“What have you been up to?” That’s a question that no reader of this blog has asked me. Still, here is the answer:
1. I’ve been writing literary essays for The Walrus, Canada’s answer to Harper’s or The Atlantic Monthly. My long review essay on “the Holocaust novel” can be found here. It touches on everybody from T.W. Adorno to Natalie Portman to Art Spiegelman. I also wrote a briefer, but related, review of Keith Oatley’s new novel, a review which can be found on the bottom of this page. Finally, I have a little essay on the difference between reading a writer and listening to him or her read, which is here.
2. Once again, I was on the Michael Coren show, in an episode which can be seen here. The show ended with an especially heated discussion of the ongoing Catholic sex abuse scandal. Earlier, we debated the merits of Fox News and I was far too polite. Still, the show might be of interest.
3. For the Comics Journal, I reviewed a new book about the cartoonist Milt Gross, a near forgotten master of Yiddishkeit culture. See here.
Here are the opening paragraphs of my Walrus review essay:
Few hypothetical scenarios are harder to imagine than a conversation between Theodor Adorno and Natalie Portman. Adorno was the highbrow’s highbrow, the sage Thomas Mann turned to for advice while writing Doctor Faustus, the friend and long-time correspondent of Walter Benjamin, the champion of astringent creators like Arnold Schoenberg, the relentless foe of jazz and Hollywood, the mercilessly pessimistic Marxist critic of modernity whose “negative dialectic” has enriched thousands of scholarly studies. Portman is perhaps best known for her turn as Queen Padmé Amidala in the more mediocre of the two Star Wars trilogies.Yet on the subject of the Holocaust, Adorno and Portman, both of Jewish heritage, might have found some common ground. In a typically dense 1949 essay titled “Cultural Criticism and Society,” Adorno — a refugee from Nazi Germany who had lost the world of his youth to the Nazi genocide — bluntly declared that “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” Arguably, Portman is not as deep a thinker as Adorno (who died in 1969, twelve years before the actress was born), but the starlet has been impressively educated at Harvard and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Interviewed by the Daily Mail earlier this year, she complained, “I get like twenty Holocaust scripts a month, but I hate the genre.”
Despite their shared discomfort with Holocaust art, an enormous historical and cultural gulf separates Adorno’s statement from Portman’s….