The Nation, 16 February 2009

16febnationGary Younge points out  that Barack Obama is in fact the President of the United States.  From this fact, he draws the conclusion that the time has come to put away the posters and other artwork endorsing him and get to work pressing him from the left, as others will surely do from the right.

Akiva Gottlieb reviews two novels by Bulgaria’s Angel Wagenstein, novels replete with heretical rabbis, lazy Nazis, and other exemplars of moral ambiguity.  The review opens with a reference to Joshua Cohen’s “Untitled: A Review,” from Cohen’s short-story collection The Quorum.  A reviewer finds on his doorstep a volume of six million crisp, white, blank pages.  He decides that this book is a history of the Holocaust, in fact “the only way to write about the event, the idea.” 

Eric Alterman takes on Rabbi Abraham Foxman and the Anti Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.  Alterman contends that “Anti-Defamation League” is a double misnomer for this organization.  He contends that it launches harsh attacks indiscriminately at all critics of Israel, attacks which less often counter defamation than they themselves amount to defamation; and that under Rabbi Foxman it is so much a one-man operation as hardly to qualify as a “league.”   

The editors endorse Tom Geoghegan for Congress.  (Others have done so since.)  Geoghegan has written for many publications regularly noted here.  A piece of his appeared in the final issue of The Baffler, for example, the only one that appeared after I started these notes

Part two of Ted Solotaroff’s “Adventures in Editing” tells the story of his difficult dealings with Cynthia Ozick and of the wildly eccentric personality of Alfred Chester.  Here are a couple of nuggets from the parts about Chester:

[Ozick] said that she was a friend of Alfred Chester. Was I his editor?


I was. Alfred was our star literary reviewer–flamboyant, irreverent, unpredictable, even from one paragraph to the next. A flaming queen with a red wig, crystalline prose style and a razor wit, he seemed about 179 degrees across the human spectrum from this literary vestal virgin. But perhaps not. His stare burned with the same intensity.


The author I most enjoyed working with during this second act was Alfred Chester. Except for our both being Jewish and literary, we couldn’t have been less alike. I, the burdened husband and then single parent with a strong streak of idealism; Alfred, the bohemian queen who confessed in his review of Naked Lunch:

I am a ne’er-do-well, I suppose, a cynic, an immoralist, and therefore very contemporary. In a pinch, I would give up everything, because I value nothing, except my skin…. It feels so good, especially in the sun or in the woods or in the sea or against another. Philosophy, politics, furniture, books, paintings, human relationships, the whole of Western civilization–none of it feels so good, none of it is me.



Alfred had grown up as the youngest child in an Orthodox Jewish family in Brooklyn and was marked by a treatment for a childhood illness that left him not only bald for life but also without eyebrows, eyelashes and body hair. With his scruffy, outlandish orange-red wig, which sat uneasily on his head, he looked bizarre. Without it, his narrow blue eyes, usually glinting with irony, his chubby cheeks and his sexy pout of a mouth came more sharply into view and made him look like a Jewish Pan.

He had recently returned from a decade in Paris and had entered the New York literary scene with a big splash–an archly provocative put-down in Partisan Review of Tropic of Cancer (“Even Romeo and Juliet is more stimulating”).

An interview with a man named Nato Thompson revolves around Thompson’s friend, “experimental geographer” Trevor Paglen.

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