How to write a lot of words without making an ounce sense? How to be a complete jerk while at the same appearing to look benignly concerned and slightly offended?
Look closely, guys. Leon Wieseltier has a lot to teach you.
My adventure with Leon Wieseltier, of whose existence I used to be blissfully unaware until this morning, started, as usual, with a book. Wieseltier is, as it turns out, the author of the introduction to my newly purchased edition of Illuminations by Walter Benjamin(1).
Now, from three and a half pages of text by Wieseltier, I found that:
- Illuminations were fashionable among students when (presumably) Wieseltier was in school, also other things about Wieseltier that I never wanted to know, really
- That “His [Walter Benjamin's] incompetence at ordinary living allowed him to see it more sharply”, an ultimately meaningless statement, accompanied by many similar ones
- And finally, this gem, which translates roughly to “people who don’t write about what I want them to write in a way I want them to write are failures as human beings”, a staggering display of reader entitlement, in its pure form seen only in the deepest recesses of the internets, where the fan fiction readers lurk in the shadows, waiting for their prey:
“These volumes may be read almost as a spiritual diary. They give a portrait of a pilgrim. But this pilgrim makes no progress, and his story at some point ceases to be stirring, and becomes alienating, and then crushing. It is not only the evil circumstances of Benjamin’s death that leave one with a gathering pity for him.”
Wow, how generous! Were you per chance trying to say that Benjamin should have found god like you did(2)? (3)
- Additional stupidity:
“His [Benjamin's] infatuation with Marxism, the most embarrassing episode of his mental wanderings..”
Oh, really? Embarrassing? What, pray tell, is so embarrassing about espousing marxist views? Or is Wieseltier just mindlessly repeating what he must have heard many many times, not having actually ever read Marx?
- Coup de grace,
“I confess that there are many pages in Benjamin that I don’t understand, in which the discourse seems to be dictating itself, and no direction is clear.”
This is important, because while I actually do believe that Benjamin’s discourse is usually completely clear, and while it is perhaps a wee bit embarrassing that a person who purports to be an expert in words in so nonchalant about being unable to understand them when they’re arranged in an order and provided with full stops and commas, this confession is not just Wieseltier’s false modesty and coquetry, and eye-winking to his reader, it isn’t — because misreading, misinterpreting is actually something Wieseltier does for a living a lot.
Apparently, people tend to notice his awkward to malicious fumbling from time to time, because his shoddy writing is shredded to pieces with surprising regularity. Despite that, the only thing that changes is the person doing the shredding; Wieseltier remains the same blathering nincompoop, his writing as devoid of any substance as before, his intellectual dishonesty as glaringly obvious as it must have been in the first sentence he had ever written.
Wieseltier called out on his bullshit in 2004.
In 2006 he writes a review of Daniel Dennett’s book. Among other things, it (the review, not the book, thank Cthulhu) contains such pearls of wisdom as:
THE question of the place of science in human life is not a scientific question. It is a philosophical question. Scientism, the view that science can explain all human conditions and expressions, mental as well as physical, is a superstition, one of the dominant superstitions of our day; and it is not an insult to science to say so.
Whoaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa. Easy there with all the wishful thinking, pumpkin.
(The review is duly mauled here <— the author could have used some more claws, though)
In 2008, Wieseltier, apparently having obsessed about Sullivan for more than a decade, completely fails to understand what Sullivan wrote(4), and accuses him of antisemitism. Mauling ensues (v worth reading; the author has his hearth and his claws in the right place — heart in a pocket, claws deep in Wieseltier’s flesh).
Two years later, emulating such worthy men as Captain Ahab, Wieseltier continues with his obsession about Sullivan, calling him the only name he knows, that is, anti-Semite. Actually, he’s got a little bit of point (see this article about Jewish exceptionalism), but it all gets drowned in a deluge of incomprehensible (not because of the thesaurus-tinged vomit, but because it. makes. no. sense) long-winded blathering. Also, the reason for Sullivan’s idiocy is not antisemitism, but his fucked-up religious views.
It might be also worth mentioning that Wieseltier spouts incredible amounts of barely comprehensible religious (or at least I assume it is religious; other religious people in the second Sullivan debacle tended to be at least as puzzled as I am) stream of consciousness (at least I assume it is; otherwise it would be very difficult to explain).
There’s also Wieseltier’s piece on humanities here, which is, as far as I could brave the gigantic paragraph of doom, was made of brain death and gorilla poo.
Guys, I read so much drivel today just to warn you. Don’t waste your time on Wieseltier, it’s not worth it(5). I’m going to read Stefan Zweig now, to rid my literary palate of the Wieseltierean scribblerish aftertaste(6).
(1) The reason why I’m reading Illuminations, and why I’m reading them in English when I’m in Germany, so DUH, there’s an overabundance of original German editions in all sorts of bookstores, is uninteresting and irrelevant.
(2) This article should be approached with caution. I read and read and read, and waited for the author to stop fellating Wieseltier, already, but HE NEVER DID.
(3) Benjamin wasn’t an atheist; his sort of religion, though, might not be enough for Wieseltier.
(4) Full disclosure: I actually strongly dislike Sullivan for his inability to parse that haven’t been a persecuted minority for over a millenium and a half, and also for his demands that the state support his religious morality (see his stance on civil unions). Also, lol, conservatives.
(5) Actually, it’s a lie. I kept reading to accumulate enough hatred to motivate me to write at least 500 words. Success!
(6) This is, I am certain, how Wieseltier would have written the senstence. I hope you enjoyed your painful visualisation.