Sunday Bookchat

January 13, 2008

Science tells us that nature abhors a vacuum, but then how does science account for Jonah Goldberg? This walking nullity’s new book Liberal Fascism has nothing to add to political discourse, but has provided a veritable gold mine of comedy material. If you have any doubts about the vapidity of Goldberg’s enterprise, check out Alex Koppelman’s interview with Goldberg in Salon and marvel at his patience as Goldberg sputters, weasels and sidesteps while Koppelman reads excerpts from some of Goldberg’s most prized citations — the writings of Mussolini, for one — that directly contradict Goldberg’s claims. (Whenever Goldberg says “That’s a good question,” imagine a subtitle reading, “Oh shit, I can’t believe this guy actually checked up on that.”) When Goldberg, pinned to the mat once again by Koppelman, says Mussolini “was sort of a buffoon . . . he was constantly changing his definitions of fascism and talking out of one side of the mouth, then out of the other side of his mouth,” all we conclude is that Benito Mussolini and Jonah Goldberg have a great deal in common.

At least when Rush Limbaugh rants about “feminazis,” he isn’t pretending to do anything other than toss chunks of wormy red meat to his core audience. Goldberg’s pretensions to intellectual substance have even been shot down in the pages of the Wall Street Journal, courtesy of Fred Siegel:

Mr. Goldberg, who writes regularly for National Review and the Los Angeles Times, is known for his sarcastic sense of humor. Thus when in his late chapters he insists that the centrist Democratic Leadership Council and the retailer Whole Foods are in one way or another expressions of fascism, the reader has to wonder whether he is writing with a wink. How is the DLC fascist? Well, Mr. Goldberg says, the fascists talked about themselves offering a “the third way,” neither left nor right. Don’t centrist Democrats use the same language? Similarly, since Hitler saw organic foods as part of a return to nature that would redeem humanity—and Whole Foods now claims that eating naturally can save the environment—they are kindred spirits. Let us hope that Mr. Goldberg intended some degree of irony in both cases.

In “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell wrote that “the word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable.’” Finishing “Liberal Fascism,” the reader is likely to come to the same conclusion.

And while we’re talking about Liberal Fascism, how about some kudos for these savvy Amazon book shoppers?

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Moving from the ridiculous to the sublime (and the terrifying), Tara McKelvey, a senior editor at The American Prospect, talks about her book Monstering: Inside America’s Policy of Secret Interrogations and Torture in the Terror War, her investigation of the atrocities committed at Abu Ghraib:

One of the [Iraqi] farmers I interviewed described the death of his son in a helicopter attack. And how he lifted up the body of his nine-year-old son to show the pilot that his son had been killed, and that it was his son and his farm and to stop him from attacking again.

–snip–

I want them to know what happened. And the reason I want them to know what happened is that it is a betrayal of all the things we care about. And we have to understand exactly what happened, talk about it, and sort it out, and figure out what to do next. I really love this country. It was really disturbing to me to see what things were done in the name of America. That was such a shock. And it was a shock for Americans when the pictures were released about what was happening there. And so understanding how that dynamic took place is important so we know how not to let it happen again and also to think about what our role in the world is, and how we’re seen. And how messed up it is.

And I don’t want the war to be an abstraction. It’s just not.

You can read the entire interview at Identity Theory. If Jonah Goldberg can take time off from shooting spitballs and picking his nose, he might want to read it, too.

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Attention, Chuck Palahniuk fans! Are you ready for a Broadway musical version of his breakout novel, Fight Club? A musical directed by David Fincher, with music by (maybe) Trent Reznor?

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Do you love bookstores? The Guardian has a rundown of the ten best and most beautiful bookstores from around the world.

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Zbigniew Herbert, one of the greatest poets of post-World War II Europe, is the subject of an online discussion at Words Without Borders. Let James Marcus fill you in on what you’ve been missing, and check back on the discussion.

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