August 30, 2002
MORE ON THE LEFT’S POST-SIXTIES PRIGGISHNESS: Nelson Ascher writes:
Sorry for disturbing you once more, but there is something I would like to add to the discussion about the left’s humorlessness. The first person whose brilliant comments I have read about this subject was none other than the recently deceased Pauline Kael. (By the way, the last article I wrote for my Brazilian newspaper before 911 was precisely her obituary). According to Kael, in her youth the left for instance used to be open and free about sexual matters. It was also highly critical of the bourgeoisie’s hypocrisy and puritanism. But, as soon as its attitudes won the day and were adopted wholesale by the middle classes (the so called sexual revolution of the 60’s), the left itself began to reject them, accusing the bourgeois, petit or not, of a lack of seriousness, promiscuity and of turning sex in one more object to be used and discarded by the consumer society.
What is more striking, however, is how much Kael’s best observations prefigured the best anti-idiotarian tone and views of the blogosphere. Even more to the point were her ironic commentaries on the patronising way European intellectuals criticized America from the standpoint of the pseudo Kultur Volk. For instance, she was devastating when writing about Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point, a film, according to her, through which someone who knew close to nothing about the USA tried arrogantly to show the Americans what their country is all about. She also identified the same kind of dismissive arrogance among the intellectuals who went from Europe to the USA as refugees before and during the war. These people also shared with the Old World’s intelligentsia a supreme disdain for American mass culture.
Maybe it is none of my business, being neither a blogger nor an American (well, not a North American anyway), but the blogosphere could well, one year after her death, honour and pay hommage to someone who spent her life exposing the European anti-Americanism for what it is and fighting for the best in the modern and democratic mass culture and society. I personally would very much have liked to know what would have been her thoughts about all that happened during this last year.
Interesting points all. (And why aren’t you a blogger, Nelson? Brazil’s the second-bloggingest country in the world, after the United States, according to Pyra.) Yes, if there’s a single lodestar to the Left it’s that if most Americans favor something — even if it’s something the Left formerly favored — then it’s time to take a new position. This is, of course, the formula for a minority party that feels isolated within its own country, and that is incapable of enjoying even its victories. Which sounds about right.
UPDATE: Pejman Yousefzadeh offers his diagnosis.