NYRB and Robert Silvers

I just want to say that my friend and editor Bob Silvers was a unique individual: iron integrity, playful irreverent humor, scrupulous, fearless, fair. I will miss my phone calls with him, which were always charming and delightful, as well as professional and painstaking. We must do our best to keep up the standards he represented so beautifully.

CEU and George Soros

George Soros is an old friend of mine and I have visited CEU at his invitation. I can state categorically that statements made about him to the effect that he runs a covert international “empire” are completely false. He does, however, oppose totalitarian governments.

Gleam in the Gloom

As centers of free thought and expression, American universities are clearly doomed. Forces from the left and right are conspiring to destroy academic values (i.e. civilization). Universities are already nothing like they were twenty years ago, or even ten years ago. But don’t worry: university administrators will flourish as the ship slowly sinks! What do they care about academic freedom? What has it done for them lately? They will re-make universities in their own image and we will let them.

“Politically Incorrect”

I notice that the phrase, in its current meaning, appears on page 168 of Bend Sinister, published in 1947: “it is better for a man to have belonged to a politically incorrect organization than not to have belonged to any organization at all”. I wonder if this is its first occurrence.

Disgust and Death

My cat likes to catch lizards and bring them into the living room to frolic with. I try to remove them before he kills them. Today I found a writhing detached tail, the rest of the lizard being elsewhere. I felt a rush of disgust at the sight of the still-animated tail. This struck me as a perfect illustration of the death-in-life theory of disgust: attached lizard tails are not disgusting at all, wriggle as they may, but once the tail becomes detached it takes on a death-in-life aspect, and thus invites the reaction of disgust. Neither living lizards nor dead ones evoke this reaction, but the “alive” detached tail excites disgust. (Notice that this has nothing to do with pathogens and disease.)

Bend Sinister

I’ve been reading Nabokov’s early novel Bend Sinister, about political tyranny. I would call it a “crowd-displeaser”: brilliantly written, of course, but deeply depressing about politics and people. It seems to capture our current moment of mediocre pallid (or orange) men with obscene amounts of power and bad personalities. The figure of the ruler Paduk (nickname “the Toad”) is both terrifying and risible. The philosopher Krug used to bully him at school by sitting on his face, but now the tables are turned and you know it’s not going to end well for the philosopher. Nabokov’s theme is Stupidity with a capital “S”. Amen to that.

I have to say this book is the bleakest and most disturbing novel I have ever read. It’s all about political tyranny and bureaucratic incompetence. Yes, that. Human evil in all its revolting forms.

Reptilian Reprieve

Yesterday when I was playing tennis with my friend Eddie a large reptile wandered onto the court–a lizard about three feet long, splendid green belly, striped tail, spikes on its back, quite a specimen. After a while it made as if to leave, but it was too heavy to climb back up the wind covers and the holes in the wire mesh were too small. We left it there with the gate open, hoping it would discover the only exit. But today when I came back to play again it was still on the court–still trying, in vain, to make an exit. It could die here, I thought. I decided to take matters into my own hands: I took my tennis sweat towel and approached it. The beast began ramming its head through the wire mesh at different points, but got stuck in one hole at its shoulders. I placed the towel over it and tried to pick it up–but it was firmly stuck. It took me a while to pull it out backwards, being careful not to hurt it (why are these things never easy?). Then I picked it up, fat and heavy in my hands, hoping it couldn’t bite me from that position, and carried it out to the gate of the court. It didn’t struggle and made no attempt to bite me; it didn’t even wriggle, remaining quite calm. I put it down outside the court and it ran into the hedge and climbed up into the bushes. I went back and played tennis. It was gone when we had finished.