Saturday, January 13, 2007


Nick's blog is not dead. It has not shuffled off this mortal coil, rung down the curtain, or joined the choir invisible. Posts appear irregularly: Nick's Standard and New Humanist gigs are not much in evidence.
However, he has a new post. Not written by him, but the first notice of his forthcoming book, which is called something like You're All A Bunch of Bastards and can be pre-ordered from Amazon. The first notice - I can't call it a review - appeared in today's FT Magazine. (I don't buy the FT - is the magazine the usual place for arts reviews? It's not in tehgrauniad, Torygraph, or Indy.) It's by John Lloyd (presumably the former editor of the Staggers).
It's a review of - after copying and pasting into my text editor (Smultron, should you care) - 936 words. That's quite a creditable essay. What does Mr Lloyd say about Nick's book? He spends 718 of those discussing a production of Candide at Paris's Theatre du Chatelet. Lloyd's point seems to be Communists in 1956 - good; leftists (few use 'Communist' now) in 2006 - bad. I would have more sympathy with Lillian Hellman if she hadn't

shaded the truth on some accounts of her life, including the assertion that she knew nothing about the Moscow Trials in which Stalin had purged the Soviet Communist Party of Part members who were then liquidated. Hellman had actually signed petitions (An Open Letter to American Liberals) applauding the guilty verdict and encouraged others not to cooperate with John Dewey's committee that sought to establish the truth behind Stalin's show trials. The letter denounced the "fantastic falsehood that the USSR and totalitarian states are basically alike."

Lloyd objects to the rewritten Candide thus:

Instead, this was a satire on the US.

Wikipedia on Hellman:

Hellman had also opposed the granting of political asylum to Leon Trotsky by the United States. Trotsky was the former Soviet leader and Communist who became Stalin's nemesis in exile (and eventual victim of assassination), after the Soviet Union instructed the U.S. Communist Party to oppose just such a move.
As late as 1969, according to Mellen, she told Dorothea Strauss that her husband was a 'malefactor' because he had published the work of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn. Mellen quotes her as saying "If you knew what I know about American prisons, you would be a Stalinist, too." Mellen continues, "American justice allowed her now to maintain good faith with the tyrant who had, despite his methods, industrialized the 'first socialist state.'"

I'm one of the Leftists Nick sets out to condemn. It's not me who is arguing that Canadian director Robert Carsen's rewrite is an unjustified satire on the US, and Hellman's "intent of the piece was to draw an implicit parallel between that committee’s increasingly frenzied investigations and the Inquisition that condemns to torture and death both Candide and his unvaryingly positive tutor Pangloss". So Hellman was OK (despite being a Stalinist, who thought the killing of others for dissent was justified) while Carsen is not OK - for opposing a war and Guantanamo. Apparently the left has declined morally. It weren't like that when Lloyd was young, blackwhite was blackwhite in those days, and everyone agreed about that. No duckspeak like Hellman duckspeak.

Bernstein’s score has remained, which saves the opera from being as half-witted as it sounds. All the same, it illuminates an important feature of our age.
For much of the past decade, the radicalism of the left has undergone two profoundly important shifts. Its themes have become popular in polite society ...

So radicalism has become, one might say, chic. Perhaps Lloyd should write a book and call it Radical Chic. There is a book of that title about Leonard Bernstein, no less.
In the 218 words which remain, Lloyd turns to Nick's book. I can't tell if he's read it or just looked at the contents, though he does quote Nick once.

"We have," he writes, "no right to turn our backs on those who want the freedoms we take for granted. The best reason for offering them support is because we can." And that, even amidst the chaos of Iraq, remains a good motto for democrats of any stripe - one that Voltaire, himself a flayer of hypocrisies, knew and which his contemporary adaptors have forgotten.

Shorter Hellman before McCarthy "Help, help, I'm being oppressed". Shorter Hellman on other writers before show trials: "good riddance". Contemporary, apparently, doesn't include the Stalinist Hellman.
Update 12:42. I remember Hellman because I was given Edward Sorel's Literary Lives for Festivus. (I enjoyed it: he hates everyone.) His final cartoon of Hellman shows her sitting in a sleigh besides Stalin, which is pulled by two enormous doves. He wrote beneath it:

Facing exposure in court for extensive fabrications in her autobiography, Hellman dies. Her estate is worth $4 Million in part because she finagled the rights to [Dashiel] Hammett's work, which should have gone to his daughters. At her funeral she is hailed for her "Integrity, Decency, Uprightness."

I'm sure John Lloyd would agree with that. (I've decided to email him, since Nick kindly gives his address, so he can reply, should he wish to.)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Voltaire, great writer though he was, wasn't a democrat. In fact he was a big fan of an autocratic Russian ruler (Catherine the Great).

1/13/2007 04:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"For much of the past decade, the radicalism of the left has undergone two profoundly important shifts. Its themes have become popular in polite society ..."

Has there ever been a time in its history that left-wing radicalism has been weaker and viewed with more scorn?

1/13/2007 07:30:00 PM  

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