The Tory and the Masochist (Day Three)

To: Daphne Merkin From: John Derbyshire Subject: Male Gay Death Bed, More Johnson, More Gissing, and Zionism Daphne, You have “so many gay male friends”? Really? As Lady Bracknell said: “We obviously move in completely different circles.” I only have … Read More

By / March 8, 2007
To: Daphne Merkin From: John Derbyshire Subject: Male Gay Death Bed, More Johnson, More Gissing, and Zionism Daphne,

You have “so many gay male friends”? Really? As Lady Bracknell said: “We obviously move in completely different circles.” I only have one gay male acquaintance, and he’s been living in France for several years. He is the world’s second greatest fan of Montserrat Caballé, me being the first. I have no gay friends at all. I had a lesbian personal trainer once. (Hi, Jennifer.) She was terrific—mean and pitiless, which is what you want in a trainer. Ex-military of course. (And yes, she rode a motorbike and played golf.) Right now I can’t even claim any gay acquaintances. But it’s true I don’t get out much.

As to gay marriage, I think Steve Sailer had the last word on it, as least as far as males are concerned: “Homosexuals don’t want marriages, they want weddings.” And of course, gay marriage is mostly a lesbian thing anyway. Where it’s allowed, the female-male ratio is at least two to one. These gals really need each other. I mean, who ever heard of “male gay bed death”?

I totally agree with your remark that “not that many people have truly interesting minds.” I’d go further: even people that do have interesting minds aren’t interesting very much of the time. I’ve met my share, and come away with more disappointment than dazzlement. I suspect that blogging is like modern poetry—far, far more producers than consumers. But yet, to quote Sam Johnson right back at you: “A man must do something.” Or, to quote him again (ain’t nobody gonna out-Johnson Derb!):

A transition from an author’s book to his conversation is too often like an entrance into a large city, after a distant prospect. Remotely, we see nothing but spires of temples and turrets of palaces, and imagine it the residence of splendour, grandeur, and magnificence; but when we have passed the gates, we find it perplexed with narrow passages, disgraced with despicable cottages, embarrassed with obstructions, and clouded with smoke. —Rambler #14 (May 5, 1750)

I had a vague impression that the 1997 Lolita movie had been abandoned, the topic by then being thought too outrageous. Not so: IMDB has it listed. I bet there was a fuss, though I can’t remember anything. Dominique Swain, the title character, was 17 when the movie was released—escaped?—so presumably 16 when cast. Sue Lyon was 16 when the 1962 movie was released. I predict that in the next version of Lolita to be filmed, the actress playing the nymphet will be at least 25, and there will be a bigger fuss than ever.

Hitler “eternally of interest”? Yes, and this is odd, because he was a pretty dull person. Reading Speer’s account of his table talk, you wonder how on earth everyone stayed awake through those long Berchtesgarten evenings. But of course they did! It’s a good thing there was no blogging back then. Imagine a Hitler blog! (Someone probably has.)

I bet he was a heroic farter—vegetarians always are. It’s not just the beans, it’s any vegetable matter in large quantities. The upside is, the farts don’t smell as bad as meat farts. Totally the worst farts are dog farts. Have you ever had a farty dog? Oy oy oy. My dog weighs all of 22 pounds, but he could stink up the Superdome. Old Chinese proverb (no kidding): Bie ren pi chou, zi ji pi xiang—“Other people’s farts stink, but your own are fragrant.” This is relevant to blogging somehow.

Wasn’t the thing about one testicle confirmed by the Russian autopsy, whose details were in the newspapers 30 or so years ago? One still wants to know about Goebbels, though.

James Wolcott. Wolcott doesn’t seem to have posted anything since yesterday. Perhaps he is hiding from us. In lieu of a comment, I offer you Dorothy Parker’s poem on Gissing (from memory):

Those who’ve read Gissing

Say I don’t know what I’m missing.

Till their arguments are subtler

I’ll stick with Samuel Butler.

Reason. I’m still at the stage, when confronted with political comment, of making a bee-line for the Rudy stuff. Here’s Reason on George Will on Rudy: “Of all the ’08 frontrunners, Rudy can marshal the most proof of his economic conservatism. At some point, though, he has to talk about the role of the executive and the national security state. Not just reenact 9/11—talk about the powers of the president and the federal government.”

Yes, that’s what I want to hear, too. I’m sure we shall.

Why don’t the Reason people like McCain, though? He wants to ship the entire populations of Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, etc. up here, same as they do. You’d think they’d be kinder’n’gentler with a fellow open-borders enthusiast.

But at least Reason noticed us. Not to very much effect; the comment veered off into something about the Sex Pistols.

One commenting reader grumbles that: “We don’t have that multicultural guilt. We are actually classical liberals. I guess the word ‘liberal’ really has jumped the shark.” Er, yes, honey, round about 1965. Another one allows that: “JD’s stuff isn't that bad, provided he avoids the word ‘buggering’.”

Buggering! Buggering! Buggering! Buggering buggering buggering buggering buggering buggering buggering buggering buggering buggering buggering buggering buggering buggering buggering buggering buggering buggering buggering buggering buggering buggering!

Kesher Talk. The Kesher people noticed us too. We’re getting COVERAGE! It was back-handed, though: “John Derbyshire and Daphne Merkin … seem resentful and enervated by the whole thing.” Listen. mate: If you had two kids with combined ages 25, two cars with combined ages 24, no job, teeth falling out, a damp basement, a garage that needs painting, and taxes still to do in mid-March, you’d be resentful and enervated too. Whyn’t you try it? Huh? Huh?

On some actual substance: There’s a little gush about Zionism at the front of the blog. I’ll confess I didn’t quite follow the writer’s argument, not being interested in the topic at that level of detail. I only want to say, since a lot of American Zionists are blind on the point, how very peculiar it seems to us non-Zionists that so many people should be so passionately keen on a country yet not live there. I’m sure any smart Jew can give me a 10,000-word explanation—a smart Jew can give you a 10,000-word explanation of anything—but to the rest of us, I repeat, this seems really, r—e—a—l—l—y odd. I honestly don’t mean this in any negative way (“Go live in your stupid Arab-oppressing Israel if you like it so much, why dontcha?”) It just seems… odd.

Design Observer. Still no connection. These guys are really hiding from us.

Yglesias.Yglesias still hasn’t noticed us, which I’m glad about. He strikes me as one very smart Jew, who would probably chew me up and spit me out. I hate when that happens. He’s on Rudy’s case too:

Back in 1993, Rudy Giuliani plays the family card, deploying Donna Hanover's love and affection for him and his legendary skills as a father for political gain. [Then a video clip of Rudy doing family things 15 or so years ago.] Nowadays, of course, young Andrew Giuliani is a bit older and not on speaking terms with his father. The source of the fight seems to be that Rudy not only divorced Andrew's mother, but insisted on publicly humiliating her in that uniquely classy Giuliani way. Mitt Romney, famously, is the only practicing monogamist among the Three Stooges.

This got me wondering. If I look at my own reasons for favoring Rudy, part of it is my perception that Rudy is one mean, nasty son of a bitch. I like that in a President. After all, it’s highly unlikely that the meanness and nastiness will be directed at me personally. It will, one hopes, be directed at America’s enemies; and at our corrupt, dysfunctional, and costly federal bureaucracies; and (this was sure the case during his mayoralty) at the race-guilt shakedown lobbies; and at our moronic, venal, and cowardly congresscritters; and… Why on earth would anyone want a nice guy for president?

Really, seen in this light, the only question about Rudy is, does he have enough ornery meanness and nastiness to go round? Is he a big enough son of a bitch? Perhaps there’s some kind of hormone treatment we can give Rudy, to make him even more of a pitiless, sneering, devious, wife-dumping jerk. I sure hope so.

Do I still have Jennifer’s number? I could use a really harsh workout.


To: John Derbyshire From: Daphne Merkin Subject: Chick Rock, Chivalrous Hitch, Philo-Semites, and My New iPod


I wonder what kind of music you listen to. Right now I'm listening to Kasey Chambers, one of these female folk troubadours I love— like Patti Griffith, Kathleen Finder (Canadian and thus overlooked) and the much-adulated Lucinda Williams. They're always caterwauling about the man that got away, the desolation of the passing scenery, the difficulty of telling the emotional truth in a strait-jacketed world: that kind of essentially adolescent angst, which I imagine leaves you unmoved.

I envision you listening to Schubert or someone equally upstanding. Or wait, perhaps it's Wagner you love—another, like Waugh, who didn't much like us "terrible Yids." Having just checked out Kesher Talk, where they are busy discussing Jewish Self-Hatred on the Right (as opposed to same on the Left, which is well-known and was recently exactingly and somewhat pedantically documented in that report the American Jewish Committee put out, which took the likes of Chomsky and Joel Kovel to task), I am feeling particularly Jabotinskyesque tonight.

First off, I was somewhat surprised to find that you, in all your proud conservatism, sound like such a proper British Lefty on the subject of Israel. Reminds me of the current incarnation of Hitchens, who has nothing good to say about his former opinions except for the qualms he continues to feel about the creation of a Jewish state, presumably because Israel—unlike any other country that has been created from scratch— exists on the non-justifiable basis of imperial occupation, of having taken land that wasn't completely unclaimed and there for the taking.

Unlike Zimbawe, say, or all of Europe for that matter. But I attribute his views on the subject of Israel to his having been under the charismatic and intellectually corrupting influence of Edward Said. I sat late into the night on the balcony of Hitchens' s room at the Plaza Athenee after the National Book Awards, trying to get him to reconsider his views both on Israel and Susan Sontag, whom he venerates in the way only an idol-smasher could venerate. The conversation was sparky and lubricated by I think two bottles of wine but there was no budging him. I will only add that he must be one of the few men left in the Western world with a chivalrous streak left in him; I can't remember the last time a man left his hotel room (replete with sleeping wife) to accompany me outside and see me into a cab.

But what I was really trying to get to, before being led astray (someone once told me that I live in parentheses) is that I don't buy your sleight-of-hand reasoning in defense of anti-Semitism. I didn't say I wanted Waugh booted out of the literary canon because of his fairly unrelenting Jew-bashing, the way Tom Paulin (now there's a real Jew-lover for you) thought Larkin should be banned from being taught in the schools because of his letters. Ditto for T.S.Eliot and Virginia Woolf.

No one's arguing that there's anything wrong with disliking Jews "in the generality", as you coyly put it—hell, most Jews would sign on to that agenda—but once you've said that, it seems to be a hop, skip and jump to writing off a historically sustained, single-mindedly murderous (and ultimately genocidal) animus towards a small group of people as an "expression of negativity."

I don't think there is a thinking Jewish person—other than those who are compulsive denigrators of their own tribe or who have moved to Greenwich and have managed to pass themselves off as faintly Hebraic of origin a long, long time ago— who doesn't feel the threat of anti-Semitism as something very much alive. And, finally, at least on this subject, I'm glad you consider yourself a philosemite and that you have a trail, both paper and pixel to prove it, but I often get the feeling that non-Jews declare themselves philosemites the better to mutter darkly about Jews without feeling guilty, as though the whole bunch of us were nothing more than troublesome and somewhat gauche relatives.

I am referring to your defense of Britain's atmosphere of "mild and genteel anti-Semitism" but essentially accommodating attitude toward their own Jews. What's so great about that? And why are Jews always supposed to be happy with crumbs? All in our insane wish to appease the feeling of envy we arouse in others, which you vaguely admit to suffering from yourself, covetously eyeing "zichrono livracha" (in the case of my—or any woman's—death, it would be zichrona livracha," you Samuel Johnson-quoting one-upper) and citing the lame punchline of some Cold War joke ("Darn Jews get the best of everything") as though it were a side-splitting observation. Since when has appeasement ever worked?

But here I've gone on at book-length and subverted the idea behind our blogging to begin with. I knew I wasn't meant for the iWorld. I'm sure James Wolcott would have something catty to say about this. Yglesias, on the other hand, seems blessedly free of the vituperative impulse that marks so much of the blogosphere. His is an equable spirit—unusual in one so young. I thought his analysis of why in some sense we could be said to have "won" the war in Iraq if one ignores the fact that it is an unwinnable war and thus a "hollow victory" was intriguingly put and blessedly free of insinuations about private (as in Cheney & Co.) oil interests having fueled the whole thing. I could warm up to him.

Less so Hit and Run, which seems to be composed of snippets of opaque interest—a little like bumper stickers—although some of the chat is above-average. When I dipped into Design Observer, I was mainly struck by how there are so many worlds within worlds out there, all of which have their own iconic figures and are impenetrable to outsiders. I read the essay on the disappointments of the latest design show at the Cooper-Hewitt with some interest, but then found myself lost in a sea of unrecognizable (to me) names of designers and projects. The only one I recognized was that of Chip Kidd—and that's only because he designs book jackets. It's probably even truer of the literary world, which exists in a self-inflated universe all its own, in spite of the fact that no one reads.

I would like to conclude by noting that my new iPod has arrived and my 17-year old daughter actually deigned to show me how to use it this evening, so there is hope for Luddites everywhere. Now I can listen to Kasey Chambers refusing to be rejected by a boyfriend as I sit on the crosstown bus. I've noticed, by the way, that the pitifully few comments that showed up about our exchange the last time I looked were either patronizing (instructing me in the uses of blogging) or snickering (pointing out that I had asked Michael to exchange the hideous photo of me for a slightly less unattractive one.)

You they seem to be more careful about/in awe of. But it's a masculinist world (I know there's no such term, but perhaps there should be, like the newly coined "weightist"), don't we masochistic feminist intellectuals all know it.

So good night, John. Don't let the bedbugs bite. Perhaps we'll meet someday somewhere, even though you say you never go anywhere and my daughter has me pegged as a loner. Sleep—or rather sleeping pills—awaits me, the better to unravel the something sleeve of my cares or however the phrase goes. I'm sure you have it at your fingertips.

Lehitraot and zei gezunt,


Previous Movable Snipes:

Michael Helke and Fiona Maazel [, , , , ]

Spencer Ackerman and Melissa Lafsky [Captain’s Quarters, Feministing, TNR's The Spine, Jossip, Wonkette]

Tagged with: