring yourself to suspect was what became routine in ESMA, the Navy Mechanics School that became the headquarters of the business. I talked to Dr. Emilio Mignone, a distinguished physician whose daughter Monica had disappeared into the precincts of that hellish place. What do you find to say to a doctor and a humanitarian who has been gutted by the image of a starving rat being introduced to his daughter's genitalia? Like hell itself the school was endorsed and blessed by priests, in case any stray consciences needed to be stilled.
To be the father of growing daughters is to understand something of what Yeats evokes with his imperishable phrase 'terrible beauty.' Nothing can make one so happily exhilarated or so frightened: it's a solid lesson in the limitations of self to realize that your heart is running around inside someone else's body. It also makes me quite astonishingly calm at the thought of death: I know whom I would die to protect and I also understand that nobody but a lugubrious serf can possibly wish for a father who never goes away.
[I]n a place with absolutely no private or personal life, with the incessant worship of a mediocre career-sadist as the only culture, where all citizens are the permanent property of the state, the highest form of pointlessness has been achieved.
The clear awareness of having been born into a losing struggle need not lead one into despair. I do not especially like the idea that one day I shall be tapped on the shoulder and informed, not that the party is over but that it is most assuredly going on
For all its outwardly easy Latin charm, Buenos Aires was making me feel sick and upset, so I did take that trip to the great plains where the gaucho epics had been written, and I did manage to eat a couple of the famous asados: the Argentine barbecue fiesta (once summarized by Martin Amis's John Self as 'a sort of triple mixed grill swaddled in steaks') with its slavish propitiation of the sizzling gods of cholesterol. Yet even this was spoiled for me: my hosts did their own slaughtering and the smell of drying blood from the abattoir became too much for some reason (I actually went 'off' steak for a good few years after this trip). Then from the intrepid Robert Cox of the Buenos Aires Herald I learned another jaunty fascist colloquialism: before the South Atlantic dumping method was adopted, the secret cremation of maimed and tortured bodies at the Navy School had been called an asado. In my youth I was quite often accused, and perhaps not unfairly, of being too politicized and of trying to import politics into all discussions. I would reply that it wasn
Hitherto, the Palestinians had been relatively immune to this Allahu Akhbar style. I thought this was a hugely retrograde development. I said as much to Edward. To reprint Nazi propaganda and to make a theocratic claim to Spanish soil was to be a protofascist and a supporter of 'Caliphate' imperialism: it had nothing at all to do with the mistreatment of the Palestinians. Once again, he did not exactly disagree. But he was anxious to emphasize that the Israelis had often encouraged Hamas as a foil against Fatah and the PLO. This I had known since seeing the burning out of leftist Palestinians by Muslim mobs in Gaza as early as 1981. Yet once again, it seemed Edward could only condemn Islamism if it could somehow be blamed on either Israel or the United States or the West, and not as a thing in itself. He sometimes employed the same sort of knight's move when discussing other Arabist movements, excoriating Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party, for example, mainly because it had once enjoyed the support of the CIA. But when Saddam was really being attacked, as in the case of his use of chemical weapons on noncombatants at Halabja, Edward gave second-hand currency to the falsified story that it had 'really' been the Iranians who had done it. If that didn't work, well, hadn't the United States sold Saddam the weaponry in the first place? Finally, and always
Then all at once our personal and political quarrels were made very abruptly to converge. In the special edition of the London Review of Books published to mark the events of September 11, 2001, Edward painted a picture of an almost fascist America where Arab and Muslim citizens were being daily terrorized by pogroms, these being instigated by men like Paul Wolfowitz who had talked of 'ending' the regimes that sheltered Al Quaeda. Again, I could hardly credit that these sentences were being produced by a cultured person, let alone printed by a civilized publication.
So, whenever the subject of Iraq came up, as it did keep on doing through the Clinton years, I had no excuse for not knowing the following things: I knew that its one-party, one-leader state machine was modeled on the precedents of both National Socialism and Stalinism, to say nothing of Al Capone. I knew that its police force was searching for psychopathic killers and sadistic serial murderers, not in order to arrest them but to employ them. I knew that its vast patrimony of oil wealth, far from being 'nationalized,' had been privatized for the use of one family, and was being squandered on hideous ostentation at home and militarism abroad. (Post-Kuwait inspections by the United Nations had uncovered a huge nuclear-reactor site that had not even been known about by the international community.) I had seen with my own eyes the evidence of a serious breach of the Genocide Convention on Iraqi soil, and I had also seen with my own eyes the evidence that it had been carried out in part with the use of weapons of mass destruction. I was, if you like, the prisoner of this knowledge. I certainly did not have the option of un-knowing it.
So this is where all the vapid talk about the 'soul' of the universe is actually headed. Once the hard-won principles of reason and science have been discredited, the world will not pass into the hands of credulous herbivores who keep crystals by their sides and swoon over the poems of Khalil Gibran. The 'vacuum' will be invaded instead by determined fundamentalists of every stripe who already know the truth by means of revelation and who actually seek real and serious power in the here and now. One thinks of the painstaking, cloud-dispelling labor of British scientists from Isaac Newton to Joseph Priestley to Charles Darwin to Ernest Rutherford to Alan Turing and Francis Crick, much of it built upon the shoulders of Galileo and Copernicus, only to see it casually slandered by a moral and intellectual weakling from the usurping House of Hanover. An awful embarrassment awaits the British if they do not declare for a republic based on verifiable laws and principles, both political and scientific.
The prince's official job description as king will be 'defender of the faith,' which currently means the state-financed absurdity of the Anglican Church, but he has more than once said publicly that he wants to be anointed as defender of all faiths
British diplomats and Anglo-American types in Washington have a near-superstitious prohibition on uttering the words 'Special Relationship' to describe relations between Britain and America, lest the specialness itself vanish like a phantom at cock-crow.
This is what you get when you found a political system on the family values of Henry VIII. At a point in the not-too-remote future, the stout heart of Queen Elizabeth II will cease to beat. At that precise moment, her firstborn son will become head of state, head of the armed forces, and head of the Church of England. In strict constitutional terms, this ought not to matter much. The English monarchy, as has been said, reigns but does not rule. From the aesthetic point of view it will matter a bit, because the prospect of a morose bat-eared and chinless man, prematurely aged, and with the most abysmal taste in royal consorts, is a distinctly lowering one.
Life in Britain had seemed like one long antechamber to a room that had too many barriers to entry; here in the USA it seemed to be true that if you dared to give things 'your best shot' then the other much-used phrases like 'land of opportunity' would kick in as well.
Gore Vidal, for instance, once languidly told me that one should never miss a chance either to have sex or to appear on television. My efforts to live up to this maxim have mainly resulted in my passing many unglamorous hours on off-peak cable TV. It was actually Vidal's great foe William F. Buckley who launched my part-time television career, by inviting me on to Firing Line when I was still quite young, and giving me one of the American Right's less towering intellects as my foil. The response to the show made my day, and then my week. Yet almost every time I go to a TV studio, I feel faintly guilty. This is pre-eminently the 'soft' world of dream and illusion and 'perception': it has only a surrogate relationship to the 'hard' world of printed words and written-down concepts to which I've tried to dedicate my life, and that surrogate relationship, while it, too, may be 'verbal,' consists of being glib rather than fluent, fast rather than quick, sharp rather than pointed. It means reveling in the fact that I have a meretricious, want-it-both-ways side. My only excuse is to say that at least I do not pretend that this is not so.
When the Washington Post telephoned me at home on Valentine's Day 1989 to ask my opinion about the Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwah, I felt at once that here was something that completely committed me. It was, if I can phrase it like this, a matter of everything I hated versus everything I loved. In the hate column: dictatorship, religion, stupidity, demagogy, censorship, bullying, and intimidation. In the love column: literature, irony, humor, the individual, and the defense of free expression. Plus, of course, friendship
The only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance is atheism. It is not a creed. Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more.
Many religions now come before us with ingratiating smirks and outspread hands, like an unctuous merchant in a bazaar. They offer consolation and solidarity and uplift, competing as they do in a marketplace. But we have a right to remember how barbarically they behaved when they were strong and were making an offer that people could not refuse.
As a convinced atheist, I ought to agree with Voltaire that Judaism is not just one more religion, but in its way the root of religious evil. Without the stern, joyless rabbis and their 613 dour prohibitions, we might have avoided the whole nightmare of the Old Testament, and the brutal, crude wrenching of that into prophecy-derived Christianity, and the later plagiarism and mutation of Judaism and Christianity into the various rival forms of Islam. Much of the time, I do concur with Voltaire, but not without acknowledging that Judaism is dialectical. There is, after all, a specifically Jewish version of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, with a specifically Jewish name
The last time I heard an orthodox Marxist statement that was music to my ears was from a member of the Rwanda Patriotic Front, during the mass slaughter in the country. 'The terms Hutu and Tutsi,' he said severely, 'are merely ideological constructs, describing different relationships to the means and mode of production.' But of course!
We owe a huge debt to Galileo for emancipating us all from the stupid belief in an Earth-centered or man-centered (let alone God-centered) system. He quite literally taught us our place and allowed us to go on to make extraordinary advances in knowledge.
Who are your favorite heroines in real life? The women of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran who risk their lives and their beauty to defy the foulness of theocracy. Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Azar Nafisi as their ideal feminine model.
[O]wners of dogs will have noticed that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they will think you are god. Whereas owners of cats are compelled to realize that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they draw the conclusion that they are gods.
Though he never actually joined it, he was close to some civilian elements of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which was the most Communist (and in the rather orthodox sense) of the Palestinian formations. I remember Edward once surprising me by saying, and apropos of nothing: 'Do you know something I have never done in my political career? I have never publicly criticized the Soviet Union. It
You should be nicer to him,' a schoolmate had once said to me of some awfully ill-favored boy. 'He has no friends.' This, I realized with a pang of pity that I can still remember, was only true as long as everybody agreed to it.
If you were offered the chance to live your own life again, would you seize the opportunity? The only real philosophical answer is automatically self-contradictory: 'Only if I did not know that I was doing so.' To go through the entire experience once more would be banal and Sisyphean
In ridiculing a pathetic human fallacy, which seeks explanation where none need be sought and which multiplies unnecessary assumptions, one should not mimic primitive ontology in order to challenge it. Better to dispose of the needless assumption altogether. This holds true for everything from Noah's flood to the Holocaust.
Even if it were possible to cast my horoscope in this one life, and to make an accurate prediction about my future, it would not be possible to 'show' it to me because as soon as I saw it my future would change by definition. This is why Werner Heisenberg's adaptation of the Hays Office
Edward genially enough did not disagree with what I said, but he didn't seem to admit my point, either. I wanted to press him harder so I veered close enough to the ad hominem to point out that his life
It is notorious that the news of the Emancipation Proclamation was kept from the people of Texas and not celebrated until 'Juneteenth'. There may be those in Texas now who believe they can insulate their state
I can claim copyright only in myself, and occasionally in those who are either dead or have written about the same events, or who have a decent expectation of anonymity, or who are such appalling public shits that they have forfeited their right to bitch.
One of the juiciest pleasures of life is to be able to salute and embrace, as elected leaders and honored representatives, people whom you first met when they were on the run or in exile or (like Adam) in and out of jail. I was to have this experience again, and I hope to have it many more times in the future: it sometimes allows me to feel that life is full of point.
Which natural gift would you most like to possess? The ability to master other languages (which would have hugely enhanced the scope of these answers).
How would you like to die? Fully conscious, and either fighting or reciting (or fooling around).
What do you most dislike about your appearance? The way in which it makes former admirers search for neutral words.
I was to grow used to hearing, around New York, the annoying way in which people would say: 'Edward Said, such a suave and articulate and witty man,' with the unspoken suffix 'for a Palestinian.' It irritated him, too, naturally enough, but in my private opinion it strengthened him in his determination to be an ambassador or spokesman for those who lived in camps or under occupation (or both). He almost overdid the ambassadorial aspect if you ask me, being always just too faultlessly dressed and spiffily turned out. Fools often contrasted this attention to his tenue with his membership of the Palestine National Council, the then-parliament-in-exile of the people without a land. In fact, his taking part in this rather shambolic assembly was a kind of noblesse oblige: an assurance to his landsmen (and also to himself) that he had not allowed and never would allow himself to forget their plight. The downside of this noblesse was only to strike me much later on.
Nihil humanum a me alienum puto, said the Roman poet Terence: 'Nothing human is alien to me.' The slogan of the old Immigration and Naturalization Service could have been the reverse: To us, no aliens are human.
As he defended the book one evening in the early 1980s at the Carnegie Endowment in New York, I knew that some of what he said was true enough, just as some of it was arguably less so. (Edward incautiously dismissed 'speculations about the latest conspiracy to blow up buildings or sabotage commercial airliners' as the feverish product of 'highly exaggerated stereotypes.') Covering Islam took as its point of departure the Iranian revolution, which by then had been fully counter-revolutionized by the forces of the Ayatollah. Yes, it was true that the Western press
he would sometimes say ridiculous things like: 'I hope you don't mind being disturbed by some mere wog and upstart.' The remedy for this was not to indulge it but to reply with bracing and satirical stuff which would soon get the gurgling laugh back into his throat. But I'm glad I didn't say, 'What, Edward, splashing about again in the waters of self-pity?' because this time he was calling to tell me that he had contracted a rare strain of leukemia. Not at all untypically, he used the occasion to remind me that it was very important always to make and keep regular appointments with one
[T]he very multiculturalism and multiethnicity that brought Salman to the West, and that also made us richer by Hanif Kureishi, Nadeem Aslam, Vikram Seth, Monica Ali, and many others, is now one of the disguises for a uniculturalism, based on moral relativism and moral blackmail (in addition to some more obvious blackmail of the less moral sort) whereby the Enlightenment has been redefined as 'white' and 'oppressive,' mass illegal immigration threatens to spoil everything for everybody, and the figure of the free-floating transnational migrant has been deposed by the contorted face of the psychopathically religious international nihilist, praying for the day when his messianic demands will coincide with possession of an apocalyptic weapon. (These people are not called nihilists for nothing.) Of all of this we were warned, and Salman was the messenger. Mutato nomine et de te fabula narrator: Change only the name and this story is about you.
Of the numerous regrettable elements that go to make up the unlawful carnal-knowledge industry, I should single out for distinction the look of undisguised contempt that is often worn on the faces of its female staff. Some of the working 'hostesses' may have to simulate delight or even interest
Not since North Korean media declared Kim Jong-il to be the reincarnation of Kim Il Sung has there been such a blatant attempt to create a necrocracy, or perhaps mausolocracy, in which a living claimant assumes the fleshly mantle of the departed.
At a lunchtime reception for the diplomatic corps in Washington, given the day before the inauguration of Barack Obama as president, I was approached by a good-looking man who extended his hand. 'We once met many years ago,' he said. 'And you knew and befriended my father.' My mind emptied, as so often happens on such occasions. I had to inform him that he had the advantage of me. 'My name is Hector Timerman. I am the ambassador of Argentina.'
In my above album of things that seem to make life pointful and worthwhile, and that even occasionally suggest, in Dr. King
I was extremely shy of approaching my hero but he, as I found out, was sorely in need of company. By then almost completely blind, he was claustrated and even a little confused and this may help explain the rather shocking attitude that he took to the blunt trauma that was being inflicted in the streets and squares around him. 'This was my country and it might be yet,' he intoned to me when the topic first came up, as it had to: 'But something came between it and the sun.' This couplet he claimed (I have never been able to locate it) was from Edmund Blunden, whose gnarled hand I had been so excited to shake all those years ago, but it was not the Videla junta that Borges meant by the allusion. It was the pre-existing rule of Juan Per
In Sarajevo in 1992, while being shown around the starved, bombarded city by the incomparable John Burns, I experienced four near misses in all, three of them in the course of one day. I certainly thought that the Bosnian cause was worth fighting for and worth defending, but I could not take myself seriously enough to imagine that my own demise would have forwarded the cause. (I also discovered that a famous jaunty Churchillism had its limits: the old war-lover wrote in one of his more youthful reminiscences that there is nothing so exhilarating as being shot at without result. In my case, the experience of a whirring, whizzing horror just missing my ear was indeed briefly exciting, but on reflection made me want above all to get to the airport. Catching the plane out with a whole skin is the best part by far.) Or suppose I had been hit by that mortar that burst with an awful shriek so near to me, and turned into a Catherine wheel of body-parts and (even worse) body-ingredients? Once again, I was moved above all not by the thought that my death would 'count,' but that it would not count in the least.
We have known for a long time that Prince Charles' empty sails are so rigged as to be swelled by any passing waft or breeze of crankiness and cant. He fell for the fake anthropologist Laurens van der Post. He was bowled over by the charms of homeopathic medicine. He has been believably reported as saying that plants do better if you talk to them in a soothing and encouraging way.
Americanism in all its forms seemed to be trashy and wasteful and crude, even brutal. There was a metaphor ready to hand in my native Hampshire. Until some time after the war, the squirrels of England had been red. I can still vaguely remember these sweet Beatrix Potter
Martin is your best friend, isn't he?' a sweet and well-intentioned girl once said when both of us were present: it was the only time I ever felt awkward about this precious idea, which seemed somehow to risk diminishment if it were uttered aloud.
Hardest of all, as one becomes older, is to accept that sapient remarks can be drawn from the most unwelcome or seemingly improbable sources, and that the apparently more trustworthy sources can lead one astray.
[O]ne has to have endured a few decades before wanting, let alone needing, to embark on the project of recovering lost life. And I think it may be possible to review 'the chronicles of wasted time.' William Morris wrote in The Dream of John Ball that men fight for things and then lose the battle, only to win it again in a shape and form that they had not expected, and then be compelled again to defend it under another name. We are all of us very good at self-persuasion and I strive to be alert to its traps, but a version of what Hegel called 'the cunning of history' is a parallel commentary that I fight to keep alive in my mind.
It is exactly the fear of revenge that motivates the deepest crimes, from the killing of the enemy's children lest they grow up to play their own part, to the erasure of the enemy's graveyards and holy places so that his hated name can be forgotten.
I had become too accustomed to the pseudo-Left new style, whereby if your opponent thought he had identified your lowest possible motive, he was quite certain that he had isolated the only real one. This vulgar method, which is now the norm and the standard in much non-Left journalism as well, is designed to have the effect of making any noisy moron into a master analyst.
Offered a job as book critic for Time magazine as a young man, Bellow had been interviewed by Chambers and asked to give his opinion about William Wordsworth. Replying perhaps too quickly that Wordsworth had been a Romantic poet, he had been brusquely informed by Chambers that there was no place for him at the magazine. Bellow had often wondered, he told us, what he ought to have said. I suggested that he might have got the job if he'd replied that Wordsworth was a once-revolutionary poet who later became a conservative and was denounced by Browning and others as a turncoat. This seemed to Bellow to be probably right. More interesting was the related question: What if he'd kept that job?