“If you have ghosts, then you have everything.” Those are the words of a tender and demented rock legend of Austin, and they have stood me in good stead for years. Ghosts are a solution for loneliness. One needs someone to talk to. I mean about the old themes, if one believes that they are still the right themes. Ghosts are the natural companions of anybody in estrangement; the invisible officers of tradition, of all the valuable things that have been declared obsolete but, in some stubborn hearts, are not obsolete.
Meanwhile, back at the war. “This is how you end these kinds of insurgencies,” General Petraeus said a few weeks ago, referring to the fact that senior officials of the Taliban had “sought to reach out” to senior officials of the Karzai government in Kabul. Pardon the impudence, but this is four-star spin.
I have a friend who loves me, or so he recently told the Daily News; and I love him, too. We were incandescent young men at Columbia together, and he is now senior vice president for marketing and publicity at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, one of the honorable remnants of what used to be known as publishing. Insofar as my friend toils to keep his indispensable firm alive against the sick desire of a technologically intoxicated and economically panicked society to see its highbrow institutions hobbled or dead, he is a force for cultural good, a figure in the resistance.
In Winesburg, Ohio, George Willard, “the Ohio village boy,” suddenly “crosses the line into manhood” when he is pierced by a sense of his own finitude. “The sadness of sophistication has come to the boy. With a little gasp he sees himself as merely a leaf blown by the wind through the streets of his village. He knows that in spite of all the stout talk of his fellows he must live and die in uncertainty, a thing blown by the winds, a thing destined like corn to wilt in the sun.” Sherwood Anderson’s understanding of sophistication was nothing like our own.
Collective responsibility. One of the most accomplished Jewish terrorists of our time, Baruch Goldstein, came from the Jewish universe in which I was raised. When he committed his crime, there were a few former and present citizens of that universe, a revered rabbi of mine among them, who demanded a stringent communal introspection; but the critics were denounced as slanderers who tarred all of religious Zionism, or all of “Modern Orthodox” Judaism, or all of Judaism, with the same treasonous brush.
In the analysis of a war, the where matters as much as the why. About the reasons for our war in Afghanistan, I am still solid. I am confident that the United States has an urgent interest of national security in suppressing or destroying Al Qaeda and its various affiliates in the badlands of the Hindu Kush. I am also confident that, but for our efforts to cripple them, these forces would be further along in their murderous plans for America and Americans. I remember September 11.
Is there any more eloquent or definitive evidence of human individuality, of human dignity, than the face? My face shows that I am unlike you, that I am myself; and in this beautiful incommensurability we establish solidarity with each other, because your face also looks only like itself, only like you.The hiddenness of the face—the Divine face, too—is commonly regarded as a curse or a punishment, and its revelation as an epiphany.
For my sins, I have been reading Alain Badiou. (The intellectual’s work is never done.) He is, in his own words, “the most widely read and translated French philosopher in the world.” More banally, he is the very latest professor of liberation; and more banally still, the very latest professor of liberation from liberalism.
Sometimes Michael Kazin’s reasonableness disguises an apologetic lack of argument. His little reflection on my piece is a small anthology of the president’s foreign policy shibboleths. Let us begin with Iran. “They hail the democratic insurgents in Iran but do not propose an intervention that would destroy their movement and many of their lives.” Who, precisely, is proposing such an intervention? Certainly not I.
There are figures in history who wish to leave behind what Malraux called “a scar on the map,” but it was Barack Obama’s desire to leave behind a new map, and one without scars. His promise of global transformation was outrageously genuine, underwritten by an invincible belief in his own unprecedentedness and in his own magic; and it now looks like a personal delusion enlarged by political excitement into a popular delusion.