Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Notes on Anti-Semitism

But (following on from yesterday's post)...

...Cecil Beaton was an anti-semite. Or, at least, there was an incident.  I don't know enough about his life and personality to know whether- when he smuggled a anti-semitic insult into a Vogue cartoon-  he was just echoing the fashionable trash-talk of his age or drawing on something deeper. A lot of the art of the first half of the 20th century is infected by anti-semitism. 

Allen Ginsberg visited Ezra Pound in old age and recorded Pound's apology for his big mistake- his embrace of "that stupid, suburban prejudice of anti-semitism". Ginsberg offered and Pound accepted forgiveness. By the time he wrote about it Ginsberg was the only living witness to this transaction- and we may question how much of it- if any of it- ever really happened. Perhaps it was a parable. We may also ask on whose authority Ginsberg was licensed to offer and give a blessing (as Rodger Kamenetz does in the poem published here.)

ound was a virulent anti-semite but largely managed to keep his anti-semitism out of his poetry. T.S. Eliot, less virulent, wrote anti-semitic poems that have entered the canon. The appearance of anti-semitism in what is unquestionably good and thoughtful art is profoundly troubling. Anthony Julius wrote a book about it. He summarises its arguments in this article. Anti-semitism cannot be argued away or excused- especially when it perpetuates itself in art- it can only be engaged with. He writes

To describe a person as anti-semitic is not to imply that he endorses the crimes of the Nazis, still less is it to imply that he would be capable of committing them himself. It is to imply, however, that he is careless about the consequences of anti-semitic positions held by others, and that he lacks the imagination to grasp where Jew hatred may lead. Anti-semitism encompasses both drawing-room condescensions and forest shootings. The drawing room anti-semite is not a murderer, but he is an anti-semite.

Conclusion? There is no conclusion. We're nowhere near wrapping this one up....

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