What did you think about the mini-hagiography of Cynthia Ozick in the New York Times Magazine yesterday? Ozick, at 88, “is one of the greatest fiction writers and critics alive today,” writes Giles Harvey, but he carefully avoids mentioning the Israel-Palestine conflict and her views on that score. I think that’s progress. Ten or twenty years ago the Times would have included those ideas, knowing that objections would only appear as letters to the editor which they could print or not in greatly shortened form. Now they realize it would utterly ruin the depiction of Ozick as wise guru if they wrote about her absurdly one-sided racist views of Palestine– “a society unlike any other, where hatred trumps bread. They have reared children unlike any other children, removed from ordinary norms and behaviors” (more below) — and they’d hear about it online.
So: there’s lots about her Judaism, and a jab or two against universalism, and some about anti-semitism, but Israel/Palestine is absent.
It’s also the classic example of secular liberal treatment of a great novelist as a holy prophet, which to me is bullshit. In practice intellectuals who step outside their field are merely smart people with opinions that might be right or wrong and that applies to novelists once they leave the world they create in their works as much as it applies to scientists outside of their fields.
The idea is supposed to be that they have deep insight into the human condition or they wouldn’t be great novelists, but unfortunately in the real world they are often about as smart as Ozick writing about the Palestinians.
Here are excerpts from the New York Times piece, titled “Cynthia Ozick’s Long Crusade,” by Giles Harvey, including some of the Jewish bits:
Here, too, we see how deeply Ozick’s being is suffused with Jewish thought. For Jewishness, her work also insists, depends upon the principle of havdalah, or distinction making. Jew and gentile, God and man, or (to recall the terms of her “amiable discussion” with [Harold] Bloom), God and idol: These are categories that should not be muddled. The same goes for literature, and for the judgment of literature. According to Ozick, literature is different from all other human activities, and its singularity consists in its recognizing and honoring human difference…
[H]er work offers a liberating model of engagement with identity. Her commitment to Judaism sharpens her powers of discrimination and inoculates her against the dubious allure of the universal….
But Ozick, however fierce her identification as a Jew, is admirable in her freedom from identitarian parti pris. T.S. Eliot’s rank anti-Semitism does not blind her to his poetic virtues; she praises Tolstoy’s early novel “The Cossacks” despite its whitewashing of genocidal Cossack violence against Jews…
Ozick came of age at the century’s midpoint, during the heyday of the New York Intellectuals, the group of largely Jewish writers and thinkers who, possessed by left-wing politics and a belief in the primacy of literature as a tool for comprehending self and society, “refused to be refused” by a WASP-dominated cultural establishment…
Now for Ozick on Palestine! In leaving out those views, the Times purposely sidestepped news, in this nugget from Ozick’s resume: the time she appeared at a rightwing pro-Israel organization and smeared the noble rabbi Michael Lerner–who on June 10 stood up for Palestinians at the Muhammad Ali memorial– saying that Lerner was a bad rabbi for dropping out of the Jewish Theological Seminary and ending up at the Naropa Institute. Eleanor Kilroy exposed Ozick’s racist attitudes at our site, and Raymond Deane hung her on her own words in the Irish Left Review. Deane quoted from her 2003 Wall Street Journal screed against Palestinians, titled, “What does the ‘Palestinian nation’ offer the world?”
Ozick… launched a vicious attack on the Palestinian people themselves. “By replacing history with fantasy, the Palestinians have invented a society unlike any other, where hatred trumps bread. They have reared children unlike any other children, removed from ordinary norms and behaviors… What has been the genius of Palestinian originality, what has been the contribution of the evolving culture of Palestinian sectarianism? On the international scene: airplane hijackings and the murder of American diplomats in the 1970s, Olympic slaughterings and shipboard murders in the 1980s. And toward the Jews of the Holy Land, beginning in the 1920s and continuing until this morning, terror, terror, terror, terror.”
In a 2006 review of the play My Name is Rachel Corrie (based on the diaries and letters of a young American activist crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer) she refers to “the culpable Palestinian origins of the current fighting” and “the brutal cynicism of Rachel Corrie’s handlers, eager, for propaganda value, to bait bulldozers and tanks with the lives of their young recruits.” Corrie’s engagement with the oppressed is described as “slumming” and her espousal of Gandhian ideals dismissed as “neo-Marxist paraphernalia and hate-America jargon” (for a celebrated novelist, Ozick writes execrable prose). The play itself is “a show trial. And there are Jews in the dock.”
Phil Weiss contributed to this post.