YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

December 22, 2013

What is missing in the Duck Dynasty flap?

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DuckdaintyThe suspension of Duck Dynasty “patriarch” Phil Robertson by the Arts and Entertainment Network, following the publication of a story in the men’s magazine GQ that quoted Robertson’s fundamentalist Christian rejection of homosexuality and sins to follow via the slippery slope, has dominated the chatter on Fox and other mass media.

This blog takes issue with the undue emphasis on such issues as free speech versus rights of corporations to control speech, or the public relations failure of A & E, or whether GLAAD –part of the gay rights movement– came on too strong (Mark Steyn). In other words, the event has been covered as yet another over-the-top episode in the Great American Culture Wars.

What virtually everyone I have heard misses is the content of the original article by Drew Magary. (See http://www.gq.com/entertainment/television/201401/duck-dynasty-phil-Robertson. Those who have emphasized Robertson’s “racism” are oblivious to the fact that the comments on happy blacks was set off from the piece almost as an inset, and was possibly derived from a ghost-written autobiography that Robertson claims he never read. In any case, he was a poor white working alongside black farm labor, not spurning their company.)

First, Magary was both attracted and repelled by the Louisiana “rednecks” and their way of life. What the observant reader might have noticed is the style of the piece: Magary is a “gonzo” journalist, drawing upon the fashionable Hunter Thompson innovation, in which subjectivity replaced any attempt to describe with minimum personal bias, the object of one’s reportage. Even a casual reader might have noticed Magary’s ambivalence, perhaps the result of an urban, effete reporter getting down with American primitives in their native habitat. We used to call this primitivism, or a test of manhood and a retreat from feminized American culture. (Ernest Hemingway did it most famously, and will be ever adored by the literati.)

Second, given Robertson’s counter-culture youth, it might have been useful to reflect on the journey from 1960s pseudo-romanticism (anarchism and the lack of boundaries) to family reunification as provided by evangelical Christianity. I have written before about those moderate conservatives who feared that an overly harsh superego would drive children into the arms of either fascist or communist extremists, so proposed a more gentle or “balanced” nurture (see https://clarespark.com/2009/08/25/t-w-adorno-and-his-funny-idea-of-genuine-liberalism/). But the moderate men of even such “rightist” refuges as Fox News or The Wall Street Journal are structurally precluded from reporting their own adherence to “fairness and balance”.

In the interest of attracting maximum readers and viewers, we can’t talk about ambivalence or primitivism. For a partial index to my blogs on primitivism see https://clarespark.com/2013/04/16/blogs-on-anarchismpunkprimitivism/.


September 25, 2013

Ted Cruz, Generational conflict, and Remarque

GermanWarPosterWhile Ted Cruz was calling Republicans to arms to overturn Obamacare, I was watching the movie version of Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), in its uncut version.  (Ben Urwand insists that Universal pictures caved to German pressure to remove certain incendiary scenes that impugned the older generation for mindless nationalism that slaughtered their young soldiers. I watched the uncut version that attacked the upper class older generation for murdering their unprepared lower class young men, through glorifying sacrifice for the Fatherland, teaching irrelevant subjects in schools, and for inadequate training, food, leadership, hygiene, and medical care while in combat.)

The original uncut movie reminded me of the pacifism that moved the formation of Pacifica Radio immediately after WW2. Such Remarque-like antiwar sentiments lack an analysis of the lead up to wars, but imagine an undifferentiated class of enlisted men, badly led by undifferentiated old and middle-aged men.  Indeed, Remarque himself was born into a Catholic home (his father was a bookbinder, not a politicized worker), then after his recovery from wounds in the war, went on to write numerous novels after his autobiographical first novel (that of course was banned and burned by the (relatively young) Nazis in power. His brazen book was riotously protested before the Nazis were put in power by…old men: the monarchists and conservative nationalists of Germany who hoped to control Hitler and his hotheads in order to destroy communism and the independent working class movement that opposed the Nazis.

Remarque, a handsome fellow, went on to a successful career as an author and affairs with glamorous movie stars. In trying to place him as if he existed later in the 20th century, I would have to locate him in the counter-culture, not in any political faction. In the 1960s, boys like him might have been draft dodgers or protesters against the Viet Nam conflict. But the more politicized would have had a more sophisticated analysis of WW1. For instance, they might have looked to rival imperialisms, or to the failure of the Socialist Parties to oppose the war in 1914, voting for war credits in Germany.  Or if more attuned to the errors of diplomats, they might have come to agree with Niall Ferguson’s The Pity of War.

By the time Remarque wrote his novel, disillusion with the idea of progress pervaded what we now call the Jazz Age. Hemingway had written two antiwar novels (The Sun Also Rises about an aimless generation), then A Farewell to Arms (more overtly antiwar and vaguely autobiographical).  I have found one quote where Remarque prefigured the anti-technology sentiments of the counter culture, arguing for a vague humanism and faith in humanity; he was no nihilist.


The conflict du jour is over whether or not Ted Cruz is a hothead and ambitious for personal power. I am reminded of a line from the much lauded House of Cards remake, offered by Netflix to its subscribers. This time, a ruthless Southern Democrat, “Francis Underwood” (played by Kevin Spacey), explains to the audience that he isn’t in it for the money but for “power”.  Such is the charge now leveled at Ted Cruz by an older generation that hews to a more bipartisan approach to the management of social policy.

We know much more about this political war than Remarque knew about his war as an eighteen year old Catholic boy.  Given what I have studied about the moderate men—i.e, the older generation in charge today, it is difficult not to call them out for utopianism.  (See https://clarespark.com/2010/11/06/moderate-men-falling-down/.)


May 6, 2013

The New Left activist scholars

activist_scholarshipIt was once my fantasy that scholarship entailed a thorough comprehension of the field under discussion, and that recent events were the purview of journalists, not scholars (who were supposedly waiting for the opening of archives and all primary source materials before rushing into print).

But with the antiwar movement that was contemporaneous with the student strikes all over America during the late 1960s and early 1970s, the activist scholar came into her own.  I remember one such, Temma Kaplan (author of The Anarchists of Andalusia), introducing herself to a seminar at UCLA as “an activist” (or possibly as “an activist scholar”).

Assistant Professor Kaplan’s self-introduction suggested a sea change in the teaching of the humanities and social sciences. It is true that it is difficult to escape ideological biases, but Hugh Thomas’s mammoth book on The Spanish Civil War used sources from the Nationalist Right, interviewed many of the survivors, some of whom lived in Franco Spain, and was careful to footnote many accounts that might differ from his own generally moderate narrative and interpretations. (For instance, I call him a “moderate” because he blamed socialist factions for not cohering to prevent the rightist nationalist rebellion led by General Franco in July 1936 that finally prevailed over the Spanish Republic in a conflict that rocked the world. For some estimates of the HBO treatment of the Hemingway-Gellhorn marriage see https://clarespark.com/2012/07/09/hbo-does-gellhorn-in-red/. I saw the movie as another bow to the Popular Front that formulated interwar and postwar conflicts as ‘the People’ vs. ‘Fascism.’ ).

But with the New Left there was no such eclecticism or acknowledgements that recent events might be too polarized for a relatively objective reading, not to speak of the usual inaccessibility of government or other official documents, hoarded by interested parties or descendants protecting the reputations of their illustrious ancestors.

Alexander Saxton, my own Stalinist dissertation director, upon seeing my first draft of an introductory chapter, explicitly ordered me to delete criticisms of his ideological allies (e.g. Ellen Schrecker), and never to praise his enemies (e.g. John Dos Passos, author of the USA trilogy). Later, he also let me know that he and his [communist?] wife had met one of my chief Melville revivers and his wife (Jay Leyda and Si-Lan Chen) and liked them very much.  I pressed ahead and devoted a long chapter to Jay Leyda, an outspoken and versatile Stalinist, and after years of stubbornly sticking to primary sources (some either previously restricted, misreported, or only briefly opened) got my dissertation approved. It was a Trotskyist scholar of international fame who agreed to be my co-chair after Alex Saxton retired. (Saxton even wrote a strong letter in support of my dissertation, telling me that I was the first student for whom he had done such a favor.)

Mine is not an unfamiliar story in academe. Since I had been studying multiculturalism during the period of my dissertation research (1984-1993), and had objected to its racialist discourse in various academic forums and conferences (sometimes to the screams or taunts of tenured left professors in both public and private spaces), I discovered that David Horowitz and Peter Collier were publishing a periodical called Heterodoxy that accurately described the PC takeover of teaching. At that time, Horowitz was living in my neighborhood, and running into him with some family members, I introduced myself to him as a reader of his work, which jibed entirely with my own experience as a hounded graduate student.

Somehow word got out that Horowitz and I were allies, since he and his wife April came to my first book talk at Dutton’s bookstore in Brentwood, shortly after 9-11-2001. Not long after that, I was interrogated by two well known Marxist professors (one a sociologist, the other an art historian) whether DH was a friend of mine. I take friendship very seriously and resent interference with my choices.  I should have known that I was likely being marginalized by the academic left as at least an “unreliable” or “uncontrollable.” The final blow came when Christopher Hitchens gave a talk at the Horowitz Wednesday Morning Club in favor of the Iraq war, and numerous old friends, activist scholars and journalists, saw that I had entered the Devil’s realm. In retrospect, it was not surprising that Verso Press backed out of publishing my book on the Melville Revival (after telling people it would be published), because I refused to downplay the importance of John Milton, or to puff F. O. Matthiessen and Lewis Mumford. This was during the mid-1990s. To my sorrow, none of my once close allies, gathered when I was program director at KPFK (and had power, it seemed to them), lifted a finger to criticize Verso, which after all was publishing their work.

As an experiment (to test an old but languishing friendship), I invited one of the academics who was a close friend in the 1970s to friend me on Facebook. From what I can gather, he visited my FB page, and was appalled that I was writing about Fox News and continued to link to articles from Horowitz’s Frontpagemagazine.com, and announced that he was going to block me, but that we might still be friends, and that he welcomed a face to face discussion of our political differences (where he would have an opportunity to tell me to my face that I was now an enemy to the working class?). I responded that I had not changed; that I was still doing class analysis, and still defending the cultural freedom of every individual. Then I asked him if he had read at least part of my book. He responded that he had, but was too busy to read much of it. That did it. I thought that I understood what impelled the second wave of feminism. Here was my reasoning: he liked me before I was a scholar and had no tools to question his anti-art, anti-bourgeois cultural politics. I supposed that I was a worshipful female in his eyes. Now that I too was a scholar, I surmised that he was too burdened with committee meetings and other academic responsibilities (complained about in one of his many e-mails) to expend any effort on a book that purportedly changed Melville scholarship forever, and moreover, notwithstanding that it was mostly written from the Left (though not with any orthodoxy)! (In a subsequent email exchange, he denies that he thought any such thing.) As for my claim that my book changed Melville scholarship, I make no apologies. That is what scholars are supposed to do: find new sources and revise all previous scholarship! If they can’t do more than take other scholars  down, without providing a reconfiguration of old problems, and providing new syntheses, then they are not scholars at all, but ideologues parroting some party line. You can be a scholar, or a journalist, or a party hack, but not all three at the same time.

Join us

I have told these stories because I want my readers to know that activist scholars have designs on their students, and must be outed and opposed. These activists use academic freedom to abuse it, and to smother all dissent, even among themselves. (Ironically, before his death, my dissertation director, wrote to me with great affection and appreciation as he enclosed his last book. But then he had the soul of an artist, and every now and then, it peeped out from some chinks in the Stalinist armor. I have forgiven his erratic conduct–sometimes censorious, sometimes approving– long ago. Bottom line: Saxton allowed me to write a Melville dissertation in the history department. No English department would have allowed me to write about “a major figure.” Such erratic conduct as Saxton demonstrated ironically fit in with Melville’s own wavering between aristocrat and democrat.)

Therefore, “Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt?”

March 24, 2013

The State of the blog (2)

Kidman as GellhornThis is a report to the readers of the Yankee Doodle Society/Clare Spark blog about our progress and how the readership has ebbed and flowed. But also what themes have garnered the most interest, and which have not.

I did not get serious about the blog until I had finished other academic work, sometime in mid-2009. All told, we have had 256,313 views, about half of which appear to have been visitors, as some came because of one title, then stayed to read more (WordPress is now distinguishing between visitors and views). Those reading “About Clare Spark” numbered 9,163, which I am told is a respectable number. The best year was 2012, probably because of the presidential election, and because Nicole Kidman’s performance as Martha Gellhorn drove several thousand viewers to my blog on Hemingway and Gellhorn’s supposed “spy mission” to China in 1941, partly dramatized in a HBO movie. The readership of several conservative websites were also coming to the blog in considerable numbers. I suspect that the latter were pleased to see my criticisms of Obama, but less pleased to see my constant critiques of populism across the political spectrum. (Even at KPFK, I was called an “elitist” by some young listeners, and recently one anonymous internet comment diagnosed me as “a non-coercive leftist.” For those into classification, you are on your own.)

My family and some friends are staggered when I report these numbers. I am less satisfied: there should be more comments and presumably helpful feedback. Why, I wonder? Though the internet is crowded with blogs, perhaps mine are less predictable, less easily classified or labeled as “conservative”, “liberal”, “moderate,” or “radical”, and are consequently more demanding upon the reader. Perhaps they discomfit some who want echoes, not reconfigurations of old problems and new questions. Since I started writing about Freud’s continued relevance and/or about the culture wars, where I come out as a student of the psyche and am also strongly supportive of the separation of church and state, I have seen the number of visitors diminish. (For my blogs on what is useful about Freud or about the abuse of “Freud” see https://clarespark.com/2013/03/16/blogs-on-freud-and-anti-freudians/.)

When I was first hired as Program Director of Pacifica Radio in Los Angeles, the News Director Marc Cooper stated flat out that my radicalism consisted in believing that the audience wasn’t stupid. Indeed, one of my core beliefs is that “public intellectuals” are less interested in teaching their readers or viewers to be independent analysts, than in getting paid in money and celebrity with “niche” followers. I was vindicated as PD of KPFK, for our subscriptions swelled by 20%, and I continue to be impressed by the quality and learnedness of comments I get on some blogs and on Facebook.

What themes have I found most vanguard in planning future essays?

  1. Antisemitism is still not discussed in all its manifold forms, in spite of the liberal enthusiasm for studying “prejudice” and “hate speech.” Assimilated Jews want to believe that they are safe in America by hewing to the Democratic Party, and few Americans of my generation recognized that anyone who lived through all or part of the twentieth century has suffered multiple traumas.  So if many are obsessed with Israel (pro or con), it is probably because they don’t feel safe in America, particularly those who are descended from Holocaust survivors. While we study “hate speech” we don’t study why people hate, and I am determined to get to the bottom of “misogyny” in all its forms, and particular, its intertwining with antisemitism. Is Woman the Jew of the Home?
  2. The very notion of the “individual” is under attack, whether it be in the regressive, infantilizing rhetoric of “family” that pervades the discourse of both left and right, or in the general, often well-founded, suspicion of mental health professionals.
  3. Popular culture needs much more decoding, including primitivism and death cults among youth or the military model throughout (think NCIS and its popularity). Lately, I have been studying the “degeneration” narrative that alleges that the modern world necessarily leads to the death of the planet and civilization as we have known it. This pervasive belief is dangerous to political will, and possibly affects all of us, whatever our political preferences.

I will probably continue my offensive against antidemocratic propaganda, doing my best to decode loaded language and images, while remaining detached from any particular politics. Scholarship demands that distance, though my personal feelings toward readers of my work continue to be warm and protective. I love teaching, and always have, even in a war zone.

Gellhorn ca. WW2

Gellhorn ca. WW2

December 26, 2012

Martha Gellhorn blogs

Martha Gellhorn

Martha Gellhorn

https://clarespark.com/2011/06/30/links-to-review-essay-on-hemingway-spy-mission-to-china/ My review of Peter Moreira’s well-received book on Hemingway’s supposed spy mission to China in 1941. It was part two that brought thousands to my website.)


Compare John Dos Passos’s final verdict on America’s past and future to the gloomily Red, anti-Dos Passos slant of the HBO movie: [Responding to German students as to what is admirable about USA:] “I told them they should admire the United States not for what we were but for what we might become. Selfgoverning democracy was not an established creed, but a program for growth. I reminded them that industrial society was a new thing in the world and that although we Americans had gone further than any people in spreading out its material benefits we were just beginning, amid crimes, illusions, mistakes and false starts, to get to work on how to spread out what people needed much more: the sense of belonging, the faith in human dignity, the confidence of each man in the greatness of his own soul without which life is a meaningless servitude….Faith in self-government, when all is said and done, is faith in the eventual goodness of man.” (p.508, Virginia Spencer Carr’s bio of John Dos Passos, whose USA trilogy, written in his younger years, was one of the most radical and brilliant of all the left-wing literature. After his quarrel with Hemingway during the Spanish Civil War, he gradually turned away from the Left, but his optimism and defense of the dissenting individual are the legacy of the Enlightenment.]



Hemingway and Gellhorn in NYC

Hemingway and Gellhorn in NYC

September 23, 2012

HOMELAND and the idea of the Fifth Column

Tonight September 23, 2012 will attract a world-wide audience as the Emmy Awards are handed out. It is likely that the Showtime series HOMELAND will walk away with the trophies, for this was not only a well-written and acted thriller addressing the War on Terror, the theme of the Fifth Column taps into the psychology of the viewer who suppresses the critical faculty, what I would call the inner rebel that all societies struggle to suppress in the interest of social stability. We ourselves tamp down the inner Fifth Column every day, often suppressing thoughts and feelings that could conceivably irritate families, employers, and all others with power over our future welfare. (For a narrower definition of the term, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fifth_Column.)

Although the Wikipedia entry on the Fifth Column starts its usage with the Spanish Civil War, citing Hemingway’s play The Fifth Column (1940), in effect suppressing Hemingway’s loyalty to the Soviet line that Trotskyists and Anarchists were a “fascist” Fifth Column, and secret enemies to the Spanish homeland that the Republicans and its foreign brigades were defending, the same sort of argument was deployed by Stalin in his notorious purges of the old Bolsheviks during the mid-1930s. Whether or not Ernest Hemingway transferred his loyalty to the U.S. to communist countries (first the Soviet Union, then Cuba) is hotly debated among Hemingway scholars. (For my take on the fight, see https://clarespark.com/2012/08/20/ernest-hemingway-carlos-baker-and-the-spanish-civil-war/.)

But this blog is not about Hemingway’s conflation of masculinity with the aims of the country he believed was best defending Spain, Spain being his adopted homeland. Rather, this blog continues the theme of my recent essays, that of populist demagoguery and the widespread reluctance to get to know our deepest thoughts and impulses, to the detriment of our own capacities for free thought. It is the contention of this blog that demagogues harness our own unspoken and unacknowledged, possibly divisive, thoughts and feelings, directing them instead to a designated enemy who must be defeated to purify ourselves of contaminants, contaminants that would infect the Good Mother(land).

First, a few words on the text and subtext of HOMELAND (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homeland_(TV_series)) . The thriller was ostensibly inspired by Hatufim, an Israeli television series shown in 2010, treating the hitherto neglected subject of returning prisoners of war, whose adjustment to family life was often fraught with difficulty, not to speak of some suspicions of their continued loyalty to the homeland. I find a more persuasive precursor to HOMELAND in the American series 24, that dealt with counter-terrorism, with some questioning the morality of its chief character “Jack Bauer,” whose methods subordinated means to ends.

Similarly, the chief argument of HOMELAND is that Americans, while ostensibly fighting the war on terror, committed atrocities (i.e., “collateral damage”) that were covered up by highly placed officials such as the Vice-President (obviously linked to Cheney and his advocacy of American power and a militant response to 9/11) and his confederate, a highly placed officer in the CIA, who obliterated the record of a drone attack that took the lives of 82 children in the attempt to kill a major figure in Al Qaeda, “Abu Nazir.” Nazir’s adorable 10 year old son Isa is one of the casualties, and this tragic loss leads Nazir to wreak revenge by attacking the entire U.S. defense establishment, using “turned” POW Nicholas Brody as his fifth column.  Season one ends with Brody’s suicide bombing attempt undermined by his own “Achilles heel” (i.e. Fifth Column): his attachment to his 16-year old daughter who pleads with him to come home to his true homeland, where he is needed as a loving and protective father.

One of the virtues of the HOMELAND series is the moral ambiguity it attaches to the actions of each of the major characters, but make no mistake: taken in all, it is a strong antiwar, anti-Republican Party statement on current controversies regarding the use of “American power” that puts “America First” rather than respecting the good Muslims who are sprinkled throughout, and who would suppress the terrorists given a more internationalist approach of the U.S. in the wake of 9/11.

[Added 9-24: Backstage after accepting her Emmy Award, Claire Danes assured reporters that the show was not “political” but was simply a “psychological thriller.” Either Danes is undereducated, or she is under orders to transmit that safer line. For a critique that nails the series for “negative images” of Arabs, see http://english.alarabiya.net/views/2012/09/25/240043.html. We are back in multicultural territory that demands positive images to defeat “racism”–always perpetrated by Jewish Hollywood. The reviewer didn’t understand the show.]

Bouguereau’s The Motherland

August 20, 2012

Ernest Hemingway, Carlos Baker, and the Spanish Civil War

Orwell, 1938 dust jacket

This blog is not a defense of Trotskyism. The Spanish Civil War and its treatment by literary historians is important because only the “Trotskyists” of, say, Partisan Review or The New Leader in the late 1930s nailed the Stalinists and their fellow travelers for covering up such events as the purges of the old Bolsheviks (1936 onward), and for penetrating liberal organizations devoted to cultural freedom, turning them toward statism, dialectical materialism, silencing criticism of the Soviet strategy in Spain, and joining with the “only” antifascist forces, i.e, the Comintern and its docile filmmakers, novelists, screenwriters, and other artists.

The “liberals” (who succumbed to the Popular Front during the 1930s), and who continue to opine on the course of the Spanish Civil War, leave out the Soviet-directed destruction of Jose Robles, POUM, and the Anarchists, thus passing over these atrocities but also skipping over the twists and turns of the Comintern during the 1930s and early 1940s. (Examples: from 1928 on, Communists were devastating critics of the “social fascism” of the New Deal and of Social Democracy in general; but the Popular Front was effectively in charge from 1935 onward; then the Nazi-Soviet Pact (1939) reawakened the older critique of the Western democracies as really imperialists, like Hitler; but then the Nazi invasion of the S.U. reawakened the Popular Front with the American bourgeoisie in order to defend the Soviet Union and to quash isolationist sentiment.) (See Stephen Schwartz’s article on Stalinist treachery in Spain here: http://www.jewcy.com/post/cheapest_transaction. )

Carlos Baker’s 1969 biography of Ernest Hemingway had no problem describing Joris Ivens as a Communist filmmaker: I don’t know enough about Baker’s own political allegiances to say why. Perhaps Baker agreed with those for whom the communists were just another form of enlightened and moral liberal, maybe a bit more serious about uplifting the masses and rooting out nativism and American sympathizers with Hitler and Mussolini. Such naiveté was how communism infiltrated the New Dealers and their populist sympathizers: Only the Stalinist Left was held to be serious about fighting fascism or criticizing the Neutrality Act of the Western democracies that prevented the supplying  of arms and oil to the Spanish Loyalists. “Trotskyites,” the Comintern declared, were in league with fascism and Nazism! The Comintern-controlled Abraham Lincoln Battalion is still presented as comprised of idealistic young Americans, for instance in the atrociously slanted and mendacious HBO movie Hemingway and Gellhorn, most of which is devoted to the Spanish Civil War, and which ignored the bloody, faction-ridden history of that crucial conflict, without any political criticism from dozens of reviewers all over the world. (For a brief review of the HBO offering, see https://clarespark.com/2012/07/09/hbo-does-gellhorn-in-red/,)

Princeton professor Carlos Baker was oblivious to George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia (1938),* a deafness that allowed him to record, without comment, that Hemingway sent his editor Maxwell Perkins as a taste of what to expect in For Whom The Bell Tolls, “Pilar’s” account of the Anarchist massacre of the “Fascists” of [Ronda]. Worse, Baker described Gustav Regler only as a friend of Hemingway’s. But Regler’s 1959 memoir The Owl of Minerva (cited by Baker) did describe a conversation with Hemingway in 1940, wherein Hemingway chastised Regler, the former political Commissar of the Twelfth International Brigade, for deserting the Communists! Having read Regler’s fascinating memoir and having quoted from his book regarding Hemingway’s feisty defense of the Communists in Spain (see https://clarespark.com/2011/06/30/ernest-hemingway-and-gellhorn-in-china-1941-4/) I was not amazed that briefly opened Soviet archives revealed that Hemingway was recruited by the KGB in late 1940, despite his strong criticism of André Marty and Dolores Ibárruri (La Pasionaria) in his popular novel—a criticism that did enrage such American Communists as Mike Gold or the reviewer writing for The Daily Worker.

La Pasionaria

And while well-situated liberals in the most prestigious newspapers might have thought in their own minds that they were allies to “the common man,” they were in practice tolerant of their friends on the Soviet-controlled Left. After the war, these same Popular Fronters hated to be associated with (vulgar) McCarthyism, so that the identification of communist penetration of American institutions left the nailing of an American Fifth Column to the far Right. Since the Soviets had defined the Right (Big Business) as fascist, the “liberals” would characterize these “loons” as paranoid extremists, a label that persists to this day, notwithstanding the archival research of Mark Kramer, Harvey Klehr, John Earl Haynes, and Alexander Vassiliev, to  name a few.

And that is how we lost the Cold War and the struggle for hearts and minds—until the Soviet Union collapsed from within. Sadly, it was too late for the better American universities. The Popular Front had done its work and generations of Americans were disabled from seeing into the wildly successful cultural work of the Soviet Union and/or Communist China.

*[Added, August 23, 2012: A dispute has broken out in the Comments section to this blog, regarding Orwell’s intentions in his novel 1984. John Dos Passos wrote a biographical chapter on Orwell in his Century’s Ebb (1975): “Orwell’s mind was shaking loose from the Socialist dogma. He began to see history whole: ‘What is obviously happening,’ he wrote in his offhand way, ‘is the breakup of laissez-faire capitalism and of the liberal-Christian culture. Until recently the implications of this were not foreseen because it was generally imagined that Socialism could preserve and even enlarge the atmosphere of liberalism. It is now beginning to be realized how false this idea was. Almost certainly we are now moving into an age of totalitarian dictatorships–an age in which freedom of thought will at first a deadly sin and later on a meaningless abstraction.'” (p.64). Dos Passos finishes with this thought (relating how Orwell had become an invalid, afflicted with tuberculosis): “Relapses took him to hospitals. All the while he stuck with ferocious tenacity to the novel he was writing. 1984 was a bitter parable of the totalitarian world he saw developing out of German Nazism, Russian Communism, and the decay of the spirit of liberty in Britain….(65-66) I.e., Dos Passos sees the parable as the last stage of Orwell’s gradual disillusion with the libertarian promise of Socialism and Communism. The following chapter is a scathing account of the indifference of Hemingway and Gellhorn to his search for his friend Jose Robles, using fake names.]

August 6, 2012

Gellhorn’s “blind spot” on Israel

Caroline Moorehead

[For a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2012/06/16/the-social-history-racket/.]

According to Martha Gellhorn’s most prestigious biographer, Caroline Moorehead (a champion of “human rights”), Gellhorn, the famed war correspondent and novelist (1908-1998), was dead wrong in her enthusiasm for the Jewish state, an error that Moorehead seems fixated upon in her much lauded biography of 2003, for she does not hesitate to dilate upon her own under-researched opinions on the history of Israel and its conflict with the “Palestinians” and Israel’s neighbors.  (I have been rereading Moorehead’s biography and another feminist study of MG. It was not Moorehead, but British leftist “Rosie Boycott” who used the term “blind spot.” Moorehead does report that in time, MG came to see Israelis as “arrogant and boorish.” This was solely CM’s characterization of MG’s letter to Robert Presnell in 1967. These words not in quotation marks.)

What is perhaps most striking is that Gellhorn, who did have some Jewish ancestry, had no apparent Jewish identity until she was present at the liberation of Dachau, and was struck down by the visible presence of evil, evil of such magnitude that her prior faith in human perfectibility (inherited from her parents, especially Edna) was shot forever. Indeed, the recent HBO film (Hemingway and Gellhorn) uses archival footage of Dachau’s victims, and then affixes the face of Nicole Kidman (playing Gellhorn) upon one of the victims in the pit of corpses, suggesting that this might be some kind of awakening or turning point for MG. (In the just-issued DVD and Blue-Ray edition of the movie, this latter scene is edited out, and we see MG fleeing into the woods, instead. There will be nothing about MG’s attachment to Israel in the HBO script.)  Indeed, the Wikpedia entry on Gellhorn plays up her ancestry as German, not partly Jewish. Gellhorn herself wrote these words after visiting Gaza in 1956: “These kibbutzim are the only places I know where a daily practical effort is made to follow the teachings of Christ.” (The View From The Ground, p. 136). So much for Gellhorn’s enthusiasm for Israel (or the “half-Jewish” identity ascribed to her by the HBO movie Hemingway and Gellhorn?).

It should be noted that Moorehead has had exclusive access to Martha Gellhorn’s papers at Boston University, and hence her lengthy biography had detail and heft that was presumably denied to competing biographers. It is also true that a wandering scholar cannot go into these papers and check Moorehead’s claims for accuracy.

Now that I have finished reading this supposed tell-all biography, I do have more ammunition to complain about the HBO rendition of the Gellhorn-Hemingway marriage (the notion that MG was having great sex with Hemingway is preposterous), but important questions are raised about authors who are not scholars, but biographers soi-disant, and who use archival materials to grind their own political axes. In Moorehead’s case, we learn about matters that are only of passing relevance to those interested in the achievements of the first major female war correspondent, whose colleagues, friends, and acquaintances were among the most significant social democrats, fascists, and/or communists of her time, H. G. Wells, Bertrand de Jouvenel, Robert Capa,  Joris Ivens, Lt. General James M. Gavin, Leonard Bernstein, and Eleanor Roosevelt for just a few examples. But CM’s details do appeal to our lower instincts, for instance the reader’s voyeuristic curiosity about bad sex, affairs with married men, abortions, a rape, naked sunbathing and swimming, facelifts, friendships with other celebrities, the absence of maternal instincts, and her final exit as a suicide.

I have no doubt that Moorehead thinks of herself as a feminist, yet she trots out as many as four abortions, perhaps to undermine her subject’s credibility as a humanitarian like herself. (Moorehead wrote other biographies, for instance of Freya Stark, an Arabist, or Bertrand Russell, whose anti-Zionist views are well known.) And I wonder if Moorehead is not a Third Worlder, for she slams MG for suppressing her initial negative reaction to Chiang-Kai Shek and Madame Chiang: i.e.,  Moorehead, unlike MG,  is truly devoted to The People. (For more on this point, see my review essay https://clarespark.com/2011/06/30/links-to-review-essay-on-hemingway-spy-mission-to-china/.)

Now Moorehead could have, had she been any kind of serious intellectual, asked about the political significance of writing about the effects of 20th century wars upon civilians, using imagistic (pictorial) language, as Gellhorn was wont to do. Is there no problem with the aestheticizing of violence, as Walter Benjamin powerfully argued? Do we not end up by focusing upon the demise of Western civilization as an aesthetic experience, distanced from the horrors described, left in despair, overwhelmed by the magnitude of mass death, and launched upon a death trip?

No less than Hollywood pictures, Gellhorn was focused on violence, and put herself in harms way with such daredevil frequency, that one must ask if her restlessness and carelessness about her own safety did not have some neurotic component.  She read thrillers throughout life, CM tells us, but what was the emotional payoff for MG? Was she not striving to live up to her high-achieving parents’ expectations, and punishing them vicariously by risking her life, over and over?

After wading through 424 pages of text, I felt that I had just read a cleverly masked hatchet job. There is much of lasting significance to learn from the life of Martha Gellhorn, but this book has left a bad taste in my mouth.

July 29, 2012

GIRLS, or, the new lost generation

Lena as shown by her mom

If you have time, watch http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/video/lena-dunham-first-season-girls-338688.

HBO’s new series, GIRLS, has been nominated for three Emmy awards. In this blog, I raise some questions about the writing and what it tells us about the so-called Millennial generation (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_Y) . They remind me of the decadent world made familiar to us by Ernest Hemingway in his first novel The Sun Also Rises (1926).

Lena Dunham comes out of the “indy” film world, having made a film entitled Tiny Furniture, which seems to refer to her artist mother’s work. (Dunham’s mother is Laurie Simmons, while her father is the well-known artist Carroll Dunham.  See http://www.moma.org/collection/artist.php?artist_id=1652.) I have now seen that first film, and was simply appalled by its defense of an entitled generation, demanding and yet submissive to male desire, literally taking it in the ass.

I must say that my resistance to this set of seemingly aimless and apolitical young women as depicted on HBO, is partly shaped by the high seriousness of my own generation, for we were the offspring of fathers and mothers who were one way or another shaped by the second world war, and before that, the Great Depression. Hence my impatience with those young people who grew up in comparative affluence, and without a compulsory draft or the Viet Nam war that politicized the Baby Boomer generation, leading to permanent political changes in our country, and moving the Democratic Party sharply to the Left. I can’t understand why the four girls are not talking about important books, or feminism, or the civil rights movement, let alone engaging US foreign policy. Their attention is all on sex and relationships, an attention that is also typical of the touchy-feely ideology promoted in progressive schools and in the media today. (It must be said that many feminist artists of the 1970s focused on sexuality, not to speak of lesbianism.)

Lena Dunham has been praised mightily by John Podhoretz in the pages of The Weekly Standard (see http://www.weeklystandard.com/articles/girls-are-all-right_647320.html?nopager=1.). He thinks that she is a marvel of accomplishment in her generation, while I see her and the three others as overly self-absorbed. And to be fair, the script does allow for such a view, to her credit. And as one of my children observed, she makes herself vulnerable in a way that is rare for any of us.

Many have enjoyed these ten episodes, and as I continued to watch them, I must admit to being drawn into their world. But I still question two things:

  1. The “indie” film world produced Lena Dunham. But what does “independence” signify to the young filmmakers who send their work to Sundance and similar showcases for the    more “spiritual” film auteurs? Much of what I have seen of their work is boring, horribly written and, as we used to say on the left, “self-indulgent.”  The main virtue, as I read the situation, is the “independence” from [Jew-ridden, Big Money] Hollywood. One thinks of “community radio”, similarly liberated from ‘corporate greed’.

2.Lena Dunham was educated at progressive Oberlin, and before that, in a progressive artsy school, St. Anne’s in Brooklyn. She must have been exposed to the “postmodern” world of academe that touted transgressiveness as the standard for high art or moral seriousness. In other words, a true rebel once again shouted “Merdre” at the [‘Jewified’] bourgeoisie (see Alfred Jarry, Ubu Roi). This cri de coeur is old and tired, and in a world where the vanguard has yielded to primitivism, minimalism, and other forms of moral suicide masquerading as self-sacrifice, or a leap into the unknown, or worse, pseudo-solidarity with the oppressed, I wonder what mores remain to be flouted? For more on this theme, see https://clarespark.com/2012/10/03/the-sexual-revolution-2/.

Lena’s father

July 19, 2012

Communist ideas go mainstream

Rosa Luxemburg

[This blog should be read in tandem with https://clarespark.com/2012/08/20/ernest-hemingway-carlos-baker-and-the-spanish-civil-war/.]

The most important idea in this blog: that the original Progressives wanted a regulated capitalism that would stave off the specter of red revolution. Their enemies were Gilded Age robber barons/ finance capital, but more so, a militant working class that seemed to be on the march, especially during the riotous year of 1919. In the first eight months of 1919–in August introducing the first article publicizing the ostensibly forgotten Herman Melville (1819-1891), The Nation magazine advised its conservative readers to move sharply to the left, outflanking the Industrial Workers of the World and its evil twin the Socialist Party. Oswald Garrison Villard’s influential magazine preached “honest Anglo-Saxon populism” of the communitarian sort that such Anglo-Saxon upper-Midwesterners such as Ernest Hemingway would embody in his novels, for instance in A Farewell to Arms (where war is blamed on the upper classes, and suffered by hapless peasants), and then For Whom The Bell Tolls (1940, written shortly before EH was to be recruited by the KGB as revealed in The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America, 2009, see https://clarespark.com/2012/07/09/hbo-does-gellhorn-in-red/).

Nation writers in 1919 also made a vital distinction between industrial capital and finance capital: the latter were Shylocks, while industrial capital was, by contrast, close to the earth, *suggesting the same primitivism, earthiness, and regressive use of language [childish prattle?] that Hemingway (a.k.a. “Hemingstein”) admired. They also posited mystical bonds to unite society, for they were at heart organic conservatives, hostile to anything that smacked of empiricism or “materialism.” Above all, they preached deference to gentlemanly, compassionate Anglo-Saxon experts, who, properly reconstructed, would avoid the extremes of heartless laissez-faire capitalism and communist revolution (Jew/Jacobin-led mob rule). That is why I call them the moderate men, and these moderates can be found in both political parties today, arguing for “the neutral state,” while at the same time, the moderate men are attuned to life among the lowly (see https://clarespark.com/2012/06/29/the-neutered-state/, with its bizarre notion that all conflict can be reconciled by the artful, manipulative “mediator” bringing progressive ideas of order to the “mixed-economy”).

For a detailed account of The Nation line in January-August 1919, see https://clarespark.com/2009/09/19/populism-progressivism-and-corporatist-liberalism-in-the-nation-1919/. For more on the separation of finance capital from industrial capital see https://clarespark.com/2010/09/11/is-wall-street-slaughtering-the-middle-class/.

In a more recent blog, I summarized the main ideas of Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes in their detailed summation of the Communist movement in the U.S. (See https://clarespark.com/2012/06/03/connecting-vs-connecting-the-dots/. ) As Klehr and Haynes demonstrate the heyday of American communism was the Great Depression, or as literary scholars say, the Red Decade, where virtually every important writer studied Marx and Lenin, with many joining the communist movement, though there were vicious animosities between Stalinists and Trotskyists that remain relevant today (for instance, in the late 1930s and early 1940s, between readers of The New Masses and Partisan Review). Klehr and Haynes argue that the communist movement today is weak and nearly defunct, but did not trace the infiltration of Leninist statism into the progressive movement and the New Left, though they mention several instances where New Deal strategies such as social security were first introduced by the CPUSA (but see Professor Cherny’s objection to this claim below in his lengthy comment).

Marcus Garvey

New Left developments: The civil rights movement, under infiltration by communist thinkers and organizers, quickly turned from an integrationist movement (the MLK Jr. line) to a militantly cultural nationalist movement, drawing on both the cultural pluralism introduced by earlier progressives, and the separatism advocated by avowed fascists such as Marcus Garvey (a petit-bourgeois radical and precursor to Malcolm X), or by Communists  advocating a Black Belt in the deep American South as reparations for the horrors of slavery, debt-peonage, and Jim Crow.

Schine, McCarthy, Cohn

The New Left (many of whom were readers and admirers of the anti-imperialist, anti-Zionist British Left still reeling from the 1956 revelations about Stalin) defined itself as “anti-anti-Communist,” with a great horror of McCarthy and his vile [Jewish] henchmen, Roy Cohn and G. David Schine, arguing that anticommunism was a (continued) cover for right-wing opposition to the statist New Deal, and of course that we had not “lost China” as “right-wing loons” had insisted. It was this 1960s generation that turned once again to history from the bottoms up, or social history or cultural history, histories that had already been made fashionable and appealing by 1930s progressive journalists, authors, songwriters, filmmakers, and playwrights  celebrating the Common Man/the Salt of the Earth.  See https://clarespark.com/2012/06/16/the-social-history-racket/, but also recent blogs on such figures as Edna Ferber, Oscar Hammerstein, and Martha Gellhorn. Today, NPR, the Pacifica Foundation, and academic departments of humanities  continue the populist-communitarian strain extant since the last decade of the 19th century, antisemitism and all. What a shock it must have been when Yale University Press published its series of books that delved into the briefly opened Soviet archives, revealing that Alger Hiss, the Rosenbergs, et al, were guilty of espionage after all, that Whittaker Chambers was no sociopath, and though McCarthy was a vile opportunist, he was not so far off the mark as liberals had insisted.

TIME Cover, March 8, 1954

Although in prior blogs I have made sharp distinctions between liberal anticommunists (social democrats) and hardcore communists and fascists, the statism and crypto-elitism advanced by “progressivism” have so blurred the boundaries between social democracy and full-fledged Marxist-Leninism that I cannot blame those on the Right who conflate all the variant statisms into one huge encroaching monster. Popular Front politics did not stop in 1939, but persist into the present.

*It was Nation writer Lincoln Colcord who draw a distinction between “international bankers” versus “commercial bankers”; the latter were closer to the site of production, hence would make concessions to labor, whereas the international bankers were solely involved with the extraction of profits. Cf. J. A. Hobson, also favorably cited by The Nation in this period.

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