Reviews I Love to Read … As Long As It Ain’t About My Book: Wieseltier v. Podhoretz cage match edition.
I’m not an unequivocal fan of Leon Wieseltier, but even those whose disapprobation runs far richer than mine would acknowledge that he can sling both words and snarks with the pros.
Case in point, this devastating review of a book that I will not read and an argument that deserves ground-zero treatment: Norman Podhoretz’s lament and “when-will-they-come-to-their-senses” screed about the odd truth that his co-religionists fail to see religious necessity, obvious to him, in unquestioning support for the worst elements in US and Israeli politics.*, **
But, despite the urge to footnote indulged in below, let me cease by paraphrasing Einstein in his memorable rebuke of (Christian) German militarism: why so many words, when you can read Wieseltier empty his magazine into the twitching corpse of Podhoretz’s long, long effort to nullify the imperatives within Isiah and Micah. For a sample, enjoy this:
…this is a dreary book. Its author has a completely axiomatic mind that is quite content to maintain itself in a permanent condition of apocalyptic excitation. His perspective is so settled, so confirmed, that it is a wonder he is not too bored to write.
Yeeow….and that’s only the beginning. Wieseltier goes on, through two web-jumps, delightfully, playfully, magisterially ripping Podhoretz new orifices into which scorn may flow yet more freely. Have fun.
(And yes….writers do like reading thorough, relentless, even vicious Cato-like reviews…as long as the Carthaginian text thus ploughed with salt does not issue from their own computer, or that of their friends.***
*OK. That’s the short version. But it captures the gist.
**As a Jew with deep Zionist family history (my ancestor, Sir Moses Montefiore, was one of the first sponsors of Jewish settlement outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem), I got no problem with support for Israel — but I’ve never for the life of me understood the sheer folly of assuming “support” = “sheep like endorsement of whatever the government of Israel (or any other nation) says or does. This is an old and stale argument, but Podhoretz is an old and stale arguer, so I suppose it all makes for a tedious kind of eternal return of the same BS ….
***Making the assumption that such solitary misanthropes as writers have friends, and not just “friends”…in the sense of those to whom one may complain freely of editors, agents, booksellers, and an insufficiently entranced public. As it happens, as I age, my pleasure in and the number of writers who are genuine friends grows. One of the compensations for the most annoying property of the arrow of time.
Image: Rembrandt van Rijn, “Jeremiah lamenting over the destruction of Jerusalem” 1630