Broad Brush

Well, clearly we at B and W take it as our self-appointed mission to say, with varying degrees of mockery and rudeness, when we think our fellow leftists are being silly, but there is a limit. Which is to say we try to do it with a certain amount of precision and accuracy – in fact accuracy broadly construed is the whole point of the enterprise: when ideology or political commitment is in conflict with the truth, it ought not to be the truth that gives way. That applies all around, not just to them there pesky leftist intellectuals. All of which is to say there is a very sloppy article in Prospect that doesn’t worry enough about precision and accuracy.

To look back at the responses which the murder evoked from the literary and political intelligentsia is to see something more than many clever and famous people making fools of themselves…But it was writers-with-a-W who really excelled…Imaginative writers are distinguished not by a sweeter character (too often very much not), greater intellectual honesty, or even deeper intelligence…If the old Leninist left was buried politically in the rubble of the Berlin wall, the literary-academic intelligentsia disappeared morally in the ashes of ground zero.

What on earth is he talking about? Writers? What writers? All writers? That’s a hell of a lot of people, not all of whom say the kind of thing he’s complaining of, to put it mildly. Does he mean fiction writers, or fiction-and-poetry writers? At times he seems to, with ‘imaginative writers’ (which is a silly phrase), but then at others he talks about the ‘ literary-academic intelligentsia’. Well which is it? Surely he doesn’t think the two are identical does he? Does he mean both? If so then why mention ‘imaginative writers’? And in any case, again, that’s much too broad a brush, because there are plenty of academics who don’t fit his category, and even some ‘imaginative’ writers as well. So what does he mean? Not really much, apparently. Some novelists and some academics, is what it boils down to; but then why not say that? Why on earth write the thing as if all ‘writers’ or all ‘imaginative’ and academic writers were guilty of saying stupid things about September 11? Anti-intellectualism perhaps? But if so, what in hell is an anti-intellectual piece of claptrap doing in a magazine like Prospect?

[Confusing me, for a start. There I was railing at the wrong magazine. Selective attention, or cognitive miserhood, or some other nice alibi for stupidity.]

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