The Clare Spark Blog

August 14, 2009

My Life At Pacifica (KPFK-FM, Los Angeles): Part Two, with gory details

II. Every working artist and scientist will know what I mean when I claim that there is no consensus on the value of the dissenting individual, yet that Promethean figure is precisely what I, a listener and strong supporter of KPFK in the late 1960s, thought listener-sponsorship, diffuse and voluntary, was supposedly designed to protect and foster. Living in that illusion, the radio station changed my life, transforming me, notwithstanding its deficiencies, from a sheltered and naïve suburban housewife and mother, to a ‘public intellectual’ and, after graduate school at UCLA, into a professional historian. This is a crucial point for all those who study institutions, whether of the Left or Right: we are not helpless pawns, we are not stamped and molded, but persons able to reflect upon our experience and, when confronted by new facts and conditions, change our minds accordingly. Unfortunately for its subscribers, my libertarian outlook is in conflict with the ruling ideology of Pacifica as of other cultural institutions practicing ethnopluralism or multiculturalism as it is now called, and it is this difference that accounts most importantly for my traumatic and shocking firing as Program Director in 1982, then final banishment from the air in 1997. I am too insistent on the absolute requirement for independent and objective artists, scientists, and scholars unbeholden to any political party or controlling bureaucracy—that is, if an excellent popular democracy is ever to be realized. I have too elevated, too rationalist a view of the human capacity for self-management, too universalist a view of ethics, too optimistic a hope for the international understanding and cooperation that could accompany economic, scientific, and technological development, bringing in its wake, the reduction, if not abolition, of human suffering and destructiveness.

Although some observers may think I have changed my politics, this view is mistaken. I have always been more of a freethinker, artist and journalist than a political activist (hence under party discipline), but it is true that I have been identified and often self-identified as a Marxist (misunderstood by me as a radical liberal) during the years I produced a weekly radio program, The Sour Apple Tree for Pacifica Radio in Los Angeles (1969-1997) or for the eighteen months I served as Program Director (2-81 through 7-82). What is appalling to me in retrospect is the indoctrination into the revisionist version of the Cold War that I received as a listener to KPFK from 1959 on and then as a mature graduate student at UCLA in the Department of History (1980, 1983-93). Alleging that the United States was entirely responsible for the Cold War, the revisionist narrative was a version of twentieth-century history that blunted my understanding of world politics, but that I largely accepted until my dissertation research was completed, and I had time to examine recently declassified government documents of the late 1940s and early 1950s, demonstrating to my amazement that there was no evidence whatsoever that disclosed an American plot to magnify the Soviet military threat as I had been led to believe by Left and New Left scholars and journalists; to be sure, I found an enthusiasm for psychological warfare among social psychologists, but there was no agreement on policy; rather hot contestation about goals and methods. Where others posited conspiracy, I found evidence of chaos and incompetence. Beginning in the early 1990s former Soviet bureaucrats divulged their secrets and Soviet archives became partly available for scrutiny by Western scholars. Small wonder that I now believe that scholars should direct their attention to the political and psychological damage that distorted histories explaining the causes of war and of mass death in this century may have inflicted upon us all, for nothing less than political will and the capacity for enduring emotional and intellectual attachments is at stake. (Again: I do not mean to imply that the conduct of US foreign policy was or is above criticism; quite the contrary, as I have argued in my article “Who’s Crazy Now? An Essay Dedicated to Christopher Hill,” UCLA History Journal Vol.10, 1990, pp.1-37).

Before I describe a few of the shortcomings of the Pacifica Foundation and its five listener-sponsored radio stations, I must declare that the relative freedom of the work environment at KPFK until recently, the access I acquired to powerful people in both established institutions and in radical social movements, my generally positive relations with productive and significant intellectuals of the Left (despite disillusion and disappointment in some cases), and the direct and open interactions I had with the listeners of the most varied backgrounds and interests, not only made it possible for me to develop as an artist and scholar, intellectually and emotionally relatively free of institutional pressures, but also prepared me for a graduate education in history with confidence and resolve: I had a base in the thousands of autodidacts—earnest, intelligent, and decent–who had depended upon me as their teacher, and I was not about to sell them out for academic preferment and advancement.

The Sour Apple Tree years. I began my radio production in 1969, at a time when artists, like other Americans galvanized by the civil rights movement, were in revolt against the institutions that determined their careers. Museums and other cultural institutions mediated between artists and the public; my work gave voice to artists wishing to have a say about the way his or her work was displayed and contextualized, assuming that their work was represented at all. At a time when women and minorities were mobilizing to be included in galleries and museums dominated by white males, my programming gave voice to organized groups and individuals; I also focused on the interference of Boards of Directors with the day to day operation of the local museum; I was defending, I thought, the academic freedom of the curatorial staff. At the same time, (along with curators and other scholars) I resisted biology as a rationale for group exhibition. In Los Angeles, so I was informed, it was boards of directors and corporate sponsors in the 1970s, not curators, who insisted upon the entry of hitherto excluded or ignored artists as women artists, black artists, etc. This was a point that in retrospect is crucial to the understanding of the 1970s and its co-optation of dissent, apparently absorbing protests from below but turning a victory into defeat by reinforcing essentialist categories, i.e. sorting people out by race (ethnicity) and gender, then imputing similar ethnic or gender character to every member of the set. (It doesn’t sound so bad when this character is called “identity” with its connotation of inner integration and adjustment.)

What was the alternative? Artists share common sets of aesthetic and intellectual concerns at any given historical moment. If a curator wishes to illuminate the doings of artists, historic or contemporary, the show lays out the underlying unity of the works in the exhibition and focuses the viewer’s attention upon those aspects of form and content that are shared as well as those that are contested, opening the art and the culture that stimulated its production to interrogation by the viewer. If the gender or “race” of the artist becomes the rationale for the exhibition, then every member of the group must be alike in their concerns and responses, and women or non-whites and white males must be discernibly different. Needless to say, numerous artists were eager to take this line: that their unique and always radical (group) sensibilities made their work unattractive or undecipherable to the white male oppressor. Irrationalism of the most reactionary character was (or continued to be), in: the Enlightenment and the universalism of science as promulgated by the progressive bourgeoisie was (or continued to be), out. I put the case this way because I am not convinced that we have made the full transition from tribal or feudal to democratic social relations in any society whatsoever; even scientists and mathematicians, the designated Prometheans, do not control their institutional fates, most especially since a group of “geniuses” at Los Alamos held the fate of the world in their hands. [fn Sudoplatov, Special Tasks]

Several years before I was hired as Program Director in early 1981, Jim Berland, my future boss, led a coup that ousted Program Director Ruth Hirschman (now Ruth Seymour, Manager of KCRW) and Manager Will Lewis. As a volunteer programmer, I had little to do with the politics of KPFK. So I would not have known that when Jim Berland became Manager in 1978, he had been ordered to integrate the station by race and gender and to replace the morning classical music slot with a news and public affairs magazine; however that would have meant partly dispossessing the largely white male staff who dominated the air and who had been Berland’s lieutenants in the coup. At the point when I, the superdumb bunny who would take the heat, was hired, Berland was on notice to fulfill the directive in six months, or he would lose his job (not that he told me about the deadline when I was hired: it was the Executive Director Sharon Maeda who passed on this juicy tidbit). It is worth mentioning that Maeda, who later solicited corporate funding, had a vision of poor black people pushing wheelbarrows full of pennies up to our doors were we to program “their” music, interrupted with three or five minute public affairs spots.

PURGE #1. The story of my purge after eighteen months of startling successes in improving the credibility of KPFK and enlarging its subscription base makes no sense unless I relate how other institutions (including other Pacifica stations) had handled the demands of women and minorities in the civil rights, black power, and feminist movements. Responding to black power and the urban riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King, members of the education establishment (like the progressives who had preceded them during analogous moments of conflict from below) decided to co-opt black nationalist movements with ethnic studies and other reforms designed to combat prejudice and hate speech. Here is a portion of the edited transcript of a meeting at Martha’s Vineyard, July 1968, where liberal leaders aired their concerns and proposed a solution to the increasing intractable problem of urban violence. Though startling in its frankness and bizarre view of the remedy for “racial discrimination,” it has to my knowledge been utterly ignored by journalists and scholars commenting on the culture wars:

[From a small conference “to explore the role of education in combating racial discrimination,” Martha’s Vineyard, July 1968, published as Racism and American Education: A Dialogue and Agenda for Action, Foreward by Averell Harriman, Harper and Row, 1970:]

[Kenneth Clark (President of the Metropolitan Applied Research Center, Inc. Member of the New York State Board of Regents, and Professor of Psychology at City College of New York):]”…I don’t see how we can avoid coming to the conclusion that teachers, who are supposed to be professionals with confidence in the potential of human beings, are deficient in areas in which higher education is supposed to provide knowledge. In some research among teachers selected by their principals to discuss teaching with us, the common denominator, interestingly enough true of Negro teachers as well as white teachers, was a profound illiteracy on what you would consider critical areas of knowledge. I mean the attitudes, well not just the attitudes, but the knowledge of cultural anthropology or modern and contemporary knowledge about race and racial differences and racial potentialities or social psychology…They were really illiterate…in areas of social science that were relevant to their jobs (52).”

[C. Van Woodward (Sterling Professor of History at Yale University):]”…Americans in the early phases of nationalism did really foolish things. In order to establish what they would now call their identity, Americans denigrated everything European in culture, and at the same time exalted everything American. If it was American, it was beautiful, and if it was European, it was not. Of course, that resulted in a lot of third-rate art and letters and sculpture and so forth. I think we have recovered from our earlier excesses of nationalism in this respect, but by no means are we free from nationalism as a country. The black nationalism, I think, will manifest many of these same excesses. I think this is inevitable, and I think we are going to have to live with it in the colleges, in the public schools, all down the line. We’re going to have to adjust to it. I think we must think about it with as much dispassionate wisdom as we can muster, because it’s likely to get out of hand (64-65″); see Kenneth Clark rejecting tolerance of black nationalism, 68).

[Christopher Edley (Program Officer in charge of the Government and Law Program at the Ford Foundation):]”…I’m convinced that the way you eliminate prejudice and racism in America is not by talking and education and explanation. I think you have to start with a simple cliché‚ like God, motherhood, or country. You have to have something that has a noble ring. And it seems to me that what this country needs is a movement, and I don’t know that this is the appropriate group to sponsor it. This country needs a movement. The way to eliminate prejudice is to smother it. If we could bring about a climate in this country where no one could express a prejudicial viewpoint without being challenged, we would begin to drive prejudice underground. And I submit to you that prejudice unexpressed and unacted upon dies–it doesn’t fester and grow–it dies. Now this is high sounding, and I don’t expect people to agree with such a simplistic solution. But I really believe that you can stamp it out. And if you look at our national figures today, there are certain people who cannot make a prejudicial remark. Many of our Governors, the President, many responsible Senators are precluded in their public lives from ever making a prejudiced public statement, and if they make a statement that sounds like it’s prejudicial, they’re called on it and the next day, as General de Gaulle found, it was necessary to recant. So we don’t allow them to get away with anything. But at the lower levels, over the dinner table…[ellipsis in original]. ”

[Franklin Roosevelt (Former Chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Congressman from the Twentieth Congressional District in New York during the eighty-first to the eight-third Congresses):] ” The citizen level…[ellipsis in orig.]”

[Christopher Edley:] “At the citizen level, we say it’s perfectly all right for a bigot to express his bigoted thoughts. If you’re anti-Negro you can speak out against the Negro at supper. The simplicity of the idea I submit to you is the thing that gives it some national potential for changing the climate (145).” [Identifications as published, xiii-xv. Edley is an African-American, now Professor of Law at Harvard and a frequent spokesman for affirmative action.]

Multiculturalism, as hiring policy and program orientation, its racialist discourse intact, was instituted at Pacifica shortly afterward. As WBAI station manager Ed Goodman explained to a worried audience of New Yorkers in 1972:

“The tension between access and quality appears to me to be inevitable. The tension is now more pronounced due to the heightened consciousness of various disenfranchised groups such as gay people, blacks, women, etc. The problem is particularly acute within the context of the electronic media where the opportunities are limited by the numbers of hours in the day, and the licensing prerequisites. These limitations are absent in the theater, print journalism, and other areas of expression. Though the assertion that we should hire talented people and the hell with other considerations is, on the face, appealing, it is much too simplistic and ultimately self-limiting and suicidal. It denies the contention that there are unique points of view and perspectives that are reflective of one’s ethnic background, sex, sexual proclivity, life style, and economic status. The station is therefore enriched if its staff can reflect the diversity of the listening audience. Of course, if diversity of this kind is sought for political expediency to the exclusion of talent and intelligence, this course too is limiting and destructive.”

Ironically, the original mission statement called for the study of political and economic problems, studies that would generate understandings that would lead to world peace. It said nothing about quotas applied to programming staff to insure diverse points of view rooted in blood and soil (with almost as an afterthought, “economic status”). But then in the late 1940s when Hill had formulated the goals of Pacifica, the memory of Nazi ideology was still fresh in the minds of American citizens. Inevitably, in the new dispensation, cultural (i.e. “anthropological” or ethnological) explanations for conflict subsumed political and economic factors in explaining major conflicts or the wars of this century, while high culture and science were stigmatized as the oppressive emanations of Eurocentric supremacy.

Since all hell had broken loose at WBAI and KPFA when multiculturalism was instituted as ugly manifestations of cultural nationalism were now routinely broadcast and program quality had noticeably deteriorated, I had hoped to avoid a repeat disaster in Los Angeles. I thought that meant improving the skill level of all the programmers, along with the manners of a few of them. I did not see how we could reach out to new listeners in Los Angeles while tolerating racial or gender or ethnic or class slurs, insults that were either explicit or implicit in the opinions aired on social policy. But I was not interested in driving the insults underground, or confining their expression to private dinner table talk. Rather, I wanted to track social cruelty to its origins in institutional structures and practices as they had evolved. Everyone, including our listeners, would be responsible, over time, for educating herself in the history of women, minority groups, and labor and of course the stated ideas, bases, tactics, and objectives of the social movements that had given expression to their grievances. Such study did not mean separating out women’s history, as if it had it had its autonomous dynamic and responded solely to “patriarchy”; in my view “patriarchy” is an ahistoric category of analysis, that, by positing male domination as the primary contradiction in society, hides the useful knowledge about the real choices women have had, given the level of social and economic development of the society in question. Unlike the radical feminists, for instance, I was striving for a new synthesis that was not present-minded and that delivered the big picture.

I had found in my own experience that the more I learned about such subjects, the more I identified with the troubles of groups who were not part of my protected world and the more I wished to spare them yet more of the pain and rejection that accompanied bad leadership and ineffectual tactics. This did not mean the end of cakes and ale or “satire.” Indeed my own work was infused with the comic spirit, a spirit I might add that has always stood with the long-term needs of “the lower orders.” In retrospect I find nothing shameful or autocratic about my policies. The implicit idea voiced by Ed Goodman that giving voice to the voiceless, by itself and without further analysis, guarantees wisdom, accuracy, and fairness, hence contributes to the solving of problems that may be structural or partly personal in nature, is preposterous, whereas the notion of ongoing self- understanding and group education—the engagement with opposing ideas and the marshalling of hitherto unknown or ignored facts about institutional practices, letting the chips fall where they may, speaks to competence and compassion and elementary human decency.

During the first three years of the Berland administration, the station had gradually abandoned the sophisticated programming initiated by Ruth Hirschman in her several roles at KPFK: advanced culture of Europe and America with a strong liberal inquisitiveness into the politics of the Nixon and Ford administrations. Instead, the anti-intellectual programming that had always been part of the pluralist mix–the voice of the CPUSA cheek by jowl with the hippie counter-culture, New Age politics and Third-World-ish Berkeley radicalism– became the dominant note. The “Marxist” perspective offered by Dorothy Healey, Secretary of the Southern California branch of the CP, could sound like a fountain of sanity in that milieu. So, being systematic and methodical in my work habits, I presented my ideas at a meeting of all the Pacifica program directors in the Spring of 1981, called by the executive director Sharon Maeda to re-examine the mission of Pacifica. Having recently written an essay in my first quarter of graduate school objecting to Harold Cruse’s alarmingly antisemitic tract The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual (an attack on Jews in the Communist Party, contrasting them invidiously to the CP WASPS)–an article that I would controversially place in the KPFK monthly program guide as a point of discussion regarding the strong appeal and danger of cultural nationalist politics– I said flat out that [Cruse-style] cultural nationalism, with its irrationalist emphasis on unique hence incommunicable group facts, was understandable as a response to domination, but as the basis for program policy it had to go. I was an intuitive integrationist, wanting to bring people together, not drive them further apart at a time when knowledge of each other’s predicaments and our common danger was more and more important to rational political deliberation. In what was in retrospect a daring move, since no one had previously allowed the program directors to make significant changes in policy, the other program directors (including three non-whites) agreed with me, and I authored a resolution to be presented at the upcoming meeting of the National Board. Here is the last paragraph of the Program Directors Resolution as it addressed this very question. Contrast my handling of “class, race, and gender” with the approach advocated by Ed Goodman in 1972 (or by the social constructivists of today who believe that ‘class’ is too airy or contingent or dynamic a concept ever to be pinned down):

“…Tokenism. It follows from the above [that we are studying ways to heal conflicts without reinforcing structures of domination; that we should be historical and dialectical in approaching culture and politics, that we should be learning about the history of women, labor, ethnic groups, etc.] that by isolating class, race, gender, and labor questions to ghettoized programming—that is, by not integrating these questions into the way we analyze and create all our programming—we only perpetuate preexisting divisions and the pitting of groups against each other as they fight for turf. This has been the strategy of co-optation since the sixties, and it has fragmented the staff and audience and, we believe, turned off large portions of our constituency. The integration of class, gender, and race into a coherent analysis of society and conflict requires a sophistication barely and rarely achieved by radical scholars. It must, however, be a Pacifica project to strive for such analyses and syntheses.”

Imagine. We were asking our program staff and volunteers to do something difficult; something they had never thought of before (although every social novelist of the nineteenth century had mastered or at least attempted such a grand synthesis); something that would require strenuous effort, reading, and discussion; something that could bring Pacifica into fruitful controversy and dialogue with social movements as they were currently constituted; something that would justify Pacifica’s 501(c) 3 status as a tax-exempt educational organization; above all (as far as I was concerned) that would strengthen the critical tools of our listeners, most of whom had not the benefits of an expensive upper-class education, nor, as autodidacts, the time to do the reading and research that our generally privileged volunteers enjoyed.

Surprisingly, the resolution was passed and ordered to be implemented by Chairman Jack O’Dell, though I had been red-baited by David Salniker, then manager of Berkeley flagship station KPFA, as imposing “a political litmus test” on the programmers. (Salniker, a labor lawyer and member of Democratic Socialists of America, was later to be executive director of the Foundation). At the point that the air of freedom, of unfettered inquiry and decentralized institutional control, began to waft through the corridors of Pacifica Radio, the masks were dropped, the fine words evaporated, the limits of “diversity” and “complexity” came into focus, and the authoritarian character of the ostensibly liberal organization made itself obvious to those with eyes to see. But not all at once. My first opponents were, of course, those who had benefited from the previous fragmentation of the air.

I was immediately cast as the girl Stalinist and am still remembered as inveterate enemy to “pluralism” by my critics. It was never my intention to liquidate the opposition, but I did believe that the listeners had a right to editorial oversight and quality control. And overall quality meant that the tabloid sound and other appeals to the irrational had to identified and challenged. Nor did I prevent programming blocs of special interest to women, Latinos, blacks, gays, etc. Indeed, I supported them vigorously, but also asked that their news and opinions not be fenced in, but rather engaged and debated by other programmers, whatever their class origins, skin color, or gender—when relevant and appropriate. Here are two of my most controversial interventions and their outcomes:

On the news front: I broke the monopoly of William Mandel, Dorothy Healey, and labor reporter Sam Kushner on discussion of the Soviet Union, the Marxist left, and the labor movement by bringing in other Marxist programmers such as Suzi Weissman, Jon Amsden, and Carl Boggs, all of whom were trained scholars and experienced journalists, critical of Stalinist interpretations and alliances. Healey (to whom I had even offered additional air time) stigmatized the interlopers as Trotskyite destroyers; the Spanish Civil War was an especially sensitive subject. I was told that she marched into the news room one day and exploded: “There are too many Trotskyists in here.” Mandel, an inveterate reader of Pravda on the air would no longer have his weekly program, but would have to take turns with Suzy Weissman’s “Portraits of the USSR” (my troublemaking title). He did not take the novel competition lightly; when an outraged letter-writing campaign was initiated in the Bay Area on his behalf, I dared to call Mandel “an apologist for the Soviet Union” and was strongly criticized for my “mistake” by the President of the Foundation, Peter Franck.

I also asked Sam Kushner, generally sympathetic to the labor bureaucracy, to deal with the growing antagonisms between Latino and Black workers in the region. He refused. So I gave air time to a competing analyst of the labor movement: a young man with an M.A. from Cornell University, sympathetic to rank-and-file issues and struggles. And, after my firing, Dorothy Healey lobbied numerous liberal organizations to oppose my reinstatement, claiming that I was a Trotskyist, an anti-feminist, an antisemite, and personally destructive. (Healey, like the manager Jim Berland, used the on-air reading by Suzi Weissman of Israel Shahak’s controversial article published in the anti-Zionist Trotskyist journal Khamsin (nos.8 and 9, 1981), on Judaism as the most authoritarian religion in history, as evidence of my antisemitism, even though Weissman arranged for a critique of the article, also on air. Given the Stalinist record on antisemitism and anti-Zionism, this was a strange accusation. In retrospect, the strong response of listeners wanting copies of the article is ominous.)

On the culture front: I asked Carl Stone, Music Director and Paul Vangelisti, Cultural Affairs Director, (both fond of modernist poetry and music in its most neo-classical manifestations) to open up new, difficult music and other art to the listeners by describing what it was and what it meant to the artists who composed it and the audiences that consumed it. Moreover, disk jockeys were to research the music they played and provide commentary. This is about as radical as asking for program notes at a concert, but it provoked a secret meeting with all the volunteers in music and cultural affairs after the first fund drive when my announced policies were vindicated with unprecedented pledge totals. Stone and Vangelisti denounced me as an enemy to all music and cultural programming, which I was plotting to remove from the air within six months in order to create an all-news, all public affairs station. The manager was flooded with mail demanding my removal and the local press investigated the controversy, to my benefit. Later, when I learned of the secret meeting from a young volunteer, the manager Jim Berland (who had known of these shenanigans all along) forced Stone and Vangelisti to resign, but never told the audience why they were leaving. Moreover, they were permitted to give the impression that my policies had driven them out—even though numerous vanguard experiments and live concerts had been frequently aired under my tenure (and at their initiative), and I sought the involvement of local artists and poets in our peace festivals as a matter of course. Not to speak of my long record as a defender of the First Amendment and academic and cultural freedom. To this day, there are program volunteers at KPFK who sincerely believe that I was out to get them. And my performance as PD was officially evaluated, shortly before my removal, by these same volunteers who had no reason to believe that I was not the confidence-woman depicted by their department heads.

But stepping back a bit from these (apparently) petty power plays, there was a structural adjustment that may have been more disruptive than I understood at the time. I and my supporters in the News and Public Affairs department had brought the listeners meaningfully into the dialogue that created programming decisions: not only did I conduct an open-phone, unscreened Report to the Listener for an hour at prime time every week, but newly formed “Friends of Pacifica” groups, dispersed throughout our broad listening area, discussed the articles I wrote each month on programming philosophy and approaches, giving me valuable feedback. As a result, momentum existed for the Friends groups, viewed now as more than dutiful fund-raisers, directly to elect representatives to the local advisory board (that in turn elected members to the National Board) hence potentially breaking the oligarchy that ruled the foundation. The Friends groups were dissolved about a year after my removal, but supplied troops to protest the second stage of the purge a year later when Marc Cooper (News Director) and Tim Frasca (Head of the Pacifica Washington Bureau) and Robert Knight (News Director of WBAI) were fired: all had protested the impending acceptance of corporate money to fund equipment in the news departments. [Marc Cooper has a somewhat different recollection of this incident, and should amplify here.]

The firing and its aftermath. I was about to put the conflict between myth and science on the table as conversational theme for Fall Fund Drive of 1982; plans were already under way and programmers were peacefully cooperating with me, including one of my most vocal critics (Mike Hodel). Why was I removed? The manager had been trying to fire me for about six months, but we (the newly invigorated News and Public Affairs Department) kept making money—the most weekly income that the station had ever generated, Berland told his management team–and yet we were broke. He was about to mortgage the building at 22% interest when I asked the President of the Foundation to evaluate his performance, including his fiscal management and the bureaucratic layer Berland had hired that I and others felt was not carrying its weight. Two days later I was fired by Berland as a disruptive force in the station. I was ordered to resign during a private meeting ostensibly called to present my suggestions for the next year’s budget. I refused, so Berland ordered me to leave the building (that my ex-husband’s family had largely paid for, by the way), by 5 pm. It is true that I had been sort of warned: Berland had said to me earlier that year, “Now that we have a really radical radio station, it is your job for the next year to make it look like it is not. I’m not sure that you know how to do that.” Before that he had criticized me for printing my critique of Harold Cruse and cultural nationalism in the Program Guide. I had moreover failed to prevent the use of the word “capitalism” by some of our left-wing programmers: they should have complained about “big business” (a populist touch, that). And my management style was insufficiently conciliatory, too confrontational; i.e. I did not pretend to consult the staff and volunteers while doing what I pleased, as he had suggested earlier.

My pathetic attempt to be reinstated through a grievance procedure over the next few months was doomed. Peter Franck, President of the Foundation, a Berkeley radical and once member of the Free Speech Movement, had told me to get a lawyer, hinting that we would reinstate me if I allowed him to test the new internal procedures without going to the press. However, when the process was complete and I had produced abundant evidence of a witch-hunt, Franck (who has repented his decision, but privately ) upheld the firing lest the managers’ prerogatives to fire “at will” be threatened. A remarkable judgment from a Left-wing radio station, no? Out in listener land, I was said to be fired either because of a Zionist conspiracy or because I was a strong woman. Neither rumor is true in my view. At the most fundamental level, I was fired because I thought we were accountable to the listener-subscribers who had given their hard-earned cash and labor; I did not insult their intelligence; and I was supporting structures that decentralized authority, bringing the “audience” into the decision-making process, i.e., into the rational deliberative give and take of a popular democracy that took its educational responsibilities seriously.

Though I had been invited to continue my volunteer programming after the firing, I was now in graduate school at UCLA, totally immersed in the rigorous study of American and European history and the debates in the field, and by the way, trying to understand the dynamics of the witch-hunt to which I had been subjected by Pacifica. By 1986 I had passed my qualifying exams and started dissertation research with a comparatively relaxed schedule. So when the George H.W. Bush campaign mounted its attack on all liberal policies, unfairly and excessively I thought, I returned to the air with a new series, “How Do We Know When We Are Not Fascists?” –an ironic and subtle title that immediately aroused suspicions among the more alert listeners who suspected that I might be taking pot shots at the radio station they were listening to. Actually, my remarks were more generally directed at the entire liberal left and all others who had perpetuated a distorted account of the causes of mass death in the twentieth century and delivered vague and ahistoric accounts of fascist ideology; i.e., fascism as excessive nationalism, or as “monopoly capitalism,” not as an historically specific response to economic crisis and working-class militancy made victorious by disgraceful sectarianism on the Left and Stalinist tactical alliances with Nazism.

As my reading deepened, and I learned something about the history of antisemitism and Nazi ideology (a subject that was curiously missing from my course work in the U.S. field at UCLA, as it was absent in the 1960s New Left), I became more and more suspicious of the critical theorists of the Frankfurt School who had so impressed me in the 1970s, and who influenced my articles in the monthly program guide (republished in my essay “Pacifica Radio and The Politics of Culture,” American Media and Mass Culture, ed. Don Lazere (University of California Press, 1987). Gradually I became aware of the propaganda contrived by threatened aristocratic elites and directed against the rising middle-class ever since the seventeenth century. It became obvious that the step-by-step institutionalization of the civil liberties so prized and so central to the education and emancipation of women, Jews, slaves, and workers, were the achievement of the radical bourgeoisie, especially in America. I also saw that the explanations for the appeal of Nazism and fascism offered by school curricula, museums, and Pacifica programmers had little to do with the facts of the historical record, but everything to do with the ideological imperatives of “multiculturalism” and the organicist discourse that it transmitted. In other words, there was supposed to be an organic entity called “America.” Its repressive puritan mission, the very mission of the deceptively labeled enlightened bourgeoisie, was “essentially” imperialist, patriarchal, and destructive of nature–sins from which our radical critics were exempt. With horror, I recognized the narrative of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Armed with this astonishing insight, my doctoral dissertation on the Melville Revival was refocused upon the changing academic readings of Melville’s Captain Ahab, since the late 1930s, a representation of the (Hebraic) American character as proto-Nazi and unprecedented in its technological capacity to inflict cruelty upon hapless Others. My listeners were kept up to date on my research and the witch hunt that had been directed against Herman Melville for decades by powerfully placed allies of the New Deal, including the Stalinist Left.

Something came over me the summer of 1997 as Herman Melville’s birthday loomed. I had revealed hot stuff from my research for years, but now the question of identity, the buzz-word of many academic leftists, was on my mind. Since Melville himself had adopted various and contradictory personae (to the confusion of his enemies), not only in his family, but as author, I thought I could make a point by playing with the notion of mistaken identities in a distinctively Melvillean way. Something told me it would be my last radio program on KPFK and I was right as it turned out.

PURGE #2 as told by C. Augusta Dupinstein. “The week before the broadcast, air promotion was read by the announcers at Clare’s request: Clare was to reveal a witch-hunt directed against Herman Melville by his academic champions. As soon as the program started, she introduced herself as Dr. Etta Enzyme, here to expose that Marxist Clare Spark, who had been annoying sober and honest professors with her weird fantasies. In high dudgeon Etta read from Clare’s red essay on his “crazy” novel Pierre, linking the subversions of the dark Lady Isabel to the New York State Rent Wars of the 1840s—”See, I told you she was a Marxist!” cried Etta. At the break, the listeners heard Stephen Foster’s lament for a deceased virgin: “She will come no more, Gentle Annie…” Clare returned to the air announcing that she had just killed Etta Enzyme. She went on to read more of her work, then took phone calls from the listeners. The phone lines lit up. The first two callers were horrified: How could a Progressive radio station allow such red-baiting to go on? Couldn’t Clare bring back Etta so that they could have a debate at least? One of the calls made sense: Clare should lay out systematically and off-the-cuff what it was about Herman Melville’s writing that infuriated conservatives. Clare complied in a plain and orderly fashion, but that did not satisfy the 26 year-old program director, Cathie Lo, who had never read Melville, and who did not want a “clubby” air sound, as she later explained in the offing of Etta Enzyme. Clare’s cassette copy of the last radio show was duplicated for review and several weeks later, after Clare left a message asking for air time to talk about the racial discourse of multiculturalism, Clare received a phone call from the PD: she was never to use the name Etta Enzyme again; she must pre-tape her next program for review, and she would get only 30 minutes to review the history of the concepts ‘race’ and ‘ethnicity’. Clare said it was too insulting an offer for a programmer of her experience and achievement. She would not be monitored in this fashion, although in her persona as scholar, not artist, she had no objection to using her real name. Cathy Lo said she understood her predicament and said that she would call her back to arrange an air time, without prior review. That call never materialized.

A few months later, Clare, having learned that the manager had misrepresented to her whether or not certain recent National Board meetings were open to the public, clinched her final separation from Pacifica by retracting a prior letter she had written to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting supporting the Foundation against Free Pacifica, a group of disaffected listeners, staffers, and programmers objecting to current management and its (perceived) mainstream and autocratic policies. In her latest (and still unanswered) letter, Clare asked the CPB to clarify what the new classification of Pacifica radio as a “minority” radio network [still unbeknownst to the listening audience!!!] entailed for hiring and programming. The manager angrily accused her of sour grapes, having lost air time–there were no principles involved. “Hell hath no fury….”

III. What have I learned from all this that could deepen our understanding of the culture wars? Double messages and reaction are inherent in ethnopluralism: To understand the causes of religious and racial and philosophical antagonisms is the ostensible mission of Pacifica. These are not seen as intertwined with and dependent upon social relations in historically specific and evolving economic institutions. Hence it can be advanced that such antagonisms can be solved with better inter-cultural communication and self-knowledge; i.e. the universal propensity for scapegoating of the Other or Prejudice. But the multicultural or social psychological strategy is contradicted by its own precept of cultural relativism: existentialists and nihilists that we are, we can’t really get inside each other’s heads. So segregate the racial or gender group by dividing up jobs and program time according to women’s issues or race or ethnicity. Identify the enemy as white male supremacy. Repeat and repeat the assertion that the national identity of the United States is essentially destructive of the individual (while erasing the concept of the free-standing individual in organicist categories such as ethnicity or “race” or an essentially imperialist, capitalist, patriarchal, and ecocidal Amerika).

Pacifica’s multicultural program policies exemplify the wider trend in which individual biography (as synecdoche for group biography) becomes the content of ‘history’: hence the emphasis on the subjective report of actors in social movements. There is no longer any need to move out of the subjective impression into the world of actually existing institutions, market and property relationships and power relations within institutions. The abstraction of “bourgeois society” and its “hegemony” (“corporatism”) is sighted as the implacable force (me for instance) erasing individuality instead of making unprecedented demands upon the newly politicized individual and upon newly accountable governing institutions.

For my primitivist detractors, “progress” is a ruse; the artifice/dissembling of the money power withers natural desires (instincts). Their propaganda message is simple and direct: purging this too cerebral, too demanding intellectual/moral presence (Clare, a Bad Mother) restores the warm personal relationships of the happy family, of the small producer, of the simple pleasures afforded by the small town nestled in benignant nature. For Pacifica, then and now, ‘bourgeois individualism” or “bourgeois subjectivity” is the enemy. Allow me to speculate: One great loss in the transition to rational secular society is the comforting concept of the immortal soul. What if blood knowledge, the intuitive knowledge of the “race” was a substitute for the missing soul, necessarily sought because the conditions for autonomy of the kind Locke had in mind are still intolerable to our most advanced societies, which refuse to evolve toward structures that would enable each one of us to form an integrated, i.e. unconfused, non-internally contradictory self? A self that did not always need masks; a self that could remember its past and its actions without fleeing in shame and panic. And where do we fly? toward structures that demand authority and obedience–that find the free-standing individual to be rootless and unstable. The individual may lack continuity and memory, but not the racial entity. So we are to merge with group memory (the soul-soil) and find our uniqueness in its untranslatable and undefiled past. Here lies the fatal attraction of multiculturalism.

August 13, 2009

Was Nazism no more than a search for Order? The Reader as case study: some first thoughts

Anyone on the social networking sites or in the blogosphere must notice that more and more persons are objecting to characterizing either Republicans or Democrats as Nazis or their leaders as comparable to Hitler in the current debates concerning health care reform. Amen to that.

But then I was thinking, how is it possible, eight decades since conservative nationalists facilitated the Nazi seizure of power, that the public at large, along with its journalists, are not au courant with such crucial matters as Hitler’s multiple class bases, the exact nature and sources of his antisemitism, the nature of his bond with the German people (see Saul Friedländer’s complaints on the neglect of that subject:, let alone Carl Schmitt’s legal theories, or the structural or policy similarities of the fascist dictatorships with other bureaucratic collectivist societies coping with the monetary crisis of the 1930s? I would argue that this collective lapse is more than a little responsible for the lack of consensus on what is antisemitism, and how it could be combated.

A case in point: the movie version of former jurist Bernhard Schlink’s very popular and honored novel, Der Vorleser, made into a movie The Reader, with script by renowned British playwright David Hare. This rather bad, though (over) praised, movie, should be considered along with the flood of books (and films) chewing over the nature of collaboration with Hitler’s Germany, or Mussolini’s Italy, or Occupied France and Vichy.  For instance, famed conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, the leading conductor in Germany and often criticized by the emigres as an exemplary sellout has been presented in Ronald Harwood’s movie Taking Sides and numerous monographs, many of which defend his conduct (but not Michael Kater, who skewers him), while the most convincing arguments in Harwood’s script are made by a philistine American major (played by Harvey Keitel). Meanwhile, Furtwängler defended himself as upholding high German culture while the mob was in power, but the best biography I read (Kater’s) hardly pictured him as a resister or inner emigre, but rather one who cultivated powerful persons during the Nazi period, not to speak of his repertoire: lots of Wagner, with those Beethoven works that reinforced the Germans as a heroic people with a superior culture (for instance the Ninth Symphony). Think too of the appropriation of Goethe and Schiller, and neoclassicism in general during the Nazi period.

Enter the movie The Reader. The unlikely leading character, Hanna Schmitz (played by Kate Winslet), is gradually revealed to be illiterate. I have consulted my favorite scholar of working class culture and politics, and he says though her German (in the novel) suggests that she came from the countryside, it is inconceivable that she could not read and write. Indeed, since the Reformation especially, there were determined campaigns in Northern Europe to educate “the lower orders.” My friend believes that she could certainly have written a letter or filled out a form. But the thrust of the movie is her hunger for high culture as transmitted by her adolescent lover (a character associated with the erudition of Goethe). Her taking the job of a guard at Auschwitz is hinted at in the movie as perhaps an outgrowth of her cultural incapacity and naivete. She never demonstrates signs of antisemitism, but the movie does, particularly in the last scene, when her grown-up ex-lover Michael Berg (played in maturity by Ralph Fiennes) goes to New York to deliver the suicide Hanna’s money to the lone survivor of a church in which Hanna and other guards allowed three hundred Jewish women and children to burn to death. This wealthy Jewish character (who turns down the legacy as absolving Hanna of her crime)  turns out to live in vulgar splendor on Park Avenue, while Michael, now a lawyer, lives in modern but much more modest circumstances.  But the Jewish survivor does suggest that Michael give the money to an organization that promotes literacy in Germany (and elsewhere?)–probably one of the best educated countries in the world, and in the late nineteenth century possessing the most advanced working class in Europe. In my view, the movie and the novel were contrived to build sympathy for the hapless, miserable Hanna, who would have been a good German if only she had learned to read the classics of European culture, starting with Homer’s Odyssey.

Kate Winslet's wedding hat

Kate Winslet’s wedding hat

You would never know from this film that antisemitism was at the heart of Hitler’s war aims and of the Nazi project in general.  What is equally bad is the moral relativism suggested by the judge who teaches Michael’s seminar in judicial ethics. Is even the mention of Carl Schmitt (now being revived by some New Leftists) off limits for script writers? And what about the hand-to-hand combat waged by German intellectuals in 1986 and after as they debated whether the Third Reich was a deviation from the main contours of German history, or the logical result of German racism and imperialism? Or John Maynard Keynes famous book, The Economic Consequences of the Peace (1920) predicting disaster for Europe because of the punitive Versailles Conference settlement, instigated by Britain and France, with the blessing of Woodrow Wilson? All these questions were evaded by the largely sympathetic focus on the character of the tragic Hanna.[Update: 5-14-14: The Keynes argument is advanced by would-be aristocrats, and is contradicted by Niall Ferguson’s views, one of which is that the Great War could have been averted had UK diplomats not overestimated the military strength of Germany. More to the point, he blames inept handling of economics that created the disastrous inflation of 1923. (The ruined middle class would be a strong component of Hitler’s base.)]

Even if we ignore the missing historical context, what about the depth of the attachment between young Michael and his much older lover? He never gets over her loss and is undone by the discovery that she was a part of the Nazi apparatus as he witnesses her trial several years after their summer affair was abruptly terminated by Hanna’s unannounced departure to parts unknown. Indeed, he is presented as an emotional basket case throughout. Why? Is he a typical over-emotional German romantic, styled after the young Goethe, author of The Sorrows of Young Werther, or the quasi-autobiographical novel Wilhelm Meister? Was the German crime primarily instigated by authoritarian fathers, stern and cold, as the father is here depicted. That was one theory propagated by Harvard social psychologists after the war: It was not anticapitalism/antisemitism/anti”Jewish Bolshevism” or the weakness of the Weimar republic, or the legacy of Bismarck, or the machinations of conservative nationalists that fueled the Nazi movement, but the authoritarian father that incited revolt in the sons, often with a Byronic twist. (see my blog below on the dissemination of  Hitler as failed artist, as a formulator of an eclectic and novel ideology, hence an outsider to normally sane Germans.)

I will update and correct these preliminary thoughts on the movie and the novel that inspired it after I read the novel. I need to know more about the judge in the film and Schlink’s legal philosophy. In the meantime, Hollywood found yet another way to miseducate the American and European publics about the popular support for Hitler and the conduct of ordinary people who carried out the day to day work of the Shoah. As for David Hare, he is no friend of the Jews or of Israel.

[Update 8-16-09:] I have read Schlink’s novel as translated by Carol Brown Janeway, and am more disgusted than ever by the movie. The novel is quite interesting, for it focuses in an intertwined fashion on both whether or not Germany was collectively responsible for Hitler and the Holocaust, along with the damage done to Michael Berg’s ability to love others, for his obviously Oedipal bond with the much older Hanna while he is only fifteen, ties him to her for life, and he is both obsessed with her, submissively dreaming of her as a dominatrix (see my blog on S-M elsewhere on the site), or struggling to maintain his distance, even when she needs him. After he discovers that she was in the SS and could  have, but did not, save 300 Jewish women trapped in a burning synagogue, he goes “numb” for he cannot reconcile the conflicting desires for both “understanding and condemnation.” That his conflicts were even deeper owing to the Oedipal nature of their affair, is beyond the powers of the author to describe, but readers will easily pick it up. Let it suffice for this brief discussion that he feels his betrayal of her, more than he feels her betrayal of either him or of Germany. And she was not from the countryside, as my scholar friend surmised, but from Hermannstadt, a city in Romania with a significant German population. Her religion is never specified, but could have been Evangelical Lutheran, Catholic, or Eastern Orthodox. [It seems unlikely that she was an atheist, for Michael plans for her attending Church organizations after her release from prison, though of course she kills herself when she senses that he will not resume the affair with her owing to her old age and unfamiliar repellent smell.] That she was in fact illiterate seems contrived, especially given her quick grasp of  world literature and later determination to read all about Holocaust survivor stories and scholarly works on the camps (she obviously had no idea what she was doing when she joined the SS). She seems to be a symbol for German Nazis from the working classes, languishing stupidly in mass culture, but who could have been saved from Hitler by an earlier immersion in the classics of the West. Of course numerous educated Germans had no problem supporting Hitler, but that is not brought out in the novel. Nor is there any discussion whatsoever of pre-existent antisemitism, either in Germany, in Michael’s family, or in Hanna’s upbringing.

David Hare, the script writer of the film, could have done much more with Schlink”s agonized book, but apparently chose not to. He (or the director) did make an outrageous change near the end of the film, when Michael takes the suicide Hanna’s legacy to the remaining survivor of the burning Church. In the film, the survivor lives in a luxurious apartment on Park Avenue (all in shades of [Jewish?] gold), whereas in the book, she lives near Central Park on the East Side in a row house on a block of old brownstones, where many of the small back yards are filled with trash. No Rothschild relative there.

The book is sufficiently interesting, even gripping, for use in college classes, for it does emphasize the emotional deformations of the children of the generation that either supported the Third Reich or lamely endured under it. There is also no doubt in the book that Michael cares about legal history, for he studies law as practiced under Hitler, though without comment as to the Carl Schmitt factor. What I said earlier about the cold father is present in the book: Michael feels that his father never cared for the family, only for his work on Kant and Hegel. All in all, Michael ends up as an existentialist/nihilist, emotionally dragged hither and thither and unable to have a healthy relationship with anyone, such is the permanent attachment with Hanna and the invisible Mother (or Father!) whom she must have masked. [I am inclined to think that Hanna is a mask for Father, for the Mother is invisible in the book and kind in the movie. Added, 8-16-09] And he concludes that there has been no progress in the law (as the Enlightenment and its aftermath must suggest), only an irredeemably evil human nature that can kill others as their job requires with complete indifference. So Hanna gets off the hook again: humanity is no damned good and never will be.

I have also read three reviews of the film, all treating it as erotic, evasive regarding antisemitism,and shallow, but none wondering about the underlying ideology (as I understand it). One would have to know that one widespread interpretation of the Nazi takeover was an Ortega-style  “revolt of the masses” theme, thus exonerating other classes from 1. Installing Hitler in the first place; and 2. Opposing the Weimar Republic and of course the Soviet Union. So the film, like the book, is giving an entirely cultural explanation. And these (negative) reviews (from The Guardian, The New Yorker, and The New York Times) failed to note the most important emotional or ideological content of the film: the implausibility of Hanna’s illiteracy (which could not have been typical), the denial of progress, the filthiness of human nature, and the permanent damage done to Michael Berg’s psyche by the Oedipal attachment to Hanna—he is obviously masochistic, and takes blame onto himself for everything that happens.

By the way, I didn’t find either the film or the novel to be pornographic. But then I am a female. These reviewers should look to their own unconscious longings if this film turns them on.   For an excellent and detailed treatment of the book, see Karin Doerr, “Re-Reading Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader as a Mirror of Germany’s Holocaust Memory,” The Genocidal Mind, eds. Dennis B. Klein et al. (St. Paul, MN: Paragon House, 2005): 199-223.

August 9, 2009

What is a corporatist liberal? And why should they frighten us?

Tony Grist Janus 2011[Janus painting by Anthony Grist,2011]To those practiced in political theory, the term is an obvious oxymoron. That is, a corporatist thinks in collectivist terms, while a liberal (at least in the eighteenth century version) focuses on individual rights, competitive markets, and advance through merit. During the 1960s-70s New Left radicalism, “corporate liberalism” usually referred to the despised Democratic Party that was seen, as all capitalist parties were, as part of the business-oriented state that was therefore irrevocably set against the working class. It was my teacher at UCLA, Robert Brenner, who suggested that I use the term “corporatist liberal” instead; he may have wanted to emphasize the protofascist character of the “progressive” capitalist state whose psychological warfare I was studying (and in this case referring to Italian Fascism, with its organization by occupation, the so-called sindicati, with the [corporatist or corporative] state imposing harmony on capitalists and workers from above, in similar fashion as the New Deal intended.

But I liked the term because it suggested the institutional double-binds that Herman Melville had revealed in some of his more autobiographical texts, so the oxymoron formulation brought that out. For instance, he was to search for truth as an original artist, but not upset the conservative* formulations or belief systems of his patrons and family–clearly an impossible task (see Similarly, in graduate school, I discovered that original historical research was demanded, but not so original that it undermined the published work of the faculty that awarded the Ph.D.  [8/11/09: I have been criticized by one academic  for sounding like a disgruntled failed graduate student here, so let me give an example: in a course on women reformers of the nineteenth century, I was punished for using class analysis, indeed one well-known feminist historian stated outright that I should have been thrown out of the program (apparently for noting that not all women had the same economic  interests). In general, class was collapsed into ‘race’ and gender at UCLA, in keeping with the “anti-imperialist” and anti-Western orientation of UCLA at that time. Similarly, I was accused of racism for opposing cultural nationalism as an inevitable outgrowth of separate “ethnic studies” programs. Still, I stuck to my guns and after only eleven years got my Ph.D. in U.S. history.]

In other double binds, I found contradictions between loyalty to one’s country of origin while simultaneously becoming a citizen of the world, sensitive to suffering humanity wherever it might be found. Hence the compromise of “the rooted cosmopolitan” as opposed to the unreliable “rootless cosmopolitan” that I have written about in other blogs and in my book on the Melville revival. This notion of the compatibility of [moderate] “nationalism” and “internationalism” is everywhere today, and must immobilize those who think that all conflicts with other nations can be negotiated peacefully. As I saw while researching Ralph Bunche’s actions as mediator in the Arab-Israeli conflict, the notion propagated by progressives such as Elmore Jackson that an artful and rational mediator could manipulate irrational warring parties to come to their senses and compromise, came straight out of strategies emanating from capitalist managers that disagreements between capital and labor* could be arbitrated by skilled mediation. So much for peace studies or conflict-resolution in general. They are part of the utopian thought of populist-progressives and dominate the mainstream media.

positive state

Briefly, what corporatist liberals do is switch from one P.O.V. to its opposite, as if no contradictions were involved. I trace the aversion to this tactic and to its association with Women to early childhood impressions. What follows is a brief but meaty extract from my conference paper given at the Modern Language Association in 2002. Do not despair if it is too much for you. Just read it, or skip it, and move on below.

“Extrapolating from his texts (and from the writings of other Symbolists) perhaps Melville’s demonic clouds are related to the “ruffled brow”: the sudden pained and searing glance that mars the happy mother’s smooth placidity when her child vomits, wets his bed, soils his clothing, touches his genitals, blurts out a dirty word: the glance that makes him feel so poisonous to her, he imagines she would like to spit him out…and yet, she molded and branded him in her womb-factory: she is his double and his shadow.  Ever entwined, they are Eve/Cain, the Wandering Jew, Beatrice Cenci, and Pierrot: over-reachers whose self-assertion and gall will be rendered innocuous in the final scene.  The thick black eyebrows of the Gothic villain (like the mark of Cain or Pierrot’s black mask) will trigger the memory of Mother’s distress and her child’s shame.  Romantic defiance, in its identification with the designated enemies of authority, portends only degeneracy and decline; as Melville has shown us, it brings remorse and cleansing punishment, not better forms of social organization.  The cancellation of early childhood “dirt” and parental disapproval (which may be registered as sadness–Mortmain’s “muffled” “moan”–as well as anger), then the return of the repressed in the ostensibly opposed symbols, “archetypes” and “types” of popular culture, undermines emancipatory politics.” [This will be hard going for many readers. To see the original MLA paper, please write to It is both psychodynamic and anchored in Melville’s texts, but I think, clear enough.]

What I wrote is an hypothesis only, and to be persuasive, would have to be verified through examination of the early childhood brain under similar stress, that is, so far as I know, currently beyond the capacity of physiologists (neurologist Robert Scaer has observed this as traumatic to the child). But it intrigues me and seems plausible  for it links the intertwining of misogyny and antisemitism that I observed in the biographies of Melville readers: Woman is the [switching] Jew of the Home.

In all the academic literature I have read recently, no explanation is offered that adequately explains why antisemites are so often fearful of women, especially mothers, clinging or otherwise: the important feature to me is their inexplicable switching. I am not satisfied with explanations that refer to “the Other” as produced by the projection of forbidden aggression onto Others who must then be controlled (the Kleinian object- relations explanation pervasive in “cultural studies” with its generally post-colonial slant).  As I have mentioned elsewhere, that formulation of “scapegoating” was produced by the very social psychologists who, during the late 1930s and 1940s, created programs of “civilian morale” and “preventive politics” through psychological testing in order to provide consensus and order. Their goal was not discovery of new and useful truth and/or an informed and appropriately educated clear-eyed and critical citizenry. (I am referring to such corporatist liberals as Talcott Parsons, Gordon Allport, Henry A. Murray, and Harold Lasswell, with allies among the much lauded “critical theorists” whose influence in the humanities remains powerful. See especially chapters two and nine in my book Hunting Captain Ahab for documentation that shocked my doctoral reading committee, but, not surprisingly, remained invisible in published reviews of my book.

Compare this emphasis on the double-bind with Jonah Goldberg’s scathing critique of the Progressives, who are nailed for statism and authoritarianism but not for immobilizing us through the double bind. For instance, if you compromise your art or writing to please authoritarians of the Left or Right, then you are not an original artist/writer, but a courtier. If you sacrifice “order” to be true to your vision, you may not be able to support yourself through your craft–you are what Melville called a castaway. The consequence: those with independent incomes make art or saleable books, and their life experience may estrange them from the various less fortunate whose  vision could enrich their own. )

    Which brings us to the Arab-Israeli conflict and the war on terror. As long as we pretend that all conflicts can be compromised through skillful (i.e. manipulative) mediation, we are helpless to defend ourselves or our allies against determined enemies for whom “peace treaties” (i.e., the rule of law) are irrelevant and tactical only. What I have been arguing here, as elsewhere on this site, is that corporatist liberalism, the ideology of “civilized” progress, indeed, of the United Nations itself, does not only make us crazy in attempting to reconcile the irreconcilable (such as Truth versus Order), its continued hegemony may threaten all life on our planet as we ignobly submit to determined aggressors in thrall to premodern and antisecular ideologies, and who will stop at nothing to maintain traditional hierarchies and privilege. (By secular, I mean the older definition that specified the separation of Church and State; I did not mean the newer meaning where “secular” equals “atheistic” or suggests Jacobin hubris/popular sovereignty.)


*Marxists postulate that there is a structural antagonism between capital and labor. In later years, I have rejected that formulation, and prefer to look at concrete situations, for instance, where there is either a labor shortage or a labor surplus. Moreover, as Michael Mann and other sociologist have argued, the state is not simply dependent upon capital, but has its own particular interests. This should be obvious from the recent brouhaha in Wisconsin with respect to teachers unions. And when I used the term “conservative” with respect to Melville’s relatives, I did not mean to equate the religious conservative Democrats who supported his projects, with the classical liberalism of the Founding Fathers, especially Hamilton. (See, for links to blogs on Hamilton.)

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