The Clare Spark Blog

May 25, 2014

Links to blogs on mass murder/pop culture

Draper: Ulysses and the Sirens (1909)

Draper: Ulysses and the Sirens (1909)

(Image from populist website: painting by Herbert James Draper (1909) attacks “vampire bankers” who send Sirens to destroy Ulysses—an image of The People beset by finance capital. By using this painting, I am not endorsing populist demagoguery. See comments below.)

https://clarespark.com/2010/06/15/the-classics-as-antidote-to-science-education/ (Ulysses)

https://clarespark.com/2010/08/15/nazis-exhibit-der-ewige-jude-1937/ (“Christian” love as antidote to “Jewish” hate)

https://clarespark.com/2011/01/15/healing-trauma-mystery/ (Jared Lee Loughner)

https://clarespark.com/2012/07/24/the-cracked-and-cracking-loner-as-mass-murderer/ (James Eagan Holmes)

https://clarespark.com/2012/12/15/sandy-hook-massacre-and-the-problem-of-evil/ (Adam Lanza)

https://clarespark.com/2013/08/22/how-i-spent-my-summer-vacation/ (retitled “The Godfather….)

https://clarespark.com/2013/03/10/what-remains-useful-about-freud/

https://clarespark.com/2014/03/02/roy-porter-and-the-anti-psychiatry-movement/ (How the punkish Foucauldians discourage mental health interventions.)

Elliot Rodger

Elliot Rodger

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March 28, 2014

Populism and pop culture: good or bad for the republic?

Populism3Much of this website has been devoted to the analysis of populist demagoguery, with ample quotations from the past and present. Another priority of mine has been the state of popular culture criticism, emanating from both Left and Right. This blog is a guide to my own thinking about 1. Populism as ideology and its targets; 2. Populism as reasonable suspicion of elites and “experts”; and 3. The populist character of major television shows and movies despite the impression that single figures or “billionaires” directly direct their content.

First, the original populists were farmers demanding that currency be placed on both gold and silver standards. They also resented the excessive rates demanded by railroads that transported their goods. Muckrakers like Frank Norris (The Octopus, 1901) appealed to this constituency and their progressive sympathizers, who went on to co-opt the original populist demands, for instance, Louis Brandeis’s first major study was of railroads, their practices and finances. (On Norris see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Octopus:_A_Story_of_California. On Brandeis’s career, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Brandeis#Against_monopolies. I read Melvin Urofsky’s biography, that highlighted the early interest in railroads.) populistantisemitism In a mass society, “flooded” with “swarms”  of immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it was not surprising that the invention of movies would appeal to the new arrivals and their taste for spectacle, glitter, adventure, shape-shifting, scandalously naughty and corrupt rich people (not dissimilar from those who had dominated the European countries from which they had fled), sex, and violence (part of their everyday lives, both here in the new tough cities, and in the old country), triumph over adversity, and shows of virtuosic force, either military or in sports.

Movies and television shows remain populist in the sense that they appeal to ordinary working class and middle class viewers (“ordinary people”), with only a few arty movies made to maintain respectability and an aura of literariness to the more educated urban viewer. And such offerings might be reactionary, as in the esteemed film The Remains of the Day (1993); I wrote about its content here: https://clarespark.com/2014/04/21/remains-of-the-day-revisited/.

In my experience, leftists that I once knew did not depart from this essentially Leninist populism. (Marx was more favorable to the bourgeoisie, who were developing the productive forces, and who were likely to split over the inevitable working class revolution that he anticipated. Whereas Lenin was influenced by J. A. Hobson, who publicized the notion that an international cabal of Jewish financiers would not only inspire imperialist war, but would control newspapers and other media. Marx’s early essays “On The Jewish Question,” or on money as the universal pimp, however, dealt with Jews as hucksters and the embodiment of the money power, whose reign would be overthrown in the new dispensation.)

For instance, Pacifica radio [where I was program director for eighteen months (2-81 through7-82), and before and after that, a volunteer program producer on the politics of the arts–1969-1998] was plainly populistic and anti-imperialistic, not radical in the Marxian sense, though the news department supported the uprising in El Salvador and the Nicaraguan revolution. I recall my boss, the manager Jim Berland, warning me not to allow programmers to use the term “capitalism.” Our target should be “big business.” This is a typical petit bourgeois (populist) move, and bears no resemblance to European or American communism as originally formulated. Similarly, like other “community broadcasters” we were to appeal to the listener sponsors by mentioning our deviation from “corporate/commercial media”—this referred to presumably billionaire-controlled outlets intended solely for the spread of propaganda favorable to imperialism, finance capital, and rich people in general.

The flaw in this reasoning is that big bad mass media always was populist—but with commercial interruptions. NPR and PBS make their appeals on that basis (sometimes claiming the higher objectivity and gravitas). The antisemitism of the old WASP elite is retained in its denigration of “Hollywood” as generically Jewish—a claim that may be taken advantage of by some professional right-wing pundits , who want to return “traditional Christian values” to “popular culture.” Populist impulses exist across the political spectrum, but are frequently reactionary.

What is not populism?Elites” or “experts” may be corrupt or legitimately superior in their talents, labors, and contributions to society. To view each and every one with skepticism may be populistic, or it may be valuable inquisitiveness that we must support, even as “discovery anxiety” sets in. But don’t look to the bought-intelligentsia and kept-journalists who “analyze” politicians, social policy, education, and mass media productions. They are part of the legitimacy apparatus that is partly responsible for the Great Dumbing Down of our country. Ask your children to make a distinction between a democracy and a [democratic] republic, and watch their puzzled faces. I am sometimes told that my blogs are “over the heads” of even educated readers. I welcome questions if I yield to esotericism or obscurantism. It is probably my writing, which is sometimes dense and compressed, and not the usual thing on the internet. populistrage

January 17, 2014

A final synthesis explaining Hitler’s antisemitism

doublebind3[Clare:] How can we synthesize the separate facets of Hitler’s situation? First, he is self-identified with a defeated power (Germany, the victim of treachery whose victory was ostensibly stolen) and with rural producers, the declining class whose interests are opposed to industrial workers and their bosses as well as to bankers.[1]  Hitler’s affinity group is organized politically as the agrarian interest, the backbone of conservative nationalism and German imperialism: Prussian Junker landowners and small farmers wanting tariffs and autarky to protect their prices from international competition. (Peasants and landowners need cheap industrial goods but want maximum prices for their foodstuffs, while workers and industrialists depend on cheap farm prices to keep the costs of labor down and the buying power of wages up.) Hitler can revitalize the ruined pastoral if both hidebound reactionaries and wandering workers will only see his light: his solution will protect and restore everyone, rich and poor, parents and children. Crucially, peasants and workers are no longer at odds, but the stable foundation of the rectified neo-feudal order; national, not international unions, may be brought into the system without tearing it apart as long as “the Jews” go away.

Personal history has energized his politics; Hitler may have believed that his civil servant father Alois, dying suddenly of apoplexy, was felled by his own internal contradictions between cosmopolitanism and extreme nationalism and Hitler’s angry insistence (at age 12) in maintaining his difference as an artist and stubbornly rejecting his father’s occupation; he is simultaneously angry that he has been betrayed, abandoned and impoverished: if father was so cosmopolitan, why couldn’t Hitler be an artist?  That is, he read the double-bind and father died, a dependent’s worst nightmare: truth leads to destitution.  Now political expediency and personal predilection combine: Like other romantic anticapitalists, Hitler chooses the viewpoint of the declining aristocracy glad to pay agitators for the defeat of what seemed to be capitalism-becoming-socialism, a process impelled, the more prescient members of this patrician class believe, by their stubborn brethren who won’t make humane concessions and interventions, but madly press their selfish interests.  Like other agrarians (English Tories, ex-Southern slaveholders in the U.S.) Hitler sees the Jew as undermining the capacity for uncluttered communitarian thinking and social relations through the institutions that “the Jewish character” has brought. The Jewish spirit (as Werner Sombart called it) is the source of real class divisions that Hitler longs to erase.  Specifically “Jewish” institutions–money, the Stock Exchange with its absentee ownership, international capitalism, the press, and the intellectual disciplines and attitudes associated with modernity like the study of political economy–literally divide master and man and have inserted themselves between the good consistent parent and the grateful child.

doublebind2signs

Secondly and crucially, like the good parent turned bad, “the Jew,” a personification of any thoughtful materialist analysis, confuses the child by unanticipated and frightening switches. As a commentator on group life, “the Jew” asserts the natural rights of individuals and the fallaciousness of blood-and-soil doctrines of identity that ignore the uniqueness and free will of the individual.  However, as a commentator on voluntarism and the power of the will, s/he points out structures of determination and the difficulties in decisively separating agency from structural imperative!  As a commentator on sexual repression, s/he points out the joys of sex and emotional expressiveness.  But as a commentator on bohemian libertinism s/he points out human interdependence and the obligations of the individual to suffering humanity, the noble renunciation of selfish “sensual” [2] gratification (like promiscuity, a cheap fame and popularity) on behalf of higher, finally more satisfying moral principles: the protection of intimate relationships and the pursuit of universal truths and equality under the law, relationships and processes whose complexities are still under investigation and are by no means fully comprehended. Hitler is not the only one who has felt anxiety when confronted with the boundary between what he does and does not understand, but nevertheless is called upon to judge and act in the face of ambiguity and uncertainty. Such intellectual and emotional mobility is the bewildering accompaniment to decisive and wise social action; here I believe is the combined satisfaction and burden of Jewish chosen-ness expressed by Freud in Moses and Monotheism (1939).  Here and elsewhere Freud opposed the primitivist acting-out and nihilism often associated with his name. In accounting for the murder of the Jews of Europe, he implicitly linked himself and the Jews (specifically their intellectual and ethical achievements) to social idealism of the enlightened bourgeoisie.  All in all, “the bad Jew” is quite the ideal of balanced, well-proportioned Greek classicism cut to the human scale, quite the moderate man. [3]

[Hitler, Oct. 24, 1941:]  The present system of teaching in schools permits the following absurdity: at 10 a.m. the pupils attend a lesson in the catechism, at which the creation of the world is presented to them in accordance with the teachings of the Bible; and at 11 a.m. they attend a lesson in natural science, at which they are taught the theory of evolution.  Yet the two doctrines are in complete contradiction.  As a child, I suffered from this contradiction, and ran my head against a wall.  Often I complained to one or another of my teachers against what I had been taught an hour before–and I remember that I drove them to despair…When science finds out that it has to revise one or another notion that it had believed to be definitive, at once religion gloats and declares: “We told you so!”  To say that is to forget that it’s in the nature of science to behave itself thus.  For if it decided to assume a dogmatic air, it would itself become a church.

[Hitler, Jan. 22-23, 1942:] …A fly began buzzing. Foxl [Hitler’s dog at the front during the First World War] was stretched out at my side, with his muzzle between his paws.  The fly came close to him.  He quivered, with his eyes as if hypnotized.  His face wrinkled up and acquired an old man’s expression.  Suddenly he leapt forward, barked and became agitated.  I used to watch him as if he’d been a man–the progressive stages of his anger, of the bile that took possession of him.  He was a fine creature…To think they stole him from me!…On my return [to the trenches] he hurled himself on me in frenzy (232-233).

[Hitler, Jan. 23, 1942:]  A good three hundred or four hundred years will go by before the Jews set foot again in Europe.  They’ll return first of all as commercial travellers, then gradually they’ll become emboldened to settle here–the better to exploit us.  In the next stage, they become philanthropists, they endow foundations.  When a Jew does that, the thing is particularly noticed–for it’s known that they’re dirty dogs.  As a rule, it’s the most rascally of them who do that sort of thing.  And then you’ll hear those Aryan boobies telling you: “You see, there are good Jews.”

Let’s suppose that one day National Socialism will undergo a change, and become used by a caste of privileged persons who exploit the people and cultivate money.  One must hope that in that case a new reformer will arise and clean up the stables (236).

[Hitler, Feb. 19, 1942:]…I could live very well in a city like Weimar or Bayreuth.  A big city is very ungrateful.  Its inhabitants are like children.  They hurl themselves frantically upon everything new, and they lose interest in things with the same facility.  A man who wants to make a real career as a singer certainly gets more satisfaction in the provinces.

[Hitler, Sept. 1, 1942:]…The relations between master and man in old Vienna were charming in the mutual loyalty and affection which characterized them.  There is only one town in Germany, Munich, in which social differences were so little marked.  I can blame no Viennese for looking back with sad longing to the Vienna of old; my younger sister is filled with this nostalgia (680).

[Clare:] Hitler wants the same aristo-democracy lauded by American reactionaries: Lothrop Stoddard, William McDougall, the Southern Agrarians, and “new historicist” admirers of T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound—some of whom are nativist radicals acceptable to the anti-Stalinist Left. It is they, like the German Romanticists before them, who have furthered hyphenated Americanism to dilute the power and appeal of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Enlightenment, turning the word “bourgeois’ into an all-purpose insult connoting only tyranny and decadence.  It is the aristodemocrats who pretend to have “decoded” antidemocratic propaganda since World War II, in their inversion of slavery and freedom, vitiating public life and the humanities.  It was not the rootless cosmopolitans who invented the discourse of scientific racism.

Surely, Hitler was not alone in backing off from the intellectual and emotional inconsistencies of modernity that he affixes to Jews as others have done with some Protestant sects, puritans, romantics, and modern women, yearning for a stable image of the good authority figure who would never turn on the child or drive the child to turn on him.  That Hitler chose such extreme and obsessive (sadomasochistic) methods to purify himself and the world of bilious “dirty dogs” is perhaps explicable (but only partly) through analysis of a brutal childhood which he never described in the first person, the death of his father, and an antidemocratic cultural inheritance.  And of course, Hitler’s obsession may have been tolerated owing to the similar ambivalence with which “the West” has embraced a modernity neither internalized, nor fully actualized, nor entirely understood.

Obviously, an alternative approach to Nazi “irrationality” would have to examine the fragility and novelty of the radical Enlightenment, then the ongoing class project in which organic conservatives masked themselves as “progressives,” attempting to divert the titanic energies of science and democracy into “gradual” change apparently in “the public interest” but often advantageous primarily  to their class.  I suspect that such efforts could not persuade the powerless were children not punished for evil thoughts and speculation, as if fantasy and reality were merged, as if thinking angry thoughts made their acting out more acceptable.  Even Darwin held these views and observed the insane to study untrammeled emotions.[4]  After all, ordinary people, in the bourgeois democracies at least, can use public libraries and reflect upon and deepen their own experience, can avail themselves of the good counsels of past emancipators from illegitimate authority.  The defining attribute of the “moderate” Enlightenment (as Jonathan Israel calls it), of pseudo-modernism, then, is the triumphant circumscription or shutting down of rival wandering imaginations: here is the highest achievement of “character,” the proof of “sanity.”

Masochism builds character.  To put it another way, I have been describing repressive tolerance, the conditions under which “radical” Enlightenment ideas may be incorporated or co-opted by established institutions.  The scientific analysis of social institutions advanced by seventeenth-century empiricism is apparently absorbed, but in practice turned against the mountaineering lower orders uplifted by natural rights, popular sovereignty, mass education, and the First and Fourteenth Amendments.  Shockingly, the Left has abandoned the education of ordinary people: While promoting “tolerance” and empiricism (multiculturalism, democratic pluralism, the “new historicism”) the “anti-racists” switch the very concept of the dissenting, goal-oriented individual capable of standing outside “the system” or “the body” to observe its processes, thus to produce universally valid abstract knowledge, a description of reality independent of bodies or class position and intended to facilitate accountability and rational amelioration.  In the thought of Werner Sombart (1911), after 1933 an enthused Nazi, that detached (disillusioned?) observer was essentially the profit-seeking Jew, a kill-joy mountaineer who both repulsed and attracted him:

[Werner Sombart:] We see “the teleological view”] in all those Jews who, with a soul-weariness within them and a faint smile on their countenances, understanding and forgiving everything, stand and gaze at life from their own heights, far above this world…Jewish poets are unable simply to enjoy the phenomena of this world, whether it be human fate or Nature’s vagaries; they must needs cogitate upon it and turn it about and about.  Nowhere is the air scented with the primrose and the violet; nowhere gleams the spray of the rivulet in the wood.  But to make up for the lack of these they possess the wonderful aroma of old wine and the magic charm of a pair of beautiful eyes gazing sadly in the distance…Goethe said that the essence of the Jewish character was energy and the pursuit of direct ends. [5]

[Clare:]   By drawing a hard line between Hitler and the corporatist liberals/the New Left, by refusing to examine the analogous confusing confrontations between tradition and modernity in our political and intellectual life, we obscure one important dimension of mass death, not only in “the Holocaust,” but in our timid responses to threats ranging from a weakened First Amendment to ecocide.  In my view, only an ever more energetic redeployment of the Enlightenment critical methods and objectives disdained or scuttled by the (pseudo) moderate men will save us from newer and even bigger catastrophes: outcomes which cannot switch from bad to good. (On “corporatist liberalism” see https://clarespark.com/2009/08/09/what-is-a-corporatist-liberal-and-why-should-they-frighten-us/.)

Werner Sombart, exemplary populist

Werner Sombart, exemplary populist

NOTES.


[1] Peasants and landowners need cheap industrial goods but want maximum prices for their foodstuffs, while workers and industrialists depend on cheap farm prices to keep the costs of labor down and the buying power of wages up.

[2] The passages I have quoted elsewhere from Geoffrey Gorer on de Sade suggest that promiscuity is not the exciting self-indulgence of happy lovers, but a flight from sex, sensibility and experience, i.e., a refusal of intimacy, individuality, and compassion; that romantic love is tied to the senses that report continued domination in collectivist, “egalitarian” societies. For Werner Sombart, romantic love was a threat to tradition; along with the heroic entrepreneur and the stranger unbound by local ties, here were the ingredients of “the breakthrough” and monomania.  See Samuel Z. Klausner, Introduction, The Jews and Modern Capitalism, op.cit., xxxii, lxxi.  The rehabilitation of de Sade began in the early 1930s when Gorer was allied with Stalinists; the incriminating passages were deleted from the revised edition of 1953.  “The breakthrough” was a concept Thomas Mann thought was responsible for the rise of fascism, see Doctor Faustus.  Lukács believed the concept of romantic love was one of three sources of Marxism; he supported Goethe’s confidence in apprehending the natural world against Kant’s medievalist insistence on the “unknowableness” of nature and of radical evil in human nature, see Goethe and His Age (London: Merlin, 1968): 200-201.

  [3] On the “deplorable quarrelsomeness of the Greeks”see C. Bradford Welles, “The Hellenistic Orient,” The Idea of History in the Ancient Near East (New Haven: Yale U.P., 1955): 159.  “They were little ready to let go any advantage to another, although this may have been only a consequence and an extension of the qualities which made them unique as a people–their restless and aggressive curiosity, their impatience of authority, and their reluctance to acknowledge a superior.”  This volume links the historical imagination to science, democracy, technology, and optimism; it is of course contradicted by helplessness and other-worldliness.  Cf. Mosse’s claim that the young Greek ideal lay at the heart of Nazi ideology; i.e., Nazism was a romantic youth revolt, see Mosse, “Introduction: A General Theory of Fascism,” 12.

   [4] See G.T. Bettany, The Life of Charles Darwin, London, 1887.

   [5] Werner Sombart, The Jews and Modern Capitalism (Transaction Press, 1982): 266-267.  Do the beautiful sad eyes belong to depressed, disappointed, martyred mother?  For a rationalist interpretation of European antisemitism derived solely from economic forces and class position, see Abram Leon, The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation (N.Y.: Pathfinder Press).  The writer was leader of the Belgian Trotskyists and an anti-Zionist, executed at Auschwitz, 1944 at age 26.  For Leon, the Jews (whose numbers had dramatically increased in the twentieth century) were caught between decaying feudalism (when they lost their social-economic function to Christians) and decaying capitalism (economic crisis squeezed their petit-bourgeois rivals); hence for Leon, the Jewish question cannot be solved without socialist transformation.

September 13, 2013

Urwand’s THE COLLABORATION: HOLLYWOOD’S PACT WITH HITLER

URWANDCOVERThis is an impression of Harvard Junior Fellow Ben Urwand’s new book, to be released in October.  I was initially appalled when I saw a puff-piece in TABLET. (See https://clarespark.com/2013/06/13/hollywoods-pact-with-hitler/. I had not yet read the book and expected some archival research that would establish the veracity of Urwand’s title.) In my wildest dreams I could not have imagined such a mendacious book published by one of the most prestigious academic presses. In this brief blog, I will mostly focus on the depths of antisemitism between the wars, and then suggest that calling the moguls “Jews” plays fast and loose with what it means to be a “Jew” in America, today or any other day. For a related blog that quotes from Urwand, see https://clarespark.com/2013/10/10/urwand-undoes-chaplins-dictator/.

I suggest that the interested reader look at both an article from History News Network from circa 2002 on Joseph P. Kennedy’s antisemitism, which may look “extreme” to the eyes of the reader, but was not different in intensity from that of his contemporaries, let alone from that of much of the Left today. See http://hnn.us/article/697  “Joseph Kennedy and the Jews.” Or, see Steven Alan Carr’s Hollywood and Anti-Semitism (Cambridge UP, 2001), that poses “the Jewish question” as “the Hollywood question” in a masterful review of antisemitica in America, and nullifying Urwand’s claim that there were lots of good Jews in the movies before the cowardly, money-mad moguls capitulated to Hitler’s German consul in Los Angeles. Carr also shows, through implication, that Urwand’s startling thesis is nothing new. Quoting The Nation, September 20, 1941: ” ‘Far from being too vigorously anti-Nazi’…the film industry ‘as long as they could, avoided making films that might endanger their markets in Germany and Italy. Business was their first consideration.’ ” (p.269)

Then read David Denby’s recent unfavorable review of Urwand’s book, that makes many points I would have made, namely that Urwand spends much time in speculation about why such and such a film was not made, but makes wild surmises that are not verified by his evidence. http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2013/09/16/130916crbo_books_denby, also http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2013/09/how-could-harvard-have-published-ben-urwands-the-collaboration.html.  (Yet another unfavorable review says mostly that business is business, and Urwand is naïve to make so much of the censorship; see http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/09/09/did-hollywood-collaborate-with-hitler-a-new-book-makes-bold-claims.html. ) In yet another review (http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/does-collaboration-overstate-hollywoods-cooperation-595678), Thomas Doherty’s competing book HOLLYWOOD AND HITLER, 1933-1939, is compared with Urwand’s nasty book, but the description of Doherty’s conclusions does not match what Doherty actually wrote: Doherty is said to praise Hollywood for resisting Nazism, but Doherty trotted out the Warner brothers as exceptional only to castigate them as caving to HUAC and the Martin Dies Committee by producing super-patriotic movies that hid controversies in U.S. history, such as labor unrest. And in his concluding sentences, he wonders what he, Doherty, would have done about coming out against the Third Reich were he in the shoes of the Hollywood moguls.

None of this should surprise us. Ben Urwand begins his acknowledgments with tributes to some of the New Left Berkeley faculty: Michael Rogin, Lawrence Levine, Leon Litwack and Martin Jay (the latter a noted critical theorist and historian of the Frankfurt School  that blamed mass media for the corruption of the working class, hence the working-class failure to stop Hitler). And the book is getting support in high liberal venues: see http://chronicle.com/article/When-Hollywood-Held-Hands-With/140189/, in a long and informative article by Alexander C. Kafka.

The novelty of COLLABORATION exists in the claim that Jewish moguls allowed Hitler and his minions to control “Hollywood” not only throughout the 1930s, but on into the war years, and worse, inured to the Pact, Hollywood continued its baleful influence by suppressing the horrors of the Holocaust until decades after it became known. Urwand’s earlier work was on aboriginal rights in Australia, and his latest work wants to present America as a capitalist, hence fascist country, in cahoots with the Third Reich, and carrying on its mission. There are even suggestions that American movies “infused” Nazi culture, an innuendo comparable to Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism. (See https://clarespark.com/2010/03/10/jonah-goldbergs-liberal-fascism-part-one/. I do not intend to blame Goldberg for his take on movies (not his target), but rather on the progressive nanny state and eugenics as inspiring fascist programs in Germany.)

WHAT IS A JEW?

I have only dipped into the vast literature on the history of film. As far as I could tell, Joseph P. Kennedy’s role in virtually inventing the complicated financing of the movie industry (as revealed in Cari Beauchamp’s book published in 2008 after crucial Joe Kennedy papers were unsealed in the Kennedy Library), was unknown to the various authors I have read: two by Thomas Doherty (1993, 2013); David Welky (2008); and one co-authored by Clayton Koppes and Gregory Black (1987).  Of these scholarly works, Welky’s seemed the least biased.

For one thing, Welky gave several paragraphs to Joe Kennedy’s speech to fifty Hollywood “moguls” in late 1940, which I quote here: “…Recalled to the United States during the British negotiations [regarding the import of US films], the ambassador accepted Jack and Harry Warner’s invitation to speak to movie executives. His talk during the three hour lunch on the Warner Bros. lot left the gathering of fifty industry leaders speechless. Kennedy told them the United States should limit aid to Britain in case the Nazis won the war, an event he thought likely. More important, he asked producers to “stop making anti-Nazi pictures or using the film medium to promote or show sympathy to the cause of the ‘democracies’ versus the ‘dictators.’” Pictures like The Mortal Storm, Escape, and Arise, My Love, an anti-Nazi comedy released by Paramount a few weeks before Kennedy’s visit, did more harm than good because they highlighted Jewish control of the movies. Many Anglos blamed the war on the Jews, Kennedy warned, and anti-Semitism was on the rise in Britain. He advised producers to “get those Jewish names off the screen.” After Kennedy’s lecture, screenwriter Ben Hecht remembered, “all  of Hollywood’s top Jews went around with their grief hidden like a Jewish fox under their Gentile vests.” MGM and Paramount canceled several anti-Nazi projects, including Heil America, Heroes, I Had a Comrade, and Invasion.

[Welky, cont., quoting Kennedy] …The “Jewish boys…are quite nervous about the conditions and they have reason to be…Smart British interests have already taken over the Jewish boys…and have sold them an idea they already had, that they must work for England, even if it means getting us into war.” (pp.244-45, THE MOGULS AND THE DICTATORS) Compare these quotes to Urwand’s brief reference to the Kennedy speech, referring to Ben Hecht’s warning to the movie heads: “Hecht told the studio heads not to buy into Kennedy’s arguments that such pictures would lead to an increase in anti-Semitism in the United States. He said that such thinking had been designed merely to play on their fears.” (p.234) (Which contradicts Urwand’s earlier axiom that profits were primary and fears of increased antisemitism were either minor or submerged in the lust for shekels.)

Ben Hecht is the only good Jew in Urwand’s book; indeed his departure from his early Zionism seems to have inspired Urwand. But Urwand hasn’t cited  PERFIDY (by Hecht) that displayed Hecht’s own social climbing and insult at the home of an antisemitic New York socialite, while Hecht went on to blame Rudolf Kastner,  a Hungarian Jew,  for collaboration with the Nazis.  (See http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Columnists/Power-and-Politics-Perfidy-revisited. This is a big and apparently unresolved fight.) Urwand is following longstanding trends among left-wing Jews: apparently to condemn anti-Semitism (thus distinguishing themselves from contemptible commercial Jews), while separating antisemitism from anti-Zionism. The remainder of this blog considers the distinction between “intellectual Jews” (like Urwand and his mentors at UC Berkeley) and “commercial Jews” (like the moguls). [Update: since writing this blog, I have read Hecht’s autobiography, and Urwand utterly misunderstood Hecht’s objection to “Zionists.” Hecht supported the Irgun and called the Anglophile Jewish Agency members “Zionists.” Could Urwand have even read the final section of A CHILD OF THE CENTURY? See my blog on that subject https://clarespark.com/2013/12/07/ben-hecht-v-ben-urwand-the-un-jewish-left-and-assimilated-jews/.)

The money-grubbing commercial Jews. I write these thoughts on Yom Kippur eve, September 13, 2013. I have asked the question, “What is a Jew”? Urwand and multiculturalists in general, take ruling definitions of Jewishness for granted.  As readers of my blogs know by now, the multiculturalists in the dominant culture define Jewish identity by race. It is not only a practice and belief system, much of which I share as a secular Jew.  Rather, the “intellectual Jews” [liberals and leftists] are put in a different box from the lower-class and unseemly “commercial Jews.”

I first heard this distinction in 1959, at a party hosted by the Harvard Law Review. It might have been a prominent professor who made that statement, and being twenty one years old and a babe in the woods, I had no comeback, and it would have been impolite to embarrass my fiancé, whom I married shortly afterward. His name was Ron Loeb, and he told me at the time how recruiters from the big NYC and Washington law firms would come to Harvard, warning that “our clients don’t want Jewish lawyers in our firms.” Ron (who made Law Review) told them that was really too bad, because 18 out of the 25 Harvard Law Review third year crop were Jewish. Note the date.  It is 1959.

Reading Urwand’s  book gave me anxiety attacks. It was not only horribly written from a historian’s point of view, for it was based almost entirely on speculation and innuendo, not to speak of its subtextual identification of Jews with Nazis.  Yet, in today’s ideological atmosphere, so toxic to “the Jews” (all of whom may be imagined exactly like the immigrant Jews who were prominent in founding the international business of cinema, unless as acceptable, assimilated Jews they are antisemitic themselves). Though Urwand’s book will find even more kvetchy reviewers, the fundamental questions will remain unanswered: “What is a Jew” and what institutional constraints have figured in the censorship of movies?

So far, besides the constraints of an international market, I have found through reading, the Will Hays Office (supported by Joe Kennedy), Joseph Breen and the Legion of Decency, and the Office of War Information (described in detail in Koppes and Black). But more than these censors, like other immigrants, the early movie moguls adapted to the regnant populism that appealed to the mass market, inhabited as it was by other immigrants. (Upper and middle class WASPs were mostly off elsewhere uplifting urban folk.)  And the movies remain populistic, with the support of movie critics and other journalists who partake of the general  sadism and masochism we see all around us.

The following photo and caption was used in David Denby’s New Yorker review (linked above), but not in the Urwand book.

"Breen (center) had power to censor anti-Nazi films"

“Breen (center) had power to censor anti-Nazi films”

April 26, 2013

The television season goes Dark

The-following-posterI understand that television is not considered to be other than escapist entertainment, and not a business with pretensions to artiness or literariness, but there are many critics who treat its more upscale offerings with the reverence once reserved to Balzac (for instance see the indefatigable Terri Gross in her new interview with Matthew Weiner, creator of MAD MEN: in the part I heard she was insisting that Don Draper has a “death wish”).

As the 2012-2013 season draws to a close, I must say that I can’t remember a time when popular entertainment was as ideological driven or death-obsessed. I admit to not understanding the adolescent craze for vampires or zombies, though I have my suspicions of deranged right-wing Romanticism and/or the adolescent desire to irritate parents. But I do get the populist flavor, laced with morbidity, of the “better” television series, especially those directed to a more upscale, presumably educated audience.

Lest I be misunderstood, I am not nostalgic for the television fare of the 1950s and 1960s, with its frequently inane glorification of the ordinary folksy American family, rural or urban. The material introduced in response to 1960s and 1970s uproars was critical, and though usually anti-American and anti-establishment, was at least well-written, brilliantly acted, and interesting to decode for its (typically populist) politics. Nor do I fail to detect the ideology in the theater popular when I was growing up: at least it was well meaning, brilliantly written, conceived, and performed—and relatively anti-racist.

But what to make of such paranoia-inducing recent offerings as the romantic necrophiliac THE FOLLOWING (internet gossip reports it renewed!), or the ongoing goriness in CRIMINAL MINDS, or the hatred of hedge fund managers profiting off evil drug companies as displayed in the last episode of PERSON OF INTEREST, or amoral rich people as were evident in DECEPTION, now in SCANDAL (the last episode particularly horrifying), MAD MEN, REVENGE, and even the apparently harmless and well-written THE GOOD WIFE, a love triangle that manages to mostly evade the possibly unparalleled corruption of  Democratic Chicago, while “Alicia” wavers between family and sex? (I have been watching reruns of the Dick Wolf generated LAW AND ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT, and find the same targets, often Jews, who are either the perps, or who as doctors and lawyers are equally loathsome and corrupt. In one episode, “the Jewish mob” is identified as the most “vicious” of all: oh really?). Add to that the swipes at Mossad in the ever-popular NCIS, and you have the picture. Nouveaux riches and the government enforcers (cops, government regulators, other bureaucrats, CIA, etc.) whom the moneybags obviously control in their own depraved interest, are the chief subjects of the most watched television shows. The poster for THE FOLLOWING (illustrated) shows the dual character of those who serve “law and order.” “Order” for whom? is clearly implied as Bacon and Purefoy are halves of one whole, following Poe’s “William Wilson” in its doppelgänger conception, perhaps a major conceit in the imagination of television writers. And don’t be fooled by the poster for THE FOLLOWING. “Joe Collins” (James Purefoy) is clearly the protagonist, and he stepped out of character in the most recent episode to plug Green living. Why not Kevin Bacon, who barely appears in the series, and whose character is an alcoholic to boot?

Are there any shows with family values? So far, BLUE BLOODS takes the prize. Irreproachably Irish Catholic and upright, the patriarchal Reagan family holds together in contrast to the decadent cities it valiantly disciplines. Even THE MENTALIST is terror gothic in spirit, and clearly plays on fears of the French Revolution, while teasing its faithful viewers that “Patrick Jane” is actually serial killer Red John, rather than someone likely to be very high up in the government. It too is paranoia inducing. Shame on you Bruno Heller, who should know better.

And SMASH, the backstage story of a Broadway musical, will not likely be renewed, while its writing and music to these ears are downright embarrassing. What a hollow victory for hip movement culture, with its glorification of the ever-misunderstood and pathetic Marilyn Monroe.  On to off-Broadway, inter-racial understanding, and the offbeat rock musical and heterosexual and homosexual pairing off. On television, racism/miscegenation has disappeared if you sing and dance well enough. Perhaps the same thing can be said for new Broadway shows, either PC or living off the bones of its ancestors.

Meanwhile, few in show business pay attention to education reform, the illicit power of the teachers unions, and their relentless, media-supported attempts to undermine the educations of real black and brown children in urban ghettoes and elsewhere. Try to find a decent public school in NYC or Los Angeles, homes of those who write and produce the mindless (though technically advanced) shows I have listed above.

Now tell me the condition of our urban schools is not racist in the extreme. The better historians lament the world wide indifference as the Holocaust and other horrors proceeded in the 1930s and 1940s, while today the hippest among us wallow in gonzo ressentiment, apocalypse, the undead, blood and gore. Who is indifferent now? Should we blame the audience, who allegedly want this polluted fare?

Is the great American experiment going down? If popular culture is any indication, the answer is “you betcha.” Who needs a Fifth Column or other demonic forces when you have the entertainment industry?

[I have blogged about most of the tv shows mentioned here and others: see https://clarespark.com/2012/03/16/index-to-blogs-on-popular-tv-shows/.]

good wife cast pic chris noth 2 season 2

April 16, 2013

Blogs on anarchism/punk/primitivism

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 11:56 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

punk_rock_means_freedom_by_miyavikhttps://clarespark.com/2009/08/20/shakin-the-blues-away-primitivism-rock-n-roll-and-mental-health/

https://clarespark.com/2010/04/08/racism-modernity-modernism/

https://clarespark.com/2011/05/12/the-great-common-goes-to-the-white-house/ (retitled rappers, primitivism, ritual rebellion)

https://clarespark.com/2011/09/08/getting-down-with-tom-wolfe/

https://clarespark.com/2012/02/09/glee-goes-la-raza/

https://clarespark.com/2012/04/24/the-subtle-racism-of-edna-ferber-and-oscar-hammerstein-ii/

https://clarespark.com/2012/08/16/marx-rivals-and-our-enigmatic-president/

https://clarespark.com/2012/09/10/index-to-blogs-on-populist-demagoguery/

https://clarespark.com/2012/09/14/ron-paul-anarchist-in-chief/ (guest blog by Phillip Smyth)

https://clarespark.com/2012/12/12/white-rage-black-surrogates/

https://clarespark.com/2013/03/10/what-remains-useful-about-freud/

https://clarespark.com/2014/02/12/is-most-work-alienating-and-boring/

punk-rock-goat

https://clarespark.com/2013/03/28/power-and-aristocratic-radicals/  (to escape from panopticon surveillance, embrace the primitive, the pre-civilized.)

https://clarespark.com/2013/06/20/james-gandolfini-as-tony-soprano/

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

February 2, 2013

“Totalitarianism,” polarization, and single-issue politics

Leninism-picturePolarization. Pundits and politicians today often complain about “polarization” as an obstacle to “compromise,” without acknowledging that there may be irreconcilable conflicts that cannot be mediated, no matter how skillful or flexible the warring parties. However, it is acknowledged that the two major political parties are at odds over the best way to achieve economic growth: Democrats  want Keynesian demand-stimulus and government spending, while conservative Republicans and libertarians want free markets and limited government as the road to prosperity, for it is the private sector that holds their attention, though some of their admired forbears advocated a government safety net (the Friedmans, Hayek). Perhaps we should calm down a bit: there are two capitalist parties, and no one is ideologically inclined to eliminate the other Party, at least not yet.

Single-issue politics. Social movements of the 1960s that piggy-backed off the civil rights movement  (antiwar, feminism, gay rights, animal rights, environmentalism, now Latino/Hispanic rights) are generally supported by liberals, but tend to dismay conservatives, who see such issues as feminism and gay rights as destructive to the family and even causes of cultural decline and coarsening): hence the “culture wars.” And no one is giving an inch, so that single-issue politics tend to polarize us even further, with each side in the various struggles accusing their opponents of authoritarianism, narrow-mindedness or even “totalitarian” tendencies.

Leftists would have to view single-issue politics as mostly disruptive and even a bourgeois distraction to the class struggle, which will, after the revolution, remove all obstacles to the development of the human personality under the new dispensation. Whereas I see these various movements as incommensurate, that is, they should be treated as separate entities with different histories and implications for how we manage the economy. They should not be jumbled together or even compared to the struggle of black Americans to achieve equality of opportunity.

Totalitarianism. I asked some of my Facebook friends to explain what they meant by “totalitarianism.” They agreed that it signified a kind of statism that would go beyond anything we have now in the West, eliminating all civil liberties, freedom of speech, etc. Nearly all read Orwell, and already feel the heat of Big Brother in some tendencies of the Obama administration, or even in the social movements mentioned above insofar as they impose PC or are alarmingly “secular.” Orwell was unenthused over “secularism” too: see https://clarespark.com/2015/01/22/orwells-wartime-essays-some-surprises/. Meanwhile, pundits of the Right and even the middle, tend to use “totalitarianism” in a manner that equates Soviet Communism and Nazi Germany as functional equivalents, which Orwell did not, hoping for an English “Socialism.” (Orwell did see Socialism as an ongoing theme in Nazi Germany, but he was mistaken. (See https://clarespark.com/2014/12/10/were-nazis-socialists/.) For other writers, the Holocaust is viewed as terrible, but a distraction from the millions of victims under the Soviet Union and Communist China.

In his conclusions to The Myth of the Nation and Vision of Revolution: Ideological Polarization in the Twentieth Century (UC Press, 1981, Transaction Press paperback ed., 1991) Jacob Talmon does not equate the terror states of Nazis and the Soviets, reducing each to a kind of ultra–statism, though both regimes had to resort to terror in order to discipline their constituencies. They had different historical trajectories as I have constantly argued here before. Nazis regressed to the brutalities of the archaic and to feudal social relations, while Reds believed they were emancipating the lower orders from the modern world as directed by the imperialist bourgeoisie. Reds would complete the unfulfilled bourgeois project, while Nazism was a counter-revolution. (Irving Louis Horowitz appropriates Talmon to paper over the polarities that Talmon emphasizes between Nazis and Soviets, in my view, because Horowitz is allied with such as Hannah Arendt. Page numbers below are from the Transaction Press version.)

Several years ago, I vehemently criticized Jonah Goldberg’s best seller Liberal Fascism as misleading and wrong-headed. (See  https://clarespark.com/2010/03/10/jonah-goldbergs-liberal-fascism-part-one/.) Since reading the Goldberg  book, one that was much admired on the Right, I have read Eric Hobsbawm’s  tetralogy on modernity that does find communism to be an outgrowth of the Enlightenment and of the bourgeois revolution that the French mounted in 1789, but certainly not Fascism or Nazism. (See https://clarespark.com/2012/11/23/historians-vs-pundits-the-eric-hobsbawm-synthesis/, https://clarespark.com/2013/01/15/golden-globes-lincoln-clinton-hobsbawm/, https://clarespark.com/2012/12/22/my-oppositional-defiant-disorder-and-eric-hobsbawm/, https://clarespark.com/2012/12/08/hobsbawm-obama-israel/) .

The redoubtable historian Jacob Talmon covered the same period as Eric Hobsbawm, but from a liberal anti-communist point of view. He faults both Leninism and the various fascisms for erasing the conception of humanity and the value of the individual, but would never agree with Jonah Goldberg that progressivism was a precursor to a kind of “liberal fascism”, i.e. to the excessive statism that alarms the Republican Party, libertarians, and some of the writers for National Review.

Jacob Talmon Stamps

Jonah Goldberg, a popular writer, was in over his head.

Here is an example of what Talmon means by “totalitarianism” in the drive toward Soviet bureaucratic centralism or “totalitarian democracy” : “Lenin experienced that sense of movement, of the eternal tug of war, of unbridgeable contradictions, of the approaching crisis, with an intensity and urgency unmatched by anyone in his circle….movement, contradiction, conflict, breakthrough, change were to him encased in an evolving totality held together by the iron-cast law of historical inevitability. The irresistible march of history could neither be affected nor could be allowed to be interfered with by human arbitrariness, caprice, preferences, feelings, sentiments, residual inhibitions.” (p.339) In Lenin’s historical imagination, the bourgeoisie (finance capital) was the oppressor standing in the way of the development of “personality.” A dictatorship of the proletariat” would destroy the bourgeoisie, thus going all the way to fulfilling the promise of Enlightenment and its liberation of thought.

For these authors, “totalitarianism” is less about total control, but rather a “breakthrough,” a “vision of revolution” that seeks to overturn the world as it exists in its totality. Totality is the essence of the world “totalitarian.”  Nazism overthrows the German Right and the Weimar social democrats, while celebrating neo-feudal social relations, with the Leader directing the organic racially purified “people’s community” (the integral Nation). By contrast, communism imagines an international working class proletarian brotherhood, who have abolished nationalism, imperialism, and capitalism. Without these evil “isms” all people would be able to develop a full individuality. But the fascisms deter anything smacking of the individual, glorifying instead the State/Party/as the embodiment of the people’s community. For Mussolini there was nothing outside the State, and the State would work its coercive magic on the sindicati (He had once been a revolutionary Syndicalist, influenced by George Sorel, and his masculinist cult of violence and war.)

(Hitler’s volkischness would be enlarged globally so that each state, under German leadership, would be its own racially pure polity, but his war aims were mostly directed to stopping the  Soviets and expanding into the Slavic areas that were bread  baskets; that would entail enslaving the inferior Slavs.)

Populism. But everyone, Populist-Progressives, anarchists, George Sorel, and all the anticapitalists in Europe, including Nazis and Leninists alike, hated the rule of money, going so far as to stigmatize “economic determinism” as a Jewish imposition. For  Lenin. insofar as he was influenced by J. A.  Hobson,  finance capital was seen as a Jewish plot to take over the world (see https://clarespark.com/2009/09/18/bad-sex-in-the-new-york-times/, and Talmon pp. 204, 439, 473-74 and passim); for Hitler, “Jewish Bolshevism” was a front for finance capital (also “Jewish”) and worse, the Jews were the “anti-race,” for they valued, from antiquity onward, humanity as one species: Talmon insists on this.

We should get our history straightened out, recognizing the stunted political imagination that the careless use of political language imposes. Now that defiled brain is a species of terror. And it feels “totalitarian” to me.

November 15, 2012

Female genitals as Red Flag

militant Judy Chicago

In George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), the great gesture of defiance for Winston Smith is his sexual liaison with the promiscuous Julia. It was the same for Herbert Marcuse, writing to the Sixties’ generation in his Eros and Civilization (1955).  And before that publication, Harvard social psychologist Henry A. Murray and his colleague Gordon Allport suggested that an American “Leader” like FDR, the antithesis of Hitler, should embody the Eros of democracy (https://clarespark.com/2011/03/27/progressive-mind-managers-ca-1941-42/).  A few years earlier, Wilhelm Reich, a refugee from Nazis, first published his seminal work arguing that Nazism was anchored in the German psyche through repression of the orgasm (The Mass Psychology of Fascism, 1933, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilhelm_Reich).

So when Judy Chicago and other feminist artists took on the Woman Question in the 1960s and 70s, it is not surprising that in-your-face sexual emancipation, focused on a populist critique of “white male modernist supremacy” in the art world, would be their Red Flag. There were sturdy precedents in 20th century culture, and soon Marcuse would be warning about “repressive de-sublimation”—a move that would only impel more consumerism and false consciousness in the working class as the Frankfurt School refugees liked to argue as Marxists and pseudo-Freudians.

I have been studying the sumptuous catalog published by the University of California Press in 1996, Feminist Politics: Judy Chicago’s ‘Dinner Party’ in Feminist Art History, edited by Amelia Jones, a post-structuralist art historian, attuned to queer studies, performance art, and Da Da (!).  Jones’s Wikipedia page lauds her for her anti-elitist stance, while the catalog rehabilitates kitsch and popular culture– an accurate reflection of the populist politics she brings to her ambivalent study of the work that made Judy Chicago and feminist art a topic of heated debate within the art world and elsewhere.

Frida with cat

Frida Kahlo with cat in classic come hither position

A review of the major claims of the pseudo-revolutionary character of this populist art world move seems timely, now that the Democratic Party has highlighted the supposed War on Women launched by their ostensibly uptight, hyper-puritan adversaries on the Right.

Amelia Jones’s major essay in the catalog is a treat for those readers who define liberation as focus on female genitals.  In guilty liberal fashion, she does complain that a feminist movement that ignored women of color is problematic, but her main point is that Chicago’s representation of great women through the ages is not “essentialist” (“biological determinism” is off the table), but female identity is, rather, “socially constructed,” hence it follows that the “patriarchy” can be demolished by feminist art and criticism.

Since Chicago’s Great Genitals are a colorful and shiny mish-mash, mixing up artists, writers, and an assortment of antique heroines of various religions (many pagan), the entire conception of her mammoth piece is necessarily mystical, perhaps barbaric, which fits in with the Woman as Goddess motif that is the most lasting legacy of the Sexual Revolution. I wonder if Chicago’s fame/notoriety is as original a move as her fans imagine.

Hannah Wilke

Keith Thomas, the late British historian, argued that modernity and puritanism elevated the status of women in marriage. So-called feminist art betrays its critical promise by reducing women to their sex organs.  Men got there first. [On how the Democratic Party has co-opted feminism see https://clarespark.com/2012/10/03/the-sexual-revolution-2/]

(For a related blog that documents misogyny in some famous poets and critics, see https://clarespark.com/2009/10/23/murdered-by-the-mob-moral-mothers-and-symbolist-poets/. For a partial index to all my blogs on feminism see https://clarespark.com/2012/09/04/links-to-blogs-on-feminism/.) Historian Ruth Bloch has traced the “rise of the moral mother”, whose status was improved by Lockean tabula rasa psychology and the decline of paternal authority in the family. Mothers, now the decisive instructors in religious sentiments,  could be seen as malevolently usurping the male role, as father left his castle/home for offices and factories; father was no longer the supreme authority and distributor of material resources within the household economy.

September 21, 2012

Milton, Mason, Melville on Free Speech

[ Part two of this blog can be found here: https://clarespark.com/2012/09/22/materialist-history-and-the-idea-of-progress/]

This blog is about the intellectual history of the First Amendment, and is meant to establish a longer lineage than is asserted by many conservatives, who look to George Mason, Jefferson, and Madison as the most significant proponents of freedom of expression. What is ignored in this claim is the always contested nature of free speech, even within its most ardent progenitors. Also overlooked are the material interests of Southern slaveholders whose doctrine of State’s Rights was threatened by the abolitionist and/or antislavery arguments of such Federalists as Alexander Hamilton and John Jay.

For instance, George Mason (1725-1792), the famous Antifederalist, wanted slaves as property to be protected, although he opposed the extension of slavery and the importation of further slaves. During the 1830s, when slavery was defended as a positive good, Southerners forbade not only the education of slaves, but stopped the importation of Northern abolitionist arguments through the mails. It is obvious that material interests in slave property trumped any desire for universal freedom of expression in the slaveholding states.

Go back several centuries to Milton’s famous polemic Areopagitica (1644). In my book on the revival of Herman Melville’s reputation in the 20th century, I devoted an entire chapter to Milton and Melville’s ambivalent relations to puritanism, as expressed in Milton’s Paradise Lost. The poet’s relationship to his character Satan (often taken to be the mouthpiece of Milton in his most radical mood) has generated a “Milton industry” of even greater size and consequence than the “Melville industry.” Conservatives, moderates, and radicals alike, appropriate the life and art of these authors as their ideologies demand. What each party suppresses is the ambivalence of either Milton or Melville—an ambivalence that we may find within ourselves as we save our own hides from the bullies we encounter at every stage of life. This is an issue that educators fail to address, no matter how well-meaning their efforts may be at reforming the current system of public education. (See https://clarespark.com/2012/09/19/bullies/.)

What follows is a short collage followed by some comments that begin chapter 4 of my book. I lay out the obvious influence of Milton’s great tract upon Herman Melville, feeding his passionate desire to see and describe “things as they are.” For Melville, struggling with inner censors, was “the mind its own place?”

Gustave Dore Satan

[From Areopagitica:] I deny not, but that it is of greatest concernment in the Church and Commonwealth, to have a vigilant eye on how Bookes demeane themselves as well as men; and thereafter to confine, imprison, and do sharpest justice on them as malefactors: For books are not absolutely dead things, but doe contain a potencie of life in them to be as active as that soule whose progeny they are; nay they do preserve as in a violl the purest efficacie and extraction of that living intellect that bred them. I know they are lively, and as vigorously productive, as those fabulous Dragon’s teeth; and being sown up and down, may chance to spring up armed men. And yet on the other hand unless wariness be us’d, as good almost kill a Man as kill a good Book; who kills a Man kills a reasonable creature, Gods Image; but hee who destroyes a good Booke, kills reason itself, kills the Image of God, as it were in the eye.

[Melville to Evert Duyckinck, 1849, regretting his negative critique of Francis Parkman:] Hereafter I shall no more stab at a book (in print I mean) than I would stab at a man.[i]

[From “Baby Budd”:] Claggart hesitated not an instant. Deliberately advancing within short range of the sailor, he spoke. Without emphasis and in a tone more musical than ever, he delivered the accusation point-blank into his eyes.[ii]

Seventeenth-century radical puritans and scientists produced many of the innovations we associate with the intellectual foundations of democracy: along with the partial legitimation of dissent and libertarian ideas in some strands of Reformation thought, the scientific revolution fortified older political theories of popular sovereignty and constitutional government. The explosion of printing made subversive ideas broadly available to a growing and confident middle-class reading public eager to be emancipated from arbitrary authority. Milton published Areopagitica in 1644; it is perhaps the most eloquent statement ever conceived on behalf of intellectual freedom; it thrills to the puritan marrow of my bones. But that appeal to the censor was framed during the English Civil War soon after the Independents, reacting to new assertions of popular sovereignty, had put down rebels to their Left in the City of London, stifling vox populi (the voice of the people) in favor of vox salutaris (the voice of public safety).[iii] After the Restoration Sir Henry Vane was beheaded, and the bodies of the chief regicides, Cromwell, Ireton and Bradshaw, were exhumed and hanged as an example to would-be republicans. All overtly radical thoughts were chased back to the Tartarean realms from which the Titans had emerged. Milton, who had been named as secretary of foreign languages in 1649, was taken into custody then freed, perhaps by the intercessions of Andrew Marvell and Sir William Davenant or because the restored regime concluded that the blind poet, though formerly an official of the commonwealth and ardent defender of the regicides, was now harmless. [end, book excerpt]

Surveys taken by liberal journalists present a troubling picture of American attitudes toward freedom of speech. (See http://www.ajr.org/Article.asp?id=2621.) As we contemplate the direction of the current administration, attributing blame for the jihadists uprisings on a video of dubious origin (as opposed to terrorism only weakly resisted), we should be aware that the freedom of speech libertarians desire is not universally supported, not even in our “free republic.”

In my next blog, I will compare those accounts of the 1960s written within a religious framework, versus my own accounts of 20th century social movements as written by a materialist historian (myself). The subject highlighted will be a populism that has never been vanquished, and that retains all its baneful, irrationalist influence on our politics.


[i]  2. Melville to Evert Duyckinck, 12/14/49, N/N Corr., 148-149.

                [ii]  3. Herman Melville, “Baby Budd, Sailor,” quoted in Freeman, Melville’s Billy Budd, 317. In “Billy Budd,” Claggart’s glance is linked to an “asylum physician” and to the mesmerizing Rabbi in Clarel.

       [iii]  4. See Robert Brenner, Merchants and Revolution (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1993). On Davenant and Milton see http://www.oxfordtimes.co.uk/lifestyle/history/8927697.How_a_friendship_saved_John_Milton_s_life/.

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