Rethinking the Other in AntiquityBy Erich S. Gruen (Princeton University Press, 415 pp., $39.50) MITT ROMNEY, along with other Republicans, has worked hard over the last few months to present Barack Obama as something other than a genuine native-born American. He has stopped short of the absurdities of the “birther movement,” but he has insisted that the president, in all the ways that really matter, is somehow less American, and more foreign, than he and the members of his party.
EARLY IN Charles Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend, the unbearable Mr. Podsnap is shown instructing an “unfortunately born” foreigner. “We Englishmen are very proud of our constitution,” Podsnap observes portentously. “It was bestowed upon us by Providence. No other Country is so favored as this Country.” “And other countries? They do how?” asks the foreigner.
John J. Mearsheimer, who is co-author (with Stephen Walt) of The Israel Lobby, a who’s who they’d rather have called The Jewish Lobby, has finally come clean and done a morphology of American Jewry, splitting it into two schools each personified by perhaps a dozen individual Jews. The first he calls “righteous Jews.” This list includes Noam Chomsky, Richard Falk, Norman Finkelstein, Tony Judt, a certified nutcase named Philip Weiss, and other more-or-less unknowns—Naomi Klein, for example.
Throughout history, political movements have often developed informal social headquarters alongside their official central commands. The eighteenth- century London Tories had a pub called Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. The 1930s French rightists had the Cafe de Flore. George W. Bush’s polo-shirted young Republicans had Smith Point, a preppy bar in Georgetown.
Some people can't get enough of Edward Said and some can't get enough of his critics. (Yes, there are also many who are entirely sated with him, and sated with his critics, as well.) Me, I knew him a tiny bit, and he was a foppishly nasty man. I once saw at Boston's Ford Hall Forum the great Zionist literary intellectual Marie Syrkin kick the shit out of him precisely for his nastiness and, oh, yes, also his ignorance of Jewish history.
Over at The Corner, Kathryn Jean-Lopez has taken a (hopefully brief) break from slobbering all over Mitt Romney. Why, you ask? Well, Barack Obama gave a speech to AIPAC the other day, and Lopez is suspicious of whether the Illinois senator actually supports Israel (whatever her definition of support may be). After linking to a someone described as a "Palestinian activist", Lopez writes, "Note the photo of Obama with Edward Said." And, sure enough, Lopez has posted a pic of Obama sitting at a large table with none other than Mr. Said.
A few weeks ago I posted a Spine about the nasty legacy Edward Said left at Columbia University and here, there, and elsewhere around the academic world. I've just read a long essay by a Columbia student, Jennie Morgan, in the Columbia Spectator on Said and the fortunes of his thought after he died. It is, I think, scrupulously honest, deeply understanding and very sharp. If you care at all about the Said controversy, which is still very much alive and very heated, you should read this article.
I wrote last week about Edward Said's poisonous legacy at Columbia and, for that matter, other colleges and universities, including Harvard, where I taught for eons and eons. Said's star is dimming, and it is dimming for at least two reasons. One is that his primary insight--that the views of the "orientalists" were false because they helped sustain imperialism--itself denies the populations whom he views as victims their capacity for agency.
A History of Modern Palestine:One Land, Two PeoplesBy Ilan Pappe (Cambridge University Press, 333 pp., $22) Ilan Pappe and I walked a stretch together in uneasy companionship, but we have now parted ways. In the late 1980s and early 1990s we belonged to a group dubbed the "New Historians" of Israel, which also included Avi Shlaim and Tom Segev. This group, contrary to the conspiratorial image projected by our critics, was never a close-knit or monolithic school of intellectuals who plotted together around the table at Friday-night meals. Some of us barely knew one another.