The Clare Spark Blog

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.

Advertisements

August 6, 2009

The “Money Power,” material forces versus leader decision-making, separatism as strategy for women and minorities, and misogyny/antisemitism

 This blog is an expanded answer to “Michael” who wrote a lengthy comment to one of my recent blogs (see the comments on this site). First, Michael thinks that I am asking readers to ignore money altogether. This is a crucial point. It is not the power of money itself that determines our prosperity or poverty, but appropriate monetary policy, as economic historian Niall Ferguson has shown in book after book, most recently The Ascent of Money, but also in The War of the World (the latter work arguing that the first and second world wars are better seen as one continuous global conflict). Also, if you saw the recent Bill Maher show on HBO with Ferguson as panelist, he vigorously defended “the Fed” against the ignorance and misconceptions of populists. You might want to read John Maynard Keynes book, The Economic Consequences of the Peace on the question of monetary policy after the Great War. Had different arrangements regarding German reparations been made during the post-armistice settlement  subsequent history would have been different, and there would have been no Nazi victory. For one who is concerned about mass death, as Michael obviously is, this book is crucial.

     What I have implied in my various blogs is that “the Jews” as some kind of cabal should be left out of discussions of the source of the most recent and previous financial crises. Criticize capitalism and either its flaws or its corrupt operatives to your heart’s content, but do it with the tools of material analysis, not with the manipulation of negative images. As long as the image of a fat Jewish plutocrat battening on the misery of “the goyim,” or King of Jews Rothschild with his claws encircling the globe or, the carnal Jewish whoremaster, with his hypersexuality, polluting innocent Christian or Muslim womanhood, inhabits the political imagination, there can be no amelioration in the lot of the poor and deprived,  any more than the belief that this world, unlike the next, is controlled by the Devil. And do not underestimate the salience of the Devil to the historical narratives propagated by the “Christian Right” and other authoritarian ideologies opposed to science, the rule of law, and the materialist analysis attributed to the Jews by their most extreme nativist, white supremacist proponents or other premoderns.
    Second, Michael raises the question of “material forces” as the primary source of historical change. This sounds like standard Marxist boiler plate to me. To be sure, material conditions and conflicts are very important, but so are the decisions made by individual leaders. Had Woodrow Wilson used his influence at the Versailles conference to stop the self-serving ambitions of France and the U.K., there might not have been a second world war with all its horrific suffering and lingering effects. Or to take a different case, in thinking about diversity in the multicultural university, administrators could have, but did not, integrate the history of women and minorities into the general curriculum. Because they chose segregated departments of Women’s Studies or Ethnic Studies, they relieved white male professors of the necessity of thinking about these movements in a rigorous way and then teaching their students appropriately. (And moreover, many professors had already incorporated the travails of women and minorities and labor into their syntheses.) So instead of creating a new synthesis, the more retrograde historians could ignore the woman question or the history of various peoples if they chose, for some other course would make up for their deficiencies. The most we got was “whiteness studies” that were no more than covers for Leninist anti-imperialist orthodoxy and yet another capitulation to anti-Western cultural nationalism (see the lethal influence of triumphalist black liberation theology, and its shameless annexation of Martin Luther King, Jr. to the side of his bitterest enemies in this vast and influential body of pseudo-scholarship).
    As for the power of motherhood that Michael mentions briefly, this is one of the great lacunae in the work of scholarship. The issue of separation from the supposedly omnipotent good/bad mother is one of the themes most ignored by theorists of the psyche, and I refer the reader once again to my essay on panic attacks that summarizes recent thought among professionals on the subject, along with some references to reactionary modernism,  Goldfinger, Pandora’s Box, film noir, and Captain Ahab’s “monomania.”  I have thought a lot about this issue as Herman Melville is obsessed with the mother-son attachment in his much-abused novel PIERRE, OR THE AMBIGUITIES (1852) There is an obvious link between misogyny and antisemitism that has not gotten the attention it should. I would add here that feminists do not always recognize that men feel women, especially modern women, like Jews or other advancing groups, have too much power over their lives, and put cotton in their ears when feminists speak. Meanwhile some women use their sexual/maternal power to advance themselves at the expense of other women and give weight to the claims of misogynists. It is a huge subject that I suppose a few others have explored at greater length than I can here, but I did notice as I researched my book on the revivers of Herman Melville between the world wars that the most conservative of them were terrified of modern women and felt themselves to be puppets manipulated by these castrating and ever-changeable scheming women, leading to my slogan that “Woman is the Jew of the home.” Think about it. Captain Ahab as the Bad [Jewish] Mother.

     Finally, I would note that the feminists of the 1960s and 1970s were acceptable as long as they joined the anti-imperialist Left, and that meant that they did not subsequently defend “the West” but instead attacked it (along with Israel, often), notwithstanding the deplorable condition of women in non-Western societies. This gave the Christian far Right a great excuse to attack feminism as such.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.