Demolition Jobs
August 25, 2003 9:36 AM   Subscribe

What's Not To Love About A Good Hatchet Job? Christopher Hitchens gleefully chainsaws into JFK; while Neal Ascherson demonstrates the more elegant approach towards character assassination with a nice "Drunken Stalinist Bastard" piece on Kennedy's Cuban Missile buddy, Khrushchev. Meanwhile, in the streetfighting, eye-scratching category, Laura Miller rips Chuck "Fight Club" Palahniuk into tiny pieces. What lowest of low instincts makes us relish such gratuitous - yet somehow richly deserved in the Grand Scheme Of Things - slaughters? (Warning: Sorry. Possibly unethical direct linking of a Salon Premium article. If your conscience objects, please go through the usual channel.)
posted by MiguelCardoso (33 comments total)
 
It's not exactly a direct link if it automatically forwards you to the non-subscriber version...
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:14 AM on August 25, 2003


Hitchens' new, neo-con persona has been thoroughly analyzed already here: suffice to say that whoppers like "This is no small matter, because the sense that Kennedy retained – of having been outdone by Khrushchev in their first man-to-man confrontation – decided him to show “resolve” in the worst of all possible locations, which was Vietnam. really make him useless as a critic of books about both Kennedy and Vietnam.
I don't care if it's bad faith or simple limited knowledge of the issues -- the piece is as subtle, and interesting (and tasteful) as a Chappaquiddick joke. Less, probably.
CH, aka "Snitchens", findas also the space to mention his former hero Vidal (btw what does Vidal think about the New Hitchens?), but even when attacking the Kennedys (which got very old long ago) Vidal is infintely smarter than Hitchens.
And to attack Dallek's book with the trumped-up charge of being an exercise in hero worship misses the point -- Dallek, a good historian unlike other Kennedy-butchers of the publishing world, gives new evidence about JFK's known health problems. We should also remember that the choice during the Cuban Missile Crisis was between an admittedly medicated up to his eyeballs Kennedy and a (maybe sober, maybe not as readers of Woodstein's The Final Days know all too well) Richard Nixon.
Luckily, readers can read by themselves the transcipts of the kind of appallingly bad advice Kennedy got from his military advisers (hence his famous line, "the State Department guys are no cojones and all brains, the Pentagon people are all cojones and no brains").
JFK was a tax-cutting, quintessentially centrist politician with a bad back, a man who always chose the middle way and overruled his most ideology-bound advisers. Took some good decisions (the missile crisis), some corageous if sometimes half-assed stances (civil rights), some really bad ones (Bay of Pigs), leaving after his death the biggest questionmark, what would have happened in VIetnam had he lived and had LBJ remained VP. His guy McNamara was a hawk? Yeah, but JFK often ignored McN's hawkish advice, for the missile crisis and Haiti for example. Also check out how many Americans had died in Vietnam until November 22, 1963.

re Pahlaniuk: using his lack of subtletly as an anti-Pahlaniuk argument demonstrates thet the reviewer is completely missing the point of his books, unsubtle ab ovo and about lack of subtlety themselves. what's next, an attack on Anais Nin books because there's too much sex there?
posted by matteo at 10:15 AM on August 25, 2003


1)The narrative wobbles between an unlikely but probably easy-to-write third-person, an aggrieved second-person addressed to Peter, and another second-person narrative addressed, bafflingly, to Misty herself.

Second-person narratives: do they ever not suck? Awkward, boring, gimmicky, and utterly hacky right out of the box.

2) The new Al Franken book has some lovely hatcheting in it, particularly on Sean Hannity.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 10:19 AM on August 25, 2003


Stop press: there were some second person narratives that didn't suck.

If you agree they didn't suck go to page 93.
If you think they did suck go to page 68.

posted by PinkStainlessTail at 10:25 AM on August 25, 2003


Bright Lights, Big City is second-person, too

I also remember a couple of Donald Barthelme stories
posted by matteo at 10:33 AM on August 25, 2003


I enjoyed Laura Miller's insightful review so much that I went to Amazon to buy her brilliant and profound fiction, but alas, she hasn't published any yet. /sarcasm
What a cunt.
posted by uftheory at 10:50 AM on August 25, 2003


His guy McNamara was a hawk? Yeah, but JFK often ignored McN's hawkish advice, for the missile crisis and Haiti for example.

As to cuber, "Mc" was toting the line everyone thought and knew. The missiles go, one way or another. Everyone agreed (before Stevenson spoke up) on this. The question was how. What the current speculation is is that the Chiefs trapped Kennedy into a hostile corner. 1. With recon overflights. The ROE for that time; fire if fired open. Part of the necessary orders to bomb, then invade Cuba was recon...painted into a corner. 2. The later days of october saw Submarine hostlies and the introduction of sov nuke arty shells....the sovs where matching escalation and Krushy knew it because we knew Kennedy could be pushed into giving up something...most likely the missiles in turkey.

So Kennedy just followed his own advice (and that of others) and exercised his duty as commander and chief.

Vietnam is moot to speculate but interesting, most likely by 65'-66' things would have spiraled even out of JFK's hands.


The recent allegations to JFKs behavior as told by an ex-secret service man is interesting in not in the details like pool parties with women but that an agent would write and publish something like that wether true or not.

i've called the man names which i should not have. he made mistakes but i fear no one will ever figure out his death which was and is a greater tragedy then girls or bad backs/ drug taking. or even a little PI work that was done whilst he was president.
posted by clavdivs at 11:39 AM on August 25, 2003


yeah clavdivs, but Bundy, McNamara, LeMay et. al. wanted the bomb the fucking site. also, check out what kind of fucking advice he was getting from the Joint Chiefs:

Friday morning, Oct. 19. The Joint Chiefs -- especially Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay, architect of nuclear strategy -- want to attack:

General LeMay: If we don't do anything to Cuba, then they're going to push on Berlin, and push real hard because they've got us on the run. . . . This blockade and political action, I see leading into war. . . .This is almost as bad as the appeasement at Munich. . . . I just don't see any other solution except direct military action right now. . . . A blockade, and political talk, would be considered by a lot of our friends and neutrals as being a pretty weak response to this. And I'm sure a lot of our own citizens would feel that way, too. You're in a pretty bad fix, Mr. President.

The President: What did you say?

General LeMay: You're in a pretty bad fix.

The meeting ends. General LeMay and Marine Gen. David Shoup linger. General Shoup is impressed by the other's bluntness:

General Shoup: You pulled the rug right out from under him. Goddamn.

General LeMay: Jesus Christ. What the hell do you mean?

General Shoup: Somebody's got to keep them from doing the goddamn thing piecemeal. That's our problem. . . . Do the son of a bitch, and do it right. . .


And again, worthy to check out:

Gen. Curtis LeMay of the Air Force, champion of American nuclear weapons, all but calls the President a coward to his face. Gen. David Shoup of the Marines curses behind the President's back after Kennedy rejects the generals' plans for an all-out attack on Cuba.

Later, Kennedy tells an aide to make sure that the Joint Chiefs of Staff do not start a war without his approval.

"I don't want these nuclear weapons firing without our knowing it," he says. "I don't think we ought to accept the Chiefs' word on that one."


This is how the world didn't end.
posted by matteo at 12:02 PM on August 25, 2003


I found this line from the Khrushchev piece striking: "Khrushchev had been a teetotaller before he was called to Moscow, and it was Stalin who insisted that he join the inner circle in their addiction to vodka and cognac." Peter the Great did the same thing, forcing everyone in his presence (including foreigners) to drink themselves comatose; people died as a result. At least LBJ just made you join him in the bathroom.
posted by languagehat at 12:05 PM on August 25, 2003


not to mention that Theodore Roosevelt liked to go swimming naked at dawn in the ice-cold waters of the Potomac, even in the winter. his aides had to follow him in the water.
much worse than LBJ's toilet meetings and Uncle Joe's vodka fetish, isn't it?
posted by matteo at 12:29 PM on August 25, 2003


Back to second-person narratives: If On A Winter's Night A Traveller by Italo Calvino, the one and only dominator.
posted by Hogshead at 12:39 PM on August 25, 2003


Without having read any of the articles completely (Hitchens and Laura Miller, with their grating resentment, lost me at once), I'd say there are mechanisms of compensation at work, where envy shouldn't be discounted.

The Pekar review of Mason & Dixon (recently linked to by y2karl) is a good example; there is a "books like this are easy to write, it should have been me in the spotlight" undertone throughout it; it's like Virginia Woolf spending a great deal of her life trying to convince everyone that "Ulysses" was an "illiterate, underbred" novel and so on.

It does not mean that the author/public figure under attack is flawless, but the insistent vituperation hints at inner demons of the reviewer, which he may partake with equally resented readers but tends to get ultimately discarded by history. In the case of authors vs authors, it may also reflect Harold Bloom's anxiety of influence to some extent.
posted by 111 at 12:58 PM on August 25, 2003


it's very true that Woolf in her diaries attacked very harshly "Ulysses", and she did even if she hadn't finished it yet -- she kind of liked the beginning, then hated the rest. She had a huge problem with what she considered Joyce's "stunts", but after finishing the book she had to admit that Joyce did have a kind of genius, if second-rate. Joyce's prose probably had too strong a flavor for the delicate taste buds of the Queen of Bloomsbury.
but what bugged her the most was the comparisons to Tolstoy, she just couldn't handle that -- she considered Joyce way too crude and working-class to be compared to her beloved Leo Nikolaevich, that's all
posted by matteo at 1:18 PM on August 25, 2003


I don't know, languagehat, given the choice, I think I might prefer comatose. That Krushchev piece was interesting, though--heck they all were, well, except Miller's. My vituperation quota has just been too well met.

Hogshead means denominator, I'm thinking--there's a typo spellcheck won't catch.

Italo Calvino- The Dominator in the red mask, black cape and pink tights!
It's WWF blowout time with Pablo Neruda and Rockin' Randy Savage!

posted by y2karl at 1:25 PM on August 25, 2003


It's pretty funny to see Pound and Joyce trying to conceal from each other (while pouring out to third parties) their respective contempts for Finnegans Wake (then known as Work in Progress) and the Cantos. Avant-garde artists are notoriously intolerant of other artists' experiments.
posted by languagehat at 1:26 PM on August 25, 2003


But just remember, literary fashions change. One day people will realize that Pynchon has feet of clay. And then they'll think, "Ol' Harv saw through him years ago. He knew what was happening all along!"

"Yes he did!"


While I disagree with his take on Pynchon in general, I do think we all can agree that Mason & Dixon is not exactly Pynchon's finest hour.
On that, Ol' Harv was shooting fish in a barrel.
posted by y2karl at 1:33 PM on August 25, 2003


Mmm, still better than Vineland IMHO.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 1:36 PM on August 25, 2003


Hitchens is writing for people of his generation, still fighting battles that are difficult to comprehend for people under 40 today.

Back in the 70s and the 80s, boomers had a cultlike belief that JFK was a near-deity. It was an unshakeable article of faith that if Kennedy had not been assassinated, he would have ended both segregation and America's involvement in Vietnam by the end of his first term. Just try to imagine anyone referring today to an American administration as "Camelot". Back then, suggesting that JFK was a mediocre president and a normal human being was on par with trying to claim today on Mefi that maybe the war in Iraq wasn't a bad thing.
posted by fuzz at 2:03 PM on August 25, 2003


yeah clavdivs, but Bundy, McNamara, LeMay et. al. wanted the bomb the fucking site.

everyone did matteo including bobby. They where pissed and the whole scenerio started with a russian opening move
then it was discovered
then the sovs had a choice move em more it's war, that was the most dangerous scenerio. The whole move WAS to the sovs advantage, they had nothing to lose.
the chiefs saw it
the president didnt.
until the tents and AA guns went up.

Avant-garde artists are notoriously intolerant of other artists' experiments.

this may be so but switch the product to say, tables.

"hey, your table is WAY to ornate"

but it doesnt stop the critic from slipping him some cash or finding him a place to sell his table.
posted by clavdivs at 2:19 PM on August 25, 2003


Matteo - Not sure about Donald, but his bro Frederick wrote a couple of well-known stories (Shopgirls is one) in second person.
posted by drobot at 2:23 PM on August 25, 2003


Hitchens is writing for people of his generation

so the TLS is a magazine for baby-boomers?

still fighting battles that are difficult to comprehend for people under 40 today.

those who haven't spent the last four decades bound and gagged in a shack in Ulan Bator know very well that Kennedy-bashing began what, 33-34 years ago? right after Chappaquiddick? thanks to the tabloidization of the book industry we've had countless books, tabloid articles, tv shows about those terrible, terrible Kennedys (OK, with more than a little help from those unruly, reckless orphan Kennedy kids, with the exception of poor, decent Caroline). Hitchens doesn't seem to understand that Kennedy-bashing gets prety old too, especially if you try do that by bashing a perfectly respectable historian's work

footnote: the term Camelot was used only after JFK's death, not when he was president. "Camelot" comes from Jackie's post-Dallas interview with William Manchester. Plus, Kennedy got pretty much crapped upon by the press even back then when he was alive, not about gossip but about policy. from Cuba to his clash with Big Steel, etc, etc, he didn't exactly enjoy a honeymoon with the press even if his men knew how to handle journalists. he was sainted after death, OK, but it didnt last long (and anyway even the worst presidente ever, if he gets killed like that, head exploding a big pink cloud of brain tissue and spinal fluid, well, they're going to get treated as saints too -- for a while.

Just try to imagine anyone referring today to an American administration as "Camelot".

just try to imagine Harry Truman being interrogated under oath about oral sex and his dick shape by Republican henchmen, the whole sorry mess being broadcast on television a few days later.
we have now pervasive media scrutiny, JFK (lucky for him) didn't have that problem. it's kind of self-evident isn't it.


Back in the 70s and the 80s, boomers had a cultlike belief that JFK was a near-deity

it's a fantasy. the backlash had begun already. see above.

and, just to join clavdivs in speculation about Nam, I think Kennedy (terrible mistake the Diem assassination) would have been more careful than Johnson, and much more wary of the Pentagon's advice. on the other hand, I don't think he could have gotten the Civil Rights Act put together and passed before reelection like LBJ, that flawed giant, did

drobot,
I might very well be mistaken, confusing the two brothers. sorry if I did
posted by matteo at 2:40 PM on August 25, 2003


but it doesnt stop the critic from slipping him some cash or finding him a place to sell his table

I may not have gotten enough sleep last night, but your analogy is over my head. What do critics and cash have to do with it?
posted by languagehat at 4:58 PM on August 25, 2003


You don't understand--that's the whole point.
posted by y2karl at 5:11 PM on August 25, 2003


I enjoyed Laura Miller's insightful review so much that I went to Amazon to buy her brilliant and profound fiction, but alas, she hasn't published any yet.

So, now, the important question is, does Chuck read Metafilter?
posted by majcher at 8:27 AM on August 26, 2003


no, the even more important question is,

is uftheory pahlaniuk's username?
posted by matteo at 9:29 AM on August 26, 2003


What do critics and cash have to do with it?

and what does the observation (about critics and artists and joyce etc.) What does this have to do with kennedy?. I see you used this to respond to karls literary question?

So, what does it matter that pound and joyce criticized anothers work what is important was that pound helped joyce when he needed it (with money and helping him publish) and that transcends the criticism of the work.
My table analogy was to simple or perhaps it was over your head.

so what literacy context to the kennedy question are you positing? other then some simple observation....

It's pretty funny to see Pound and Joyce trying to conceal from each other (while pouring out to third parties) their respective contempts for Finnegans Wake

well, heres a book to discuss: 'Libra'. See any historical context there?
posted by clavdivs at 11:00 AM on August 26, 2003


clav, did you get up on the wrong side of the bed or something? I wasn't "respond[ing] to karls literary question," which I hadn't even seen when I posted it, I was responding to matteo's comment on Woolf's distaste for Joyce. If you read it in that context, it should be perfectly clear. Sheesh, people are really touchy around here these days. I hope it's just the heat.
posted by languagehat at 11:54 AM on August 26, 2003


*cranks up the air conditioner*


clavdivs,
Libra's final pages are some of the best DeLillo ever (and that's saying a lot) but I consider it, on the whole, not as good as White Noise or Mao II or Underworld. It's very hard to turn Oswald into a really fascinating character, his mom notwithstanding -- you really need to invent really kick-ass memorable new characters, like Ellroy did in American Tabloid -- otherwise it just doesn't add up. You have the Galahad-like JFK on one side, and on the other you can't just have a sorry nerd like Oswald, a pathetic pimp like Ruby and a bunch of other scumbags. The Ellroy way is, for me, better researched and better executed.
The best Oswald, for me, is Mailer's.
posted by matteo at 12:19 PM on August 26, 2003


I enjoyed Laura Miller's insightful review so much that I went to Amazon to buy her brilliant and profound fiction, but alas, she hasn't published any yet. /sarcasm
What a cunt.


Yeah, I feel the same way. I mean, I stopped reading anything Lester Bangs had to say when I found out his album wasn't life-changing. Same thing with Roger Ebert after I saw Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. /sarcasm

Seriously, though, this post sort of sums up what irks me about Palahniuk: his fans. I can't comment much on his actual writing, but I read the letters written to Salon in response to the review, and I know people who are completely into him, and it's just like this letter (the one after Palahniuk's) says: "I have never seen a crowd of bigger poseurs in my life. There were Angry Young Men wearing sunglasses indoors and Angry Young Men with wallet chains. There was even a group of about five Angry Young Men with matching dyed black hair and matching gray suits and matching boots with spurs."

It seems to me that Palahniuk's fans are by and large Angry and Disaffected Men, but at what and why? "The trappings of modern life" is an answer that sounds nice, but you gotta be a little more specific than that.

Then again, after reading the letter by Greg Hevia (second one down) in Salon, it makes more sense: Maybe they're just angry over not getting laid. (Kind of reminds me of this comic.)
posted by nath at 12:46 PM on August 26, 2003


clav, did you get up on the wrong side of the bed or something?
no but i couldn't wait to buy 'Two Towers'. I have not made my point of contention clear for which, i apologize.

I know the context and whom started what conversation which is fine.

....which he may partake with equally resented readers but tends to get ultimately discarded by history. In the case of authors vs authors, it may also reflect Harold Bloom's anxiety of influence to some extent.


then

it's very true that Woolf in her diaries attacked very harshly "Ulysses", and she did even if she hadn't finished it yet -- she kind of liked the beginning, then hated the rest.

which is good, i agree, i mean the crux of the topic is there (nice topic miguel)
yes, karls "question" is what I made unclear. Well the question is meant to mean comment (which becomes a question) again in context with 'Mason And Dixon' (and well right there Karl)

before that is: ...to see Pound and Joyce trying to conceal from each other (while pouring out to third parties) their respective contempt for Finnegans Wake (then known as Work in Progress) and the Cantos.
which is true and in context........

Avant-garde artists are notoriously intolerant of other artists' experiments.

this is in invalid opinion derived from your first sentence.
IMO.
It's pretty funny

"It is funny" ?
So is it funny to watch friendship in a sense that these people could ever be friends, fall apart, then one becomes a traitor and the other a smug little 'icon' with the hardest book to decipher in the english language?

I know what you mean about how they tried to keep some official or literary "front" to this little episode.

My real point is that when one gives time and money to someone whom he believes, to have that fail or whatever is the greater tragedy. Again i apologize for my misconstruing my objection to your statement as it does appear "gruff" in some ways.

I agree matteo, oswald made a terrible character but it works, the author captures the repetitious nature of oswalds mind, the un certainty (the cobwebs) I found the opening scenes hard ('Ossy the rabbits' early life) also oswalds 'desires' or the suppression of is interesting Plus, one has to craft the scene as if the historical oswald had or had not done certain things like work for ONI etc. I believe the author took occams razor to the whole morass and crafted a book that still defies some starting point...some end. I just wish that Hollywood woulda opted to make 'Libra' instead of Stones 'JFK'.
posted by clavdivs at 1:02 PM on August 26, 2003


...his mom.
:)
posted by clavdivs at 1:03 PM on August 26, 2003


Matteo, next in the irc, remind me to tell you of the time my father met marina oswald.
posted by clavdivs at 1:05 PM on August 26, 2003


Here's another good hatchet job, this time a full-on assault on Chuck "Fargo Rock City" Klosterman. Damn. Watch out for the bile.
posted by COBRA! at 11:40 AM on August 29, 2003


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