Monday, February 13, 2006

the antecedents of Nick: a further enquiry

Thgis is response to benignbruschetta's modets inquiry into Nick's antecedents. it's a bit long so I thought I'd shove it on the front page:

There's a strain of American left-wing journalism, and my ignorance is so deep that I can't even begin to name names properly, which seeks out conspiracies in government, is reflexively cynical about politicians, and equally nauseated by the facile pieties of both Republicans and Democrats, and Nick is closer to that than any British or Continental writing.

I think we’re actually talking about Bermanism here. There’s a particular New York-centric tradition of splits in very small left wing circles causing ripples because the members of those circles happened to be well connected in the wider worlds of media and academia. And from that you get the kind of well worn apostasy narrative, where various people declare that their party has left them and that they won’t sacrifice their principles to left conformity, etc, etc – this has been going on since the 1930’s and as has been remarked is one strain in the history of neo-conservatism.

Now there’s obviously a native strain of that with people like Kingsley Amis and Paul Johnson, but these folks tend to go all the way over, loudly, with drums and flags. Nick’s “I stand for the real principles of the left” schtick shows the American influence. This isn't like Orwell, by the way. His trick was Commissar as Democrat.

So I’d agree that the particular frame of reference is American, but I don’t think Nick’s an independent left journalist in the American style. We’re talking here about people like Murray Kempton and IF Stone, who maintained a sympathetic approach to left wing causes and concerns while maintaining their own eccentric orbit around them. I’d say that tradition’s been inherited by people like Matt Taibi these days, or Mark Ames (though I’ve seen him described as the last Gonzo, as well, and maybe more accurately). The Brit who conforms most closely to the independent US left tradition in journalism is probably Alex Cockburn.

I think a basic problem with Nick is that he’s trying to operate a style that just doesn’t work here. The sound of a door being slammed at a dinner party in the Upper East Side of New York may go round the world, but it just looks petulant in England. Aspiring to be Trotsky, he ends up as Pooter…and starts grumbling about grammar schools.

Incidentally, since we seem to be Doing Some Reading this week, I can recommend Murray Kempton’s Part of Our Time, which goes into the political background of this stuff in a lot more detail. I can recommend it to Nick too, if he happens to be passing.

Rioja Kid


Anonymous backword Dave said...

RK, thank you. I've worried that I post total bullshit, and that post was the best example yet. I did think of IF Stone and Alex Cockburn, but I haven't read either deeply enough to feel that I can discern or comment on their characters.

Of course I dispute the date bit. I've always found that if X has been going on since ----, X has been going on since forever. Nor am I comfortable with the parallels of Paul Johnson and Kingsley Amis. Everything I know about the former, from his radical days forward, tells me he's an S-H-1-T as Alan Clark's wife described the adulterous Secretary for Defence-or-whatever-he-was. Kingsley was a good dad in Martin's "Experience". I don't think he "went all the way over" either. He was always fighting his own side. Which is a good thing, in my opinion. Fight for your own interests as you see them. Not for anyone else's. They could be lying.

I do like the Trotsky/Pooter thing. I wish I'd said that.

2/13/2006 11:59:00 PM  

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