On May 24 -- in Girl We Couldn't Get Much Higher -- I posted a notice about a new biography of Timothy Leary, ending it: "Expect to hear more." While I haven't yet finished the book (and probably never will; I don't actually read books in any normal sense), The New York Times came to the rescue today with an article -- The Nutty Professor -- in its Sunday Book Review section. Naturally, the following passage was my favorite.
...by 1968, his slogans were so poised between derangement and Madison Avenue that they could pass for visionary... It was awfully hard to tell charlatans from prophets at the time, and besides, the denatured, anti-intellectual language that dominated discourse then (and is still with us, in a New Age guise) had been rolling off Leary's tongue since before he had ingested a single microgram of lysergic acid...I read this review last night before my paper arrived. But this morning, wanting to check whether it had really made the cover, I did something I rarely do: retrieved the physical Sunday Times off my front-door stoop (it's heavy, OK?). Yes, it's on the front page. However, having already read it, I turned to the table of contents to see what else was going on in the book world. First, I briefly depressed myself by noting that Malcolm Gladwell's Blink has been on the hardcover nonfiction bestseller list for 68 weeks -- and his Tipping Point on the paperback list for 96 -- which linked phenomena demonstrate so well How Writing Without Thinking Can Make a Big Difference. I ask myself, is this merely sour grapes on my part? And I answer in all honesty: what do you mean by "merely"?
I also flash on the bit from the Leary review about anti-intellectual language dominating discourse, but unpacking that one would require a second cup of coffee -- or maybe a first cup of Hemlock. And besides, I was headed for another topic.
To wit, an article in the same section of The Times titled "Neocon or Not?" reviewing a new book called Reading Leo Strauss. Evidently, according to the reviewer, old Leo's got no business being the darling of the American Right -- though in fact he is -- because he wasn't really all that political. Words to that effect. This despite the fact that Allan Bloom, "the most well known of his disciples" (here quoting the review) gave us a right-wing jeremiad in 1987 called The Closing of the American Mind -- which I also never read, except to glean that Bloom was fond of Plato. I stopped reading right there because Plato's parable of the cave in The Republic reminds me of the sort of speculation one might get from a bunch of college sophomores sitting around baked on their first experience of smoking pot. "Yeah, yeah! It's like we're in this cave, see, and all we ever get to see is shadows, you know?" Yes, actually, I do know. (Why am I finding it so difficult to shake this depression today?)
In truth, I don't know much about Leo Strauss -- I think Ayn Rand liked him, which in my book is reason enough not to -- except from recent dippings into a wonderful (and wonderfully readable, despite the title) book called Exiled in Paradise: German Refugee Artists and Intellectuals in America from the 1930s to the Present (Weimar and Now: German Cultural Criticism). You gotta get your kicks somewhere, and Route 66 just ain't what it used to be. Anyway, the one bit I recall from that book at the moment is that Leo once asked Hanah Arendt to go out with him, and Hanah replied that she didn't date Nazis.
We are left to wonder, from this exchange, who knew the guy better: the author of Reading Leo Strauss or the author of Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil? Me, I'm bettin' on the babe.
Now, what I forgot to tell you -- (actually, I didn't forget; it was a rhetorical trick; can you feel the suspense building?) -- was that between checking the Leary review and reading the one about Leo Strauss, I happened to peruse my Amazon recommendations. And among those, I was mildly interested to see Spectrum: From Left to Right in the World of Ideas. I was interested because one of the recurring Trooths that has emerged in the researches I've been reporting on in this blog is that the labels Left and Right are not much use in sorting out what went down to get us to where we are today. For instance, I bet you never would have guessed that Jack Kerouac told his last editor that he was going to Germany "to see the concentration camps, and dance on Jews' graves." (See Subterranean Kerouac, page 379.)
But once more, I digress. (Or do I?)
Anyway, I did click through to the Spectrum book, where one G. D. Peterson of San Mateo, CA, USA, appears to contradict the author of the today-in-NY-Times-reviewed Reading Leo Strauss.
Strauss is well-known in relation to the neo-cons, but did you know that he was a big fan of Schmitt, a political writer who made a bid to become the official philosopher of the Nazi Party?
<Johnny_Carson>No, I did not know that.</Johnny_Carson>
In fact, I was like: who the fuck is Schmitt? So of course I turned to Wikipedia, where I learned that, whether or not his "bid" failed or succeeded, Carl Schmitt "became professor at the university of Berlin in 1933, the same year that he entered the Nazi party (NSDAP), which he would continue to belong to until the end of the war."
And we're supposed to believe that Leo Strauss was unpolitisch? I'm smelling whitewash -- which, nota bene, is not to say AryanWash(tm).
OK... so where does this leave us? This post was supposed to be about serendipity -- finding that Leo Strauss review right after reading about his affection for some known Nazi schweinhundt. But who knows what it ended up being "about" -- such a prepostmodern concept anyway.
Finally -- the depression is just not going to go away -- I turn back to The Times and note that the #1 bestselling hardcover book in America today is Godless by Ann Coulter. Forget the Prozac. Somebody shoot me.
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Sunday, June 25