“Cold Warriors Review: The War of Words”
Thomas Mallon, The Wall Street Journal
Late in life, the American novelist Mary McCarthy roaringly dismissed the Soviet sympathizer Lillian Hellman: “Every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.’ ” We might praise her candor, but we also ought to remember that, in the Cold War, nothing was as clear-cut as partisans of either side would have you believe. Writ large, the conflict pitted West against East, the United States against the Soviet Union; in the trenches, where the war for culture was actually fought, the splatter of incessant mudslinging could make it near-impossible to tell exactly where one’s loyalties lay, or in just what capacity he had actually contributed to which cause. In Cold Warriors: Writers who Waged the Literary Cold War—a sort of “group biography,” according to its author—Duncan White profiles the dizzying mess of individuals and organizations who were active in the era and catalogues the numerous battlefronts in all their ideological sinuosities and involutions. But the parties involved in the Cold War, nebulous as they could be, did agree on the power of words to shape the future of the world. Thomas Mallon, writing for The Wall Street Journal, draws the following conclusion: “The most mournful realization generated by Cold Warriors involves the since-diminished potency of literature itself.”
“Are Political Disagreements Real Disagreements?”
Michael Hannon, Quillette
For most, the ideal of free speech takes as given that the perfect state would feature the rigorous and fair examination of ideas through civil discourse. It is intrinsically tied to the notions of debate, of opposition, of criticism; it also requires a fundamental assumption of good faith to operate properly. But while we normally assume that conscious lying and exaggeration are anathema to free speech, Michael Hannon brings our attention to the fact that, at least in a political context, our discourse has degraded to the point that many cannot even take their own beliefs on good faith. In our age of virtue signaling and rapid-fire communication, the line between expression and belief is blurred by those who prioritize party membership to the exclusion of membership in legitimate discourse. As Hannon explains, “although a large number of people will say that Obama is the antichrist, that he founded ISIS, and so forth, these people may not genuinely believe these things”; our public sphere has so devolved that its actors are no longer saying what they mean, but simply expressing party loyalty through inflated rhetoric. Bad faith is nothing new, but it can be counted on to rear its head in new, twenty-first-century ways.
“The Provocations of Camille Paglia”
Emily Esfahani Smith, City Journal
In the 1970s, when Camille Paglia was completing her doctoral studies at Yale, she found herself somewhat disillusioned by the post-structuralist wave washing over the academy. As Emily Esfahani Smith explains, she had a few gripes with the “old-guard professors at the Yale Graduate School,” as any self-identified lesbian and transgender feminist critic probably would. But she much preferred the likes of Harold Bloom, her advisor, to the French theorists, whom she compared to “high priests murmuring to each other” about some arcane secret. Abhorring partisan limitations as space does a vacuum, Paglia has hardly tempered her scathing tongue in the intervening decades. In her landmark history of Western culture, Sexual Personae (1991), Paglia audaciously asserts that “if civilization had been left in female hands, we would still be living in grass huts” and that “there is no female Mozart because there is no female Jack the Ripper.” Or, more recently, in response to the #MeToo movement, that it is “ridiculous that any university ever tolerated a complaint of a girl coming in six months or a year after an event. If a real rape was committed, go frigging report it to the police.” No small wonder that, even in 2019, Paglia is still raising hackles without discrimination. Such is the office of critic, no?
From our pages:
“Experiments against reality”
Roger Kimball introduces the September issue of The New Criterion.
Nicola Shulman on comedy in the shadow of the Chernobyl tragedy.