Monday, February 19, 2007

How not to be offended

On The American Scene, Ross Douthat has a post on "Anti-Semitism in the Arts," about fictitious characters who are Jewish stereotypes. Predictably enough, in that the blog is on the right, this sort of thing is declared not fabulous yet praiseworthy for being anti-PC. Of course, political correctness has done far more good than most on the left or right would give it credit for--more "astonishing" than the existence of offensive characters on television is the idea that Western conservatives would even think of seeing racism as a problem. Reading about the right in late 19th-early 20th century France provides ample opportunities to see that racist views used to be discussed openly and unapologetically. While some say that racism is worse when covert or private, they are, well, wrong. Covert and private racism is far less likely to get written into law.

This is all relevant right now because I'm reading a book by Celine (not Dion, not the store on Madison) for one of my classes. While I have yet to see if the novel contains any overt calls of "Mort aux juifs," word is, his pamphlets are the problem, not the novels. Today Clementine and I were discussing what, if anything, one should make of certain artists having been gigantic anti-Semites. Should we make a point to judge them, or just say, art for art's sake? My view on this is quite simple: the idea that it's bad to be an anti-Semite is a new one, historically, one which came about in the second half of the 1940s, and which may well be on its way out. So judge one, judge them all, and you're left with not so many works of art. Some by Jews, remember, will also have to go.


Anonymous said...

Have you read Sartre anti Semite and Jew?

Vance Maverick said...

Surely we can judge without rejecting? This seems manageable, for example, in the case of Wagner, who was an odious and influential anti-Semite in person and in his writings, but who kept his operas largely free of stereotype and propaganda. There are well-known instances (Meistersinger), but we can reject those and still leave a great oeuvre.

You seem to be arguing that we shouldn't care about anti-Semitism before a certain date....I disagree, but perhaps I'm merely misunderstanding you.