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Hit and Run

Movable Snipe is an exercise in high-intensity meta-blogging that will make old media curmudgeons like Nicholas Lehmann wake in cold sweats. Here's how it works. Two writers — snipers — are candy-led into their own epistolary playground for a week where they pen rambling, rococo letters on whatever subjects they choose, provided they include and evaluate five pre-selected blogs in each missive. Think a clickable Mad Libs with some qualitative analysis of the blogosphere built in.

Your Snipers this week are:

Michael Helke, the books editor of Chicago monthly Stop Smiling, Jack Shafer’s favorite magazine.

Fiona Maazel, former managing editor of the Paris Review, Jewcy contributor and current resident of Yaddo, that famed writer’s cloister where Jonathan Franzen is said to have kneaded the Muse into giving the world The Corrections.

Michael and Fiona’s quarry:

3 Quarks Daily: Lingua Franca's less funded parallel dimension, an egghead sanctuary praised by such Baconian lights as Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker and Daniel Dennett.

The Scanner:'s media meta-wankers sift the news for all the oral, anal, and manual stimulation fit to print.

The Elegant Variation: Lit-bitchiness that makes Dale Peck look like the Mahatma.

Daniel Drezner: Because it's about time a Jewish boy from the University of Chicago earned some recognition for his conservative politics.

Crooked Timber: Tweedy academics secure tenure one bite-sized leftist critique at a time.

– Michael Weiss

Day One

From: Michael Helke To: Fiona Maazel Subject: Orwell on the Death of Anna Nicole (Oh, and Blogs!)

Greetings, Fiona.

I read “I Was a Bad Pornographer,” your Salon essay from 15 March 2000. Seems like all the illustrious writers have dipped their wicks into that ink well at one time or another, and I want in on that action. I remember reading a 1999 essay in Harper’s by your late boss, George Plimpton: an appreciation of Terry Southern, I believe. Plimpton wrote about having written a pornographic novel for Grove Press. Maurice Giordias thought it was too much; his wife at the time freaked out; cried a WASPy river.

Between you, me, and the deep blue sea: you never got to see that manuscript, did you? If not, what do you think he did with it? Did he set it aflame? Scatter its pages into an African river? Have it interred in a vault in the Vatican? Or have Xeroxed copies been distributed among so-called “playgroups,” a phenomenon that, according to Crooked Timber, can be found in schoolyards in the Netherlands? Does Plimpton’s porn circulate, samizdat-style, under the hashed-out orbs of Dutch dads? (Readers are invited to send in their own suppositions as to the book’s whereabouts — assuming, of course, that it has retained corporeality.)

Anyway: about porn. Or, if you will, erotica. seems to be the most plausible creative realization of Hugh Hefner’s youthful notion of enjoying a romantic evening involving a “quiet discussion on Picasso, Nietzsche, jazz, [and] sex.” Except their aesthetic would be more along the lines of Bacon, Foucault, goth and… well, I guess sex makes the list, too. Really: if discussions of Nietzsche were to have ever figured into such an evening back in Hef’s heyday, it would have to have occurred post-climax; and I’m pretty sure that such a discussion would have gone only as far as the Übermensch.

Unfortunately, 21st-century pillow talk isn’t that elevated — not yet, anyway. Merely reiterations of the standard “Was it good for you?”-style idiocies. Why not enliven the post-coital discourse with some observations? For instance, doesn’t it kind of suck that, while soldiers are dying in Iraq, people in Hollywood can’t think of anything to do but talk bullshit cinema and have meaningless sex? Doesn’t Adam Gopnik just totally blow the bishop’s sausage? I think he, David Denby and Lillian Ross ought to be placed on a block of ice and kicked out to sea. I’m glad this Mark Sarvas chap sees things my way. Ditto Morgan Meis of 3 Quarks Daily.

I think we’re living in an “inside the whale” moment all over again, Fi. How's that for a graduate thesis: George Orwell’s enduring relevance in the public’s obsession with the late Anna Nicole Smith? I think there’s something there: ANS was an un-missable spectacle, and why do I think that, like Orwell’s memory of the sinking Titanic, she’ll be better remembered in twenty years than the siege of Fallujah? This is a line of inquiry worth pursuing, if only to get more people thinking about Orwell whenever they turn on E!.

Thinking about Orwell gets me to thinking about others who have thought about Orwell; and one who has expressed his thoughts on his subject most eloquently is the London-based Australian-expat writer/critic/personality Clive James. His essay “The All of Orwell,” which is included in As of This Writing, his most recent collection — that is, until this coming March, when Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts comes out — is worth checking out.
“Primo Levi and the Painted Veil” is another, demonstrating James to be one of the best critics of bad books around. How so? Because his essays have the effect of making us remember the bad books, if nothing other than an object lesson on how not to write: fiction, poetry, history, journalism, etc. Carole Angier should thank C.J. for saving her execrable bio of Levi, The Double Bond, from oblivion for that very reason. Someday he’ll go to town on Gopnik — perhaps even Denby — in his inimitably urbane yet devastating way.

The ever-insightful Daniel Drezner says that "Everyone Plays Hard-to-Get Before the Six-Party Talks." I think everybody would be happy if these people just cut through the foreplay, dropped a load of E, and screwed each other like rabid bunnies. I mean, this coy shit is getting old, man.

I like Drezner. Academician though he may be, he’s trying to bring matters of arcane policy down to a level that everybody can understand. Much like Orwell. How, you ask? Sex. For instance: the notion of playing “Hard-to-Get.” Hard. And “Six” kind of sounds like “sex.” I do declare that if Orwell lived a few more decades, he’d have tried some of the same tactics as Drezner.

I’m sure you have observations, and boy, would I love to read ‘em. Fire away.

From: Fiona Maazel To: Michael Helke Subject: How Many Rebounds Did Clive James Make This Season?

Yo, Michael. Or Helke, I guess. Do people call you Helke? Some people call me Fi, which is an unfortunate diminutive, given the odds that one Fi deserves another, as in Fi-Fi, though I guess the renown agent Fifi Oscard manages with it just fine. Brrr, it’s cold. I’m up at Yaddo at the moment, and Yaddo is great, barring your first-night dinner when you have to chat with strangers who are, in all likelihood, smarter and more accomplished than you.

Luckily, I got here the day after Anna Nicole Smith died. Celebrity death brings people together. We were all wanting to know how she went. None of us were moved. That paragraph where Orwell talks about discrepant responses to tragedy? He was moved—slayed—by news of the Titanic’s demise, and finding it ironic that events of greater significance and cataclysm had left him cold. Not so much here. Sure, that guy who runs her fansite is wrecked, but I’m guessing most people are not losing their lunch over it. But then most people in this country are not losing their lunch over North Korea, either, and them’s fighting words since half the people in North Korea have not eaten lunch since 1954.

You see this stuff on Drezner about Korea’s revising its admittedly half-assed commitment to nuclear nonproliferation? This guy’s blog scares the crap out of me. Except for that he got Sox tickets. Or that he’s Jewtalking about cheap tickets alongside a post about North Korea blowing up the world.

Do we know yet how A.N.S. died? Interesting that you mention Primo Levi since I was just talking to a friend about people who survive unspeakable horrors only to die prematurely. Did Levi kill himself? Some think he did. Same with Sebald. Did A.N.S.? After all that? Why O.D. now? Post-partum? Enough is enough? You shouldn’t struggle with drug abuse and die. If you’re gonna die, anyway, you should just give into it. I’m not being cynical, either. One of the worst things for an addict struggling to recover is to die on drugs. Wait, I’m getting sad about her death, oh no!

Kismet: You’re talking Paris Review, Gourevitch is en route to Yaddo, I hear, and the excellent Mark Sarvas is stumping for TPR’s new compendium of interviews. I miss George. And yeah, I heard about his dirty novel. But I think it’s apocryphal. Still, the man got around. He was good friends with the Hef. Took me to the mansion, once. There were peacocks. And a small arcade with video games and padded rooms for purposes illicit and randy. Randy! No one has ever seen George’s dirty book, far as I know. But then I know little. Like: Clive James. Have I ever ready any Clive James? Nope. Did I think he was a basketball player before you wrote me? Could be. Did I read the lead post on Crooked Timber about all the books Maria has read since January 1 and despair?

Who is this Maria? Oh, wait, I see who she is. She’s hot. She’s up on Disraeli and Gladstone. I think I just finished Spawn 11. Happily, I just came across mention on 3 Quarks Daily of Pierre Baynard’s prophylactic, How to Talk About Books that You Haven’t Read. Phew. Now I can sleep easy. Thanks, 3 Quarks! Hey, the etymology of the name of this website is fancy. "Three quarks for Muster Mark!" You know, there used to be a bar by George P’s house called Finnegan’s Wake. George persuaded them to get the name right. And they did. They actually changed the name.

Which brings me to the more important matter of things you should not have read, ever, chief among them my stupid piece about pornography. Please take note of the date on that thing. 1998, maybe. Whenever I go on a blind date—and I’ve been on several—the guy always Googles me first, reads the thing on porn and sees fit to bring it up. Where was Clive James, center for the Heat, when I needed him? And where is he now?

I think the work I’m attempting at the moment sucks. I should probably just go find this freakish kangaroo man and inbreed. Wow, is he freakish. He’s featured on Nerve’s roundup of weird shit online. At least I think that’s what’s happening on this website. Hard to say. Between the sans-serif jamboree and my new kangaroo boyfriend, I just can’t tell what’s happening anymore. Cheer me up, Michael.


To see the next round of letters, click here.

To see our first installment of Movable Snipe, featuring Spencer Ackerman and Melissa Lafsky, click here.

Fiona Maazel has previously written for Jewcy on why unhappiness is the key to happiness. She also participated in a piety contest with both the U.S. and Iranian presidents in our "Letters to Ahmadinejad" series.

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