Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Our Cranky Artists

Kudos to Andrew Sullivan for diagnosing Philip Roth's narcissism. Our man of letters is apparantly less embarrassed by his famous description of onanism with liver than by some post-9/11 flag-waiving which he describes in a recent interview as "kitsch" and an "orgy of national narcissism." What is it with intellectuals and patriotism? Shouldn't they be happy that we become a little more than our bourgeois, selfish selves when we wave the flag? Patriotism, after all, is one of the counterpoises to the bourgeois advanced by every modern artist's hero (acknowledged or not), Rousseau. Perhaps our patriotism isn't sincere enough; America isn't Sparta or republican Rome. But then Mr. Roth wouldn't be able to write Portnoy's Complaint in ancient Sparta either -- a little detail which he seems conveniently to forget.

To be sure, there have been components of grieving to which once could reasonably object such as the New York Times' chronicle of the lives lost at the WTC in the months after the attack. These little pieces, adored by many, were often boring in their efforts to lionize ordinary lives and made one wonder whether one would like such an obituary or rather none at all. There is always an element of rareness or (to use a more abstract word) "elitism" in heroism which the Times tried to obscure. But it is not this attempted democratization of heroism to which Roth objects. He seems to despise all displays of patriotism, and that's just silly. Conservatives are often called "cranky," and it is a great pleasure to hurl the epithet back at the Left in this instance.


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