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Week’s Highlights: Rising Up, Rising Down

PUBLISHED: August 18, 2009


The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg finds that Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds embodies the Nazi-killing fantasies that many Jewish young men have had. (There does seem to be something particularly male about this fetish.) He finds the movie “preposterous, sporadically brutal, and greatly entertaining.”

I haven’t seen the film, but it seems to me like an updated version of stalagim. The comments from horror director Eli Roth, who acts in the movie, affirm this idea: “It’s almost a deep sexual satisfaction of wanting to beat Nazis to death, an orgasmic feeling. My character gets to beat Nazis to death. That’s something I could watch all day.”

To read Daniel Mendelsohn’s review in Newsweek is to find that giving into these feelings—which essentially has Jews take up many of the barbarisms that Nazis committed and then gleefully inflict them upon the fascists—is not such a good thing. It’s certainly not a place of moral comfort or clarity. (Mendelsohn, in his review, also presents some disturbing notions about Tarantino’s worldview.) Mendelsohn asks, “Do you really want audiences cheering for a revenge that turns Jews into carboncopies of Nazis, that makes Jews into ‘sickening’ perpetrators? I’m not so sure.” Neither am I, though I will probably see Inglourious Basterds all the same.

In The Guardian, Pankaj Mishra has an excellent essay on the “Eurabia-mongers” who would have us fear that Europe is on the verge of falling to some insidious wave of Islamist colonization, abetted by leftists and multiculturalism. Among the many astute, well argued, thoroughly researched passages here—unlike the claims Mishra rebuts, which are given to paranoia, racism, and an ignorance of history and even basic facts—consider this:

European governments, most of which are now centre-right, periodically unfurl the flag of majoritarian nationalism in order to seduce anti-immigrant votes away from extreme-right parties - France’s National Front, Austria’s Freedom Party, Belgium’s Flemish Interest and the British National Party, which have repackaged their foundational antisemitism, and now accuse Muslims rather than Jews of secretly conspiring to control the world.

Ordinary Muslims in Europe, who suffer from the demoralisation caused by living as perennial objects of suspicion and contempt, are far from thinking of themselves as a politically powerful, or even cohesive, community, not to speak of conquerors of Europe. So what explains the rash of bestsellers with histrionic titles - While Europe Slept, America Alone, The Last Days of Europe? None of their mostly neocon American authors was previously known for their knowledge of Muslim societies; all of them suffer the handicaps of what the philosopher Charles Taylor, in his introduction to a new collection of scholarly essays entitled Secularism, Religion and Multicultural Citizenship, calls “block thinking”, which “fuses a very varied reality into one indissoluble unity”. Certainly, the idea of a monolithic “Islam” in Europe appears an especially pitiable bogey when you regard the varying national origins, linguistic and legal backgrounds, and cultural and religious practices of European Muslims. Many so-called Muslims from secularised Turkey or syncretistic Sindh and Java would be condemned as apostates in Saudi Arabia, whose fundamentalist Wahhabism informs most western visions of Islam.

The Los Angeles Times launched a new website, which has some visual similarities to and I think it’s a great improvement over the previous site, although the guided tour didn’t seem too functional or effective and I’m not sure why the Books section is located under Living while Arts & Culture falls under Entertainment. (In related news, and in case you haven’t seen it, recently got a makeover.)

Adding to the tough times in media, there’s the dying field of photojournalism, the NYT says.

But as some wither and die, new, small, tightly focused literary publications appear on the Web. Electric Literature has received some well deserved attention for its playful marketing campaign (“Reading That’s Bad For You”), high-profile contributors (Michael Cunningham, Jim Shepard, T Cooper, Lydia Millet, Diana Wagman), an excellent trailer video for Shepard’s story (see below), and its innovative distribution methods: the journal can be purchased and read as a paperback, eBook, or for Kindle or iPhone. Beyond Electric Literature, check out The Critical Flame and Wag’s Revue, both of which are on their second issues, and The Second Pass, The Collagist, and The Offending Adam. Finally, don’t miss the redesigned The Millions.

First announced in June, this is still news to me: Don DeLillo’s next novel has a title—Point Omega—and an Amazon listing that calls it “a brief, unnerving, and hard-hitting new novel about a secret war advisor and a young filmmaker.” It drops on February 2, 2010, and will be 144 pages. Impossible to know what the title means, but the phrase “omega point” has several entries on Wikipedia relating to esoteric ideas in, variously, philosophy, cosmology, and hyperbolic geometry.


Michael Silverblatt interviewed E.L. Doctorow on Bookworm, discussing his new novel Homer & Langley, which concerns the Collyer brothers.


As mentioned above, Electric Literature has a fantastic short film to accompany one of its stories. Produced by animator Jonathan Ashley and musician Nick DeWitt, the trailer is inspired by Jim Shepard’s “Your Fate Hurtles Down at You.” Watch it below:

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