Our Podhoretz Problem at 50

Norman Podhoretz: for the greater good he'll accept swarthy grand-kids but won't be happy about it.
Norman Podhoretz: for the greater good he’ll accept swarthy grand-kids but won’t be happy about it.

Fifty years ago, Norman Podhoretz wrote a profoundly stupid article called “My Negro Problem – and Ours.” The article was published in Commentary magazine, which is marking the anniversary.

I say “profoundly stupid” advisedly because Podhoretz himself, despite his reprehensible politics, is not a dumb guy. In fact, he’s a gifted editor and polemicist. The article itself is sometimes praised for being an honest attempt to describe the seriousness of racism.

Yet, what other phrase than profoundly stupid can apply to an article that argues that the best solution to racism is miscegenation. At the end of the essay Podhoretz writes:  “I cannot see how [the dream of erasing color consciousness] will ever be realized unless color does in fact disappear: and that means not integration, it means assimilation, it means—let the brutal word come out—miscegenation…. in my opinion the Negro problem can be solved in this country in no other way.”

Continue reading

The Case for Trollope

Image

David Frum and I have had an interesting twitter debate about the merits of the Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope (you can read the dialogue here). I have a much higher regard for Trollope than Frum does and I thought it might be useful to spell out at greater than 140 character length why he’s one of my favorite novelists (and also quote some sharp critics on Trollope).

I’ve had a soft spot for Trollope ever since I started reading his novels a teenager. It’s good to start young when delving into Trollope because it takes a lifetime to survey his work. He was one of the most prolific writers of good fiction. He had 47 novels under his belt, many of them hefty tomes weighing in around the length of Bleak House, Anna Karenina or The Brothers Karamazov. As if those novels were somehow insufficient there are also five volumes of (quite excellent) short stories and miscellaneous but still voluminous books of (solid, informative) travel writing and other non-fiction (including an excellent, rewarding memoir). All of which adds not just to an oeuvre but almost a mountain range, a formidable requiring time and perseverance to conquer.

Continue reading

Shakespeare-Hatred: An Underground Literary Tradition

Shaw: No Lover of Shakespeare He

Over at Crooked Timber, they are having a lively discussion  provoked by George Bernard Shaw’s scorn for Shakespeare. On many occasions Shaw expressed extreme distain for the Bard of Avon. In a 1906 letter Shaw wrote “I have striven hard to open English eyes to the emptiness of Shakespeare’s philosophy, to the superficiality and second-handedness of his morality, to his weakness and incoherence as a thinker, to his snobbery, his vulgar prejudices, his ignorance, his disqualifications of all sorts for the philosophic eminence claimed for him.”

Shaw’s opinion are easy to dismiss, it is often forgotten that there is a long and venerable tradition of Shakespeare-hatred, a critical tradition that includes not just crank and reflexive contrarians but also some very great writers. Aside from Shaw, Voltaire and Leo Tolstoy were also vociferously hostile to Stratford’s favourite son. Voltaire actually started off as a champion of Shakespeare but turned against the English writer’s plays. More recently the novelist Joyce Carol Oates (in her collection Contraries) and mad-dog essayist Marvin Mudrick have taken aim at Shakespeare.

Continue reading