Wednesday, May 5, 2021


Taking Liberties

Leon Wieseltier has forgiven himself, it seems.

The long-time literary editor of The New Republic, banished a few years ago for admitted sexual improprieties, licked his wounds for a while and came back at us with a rather stunning new journal of "culture and politics" carrying that name.

Volume 1, No. 3, which was just released, includes very disparate pieces, all of them written beautifully, by people of whom I had not heard, except for Leon himself, who closes out the 344-page issue with an argument why America must continue to assert itself in the world.  

Also, everything you need to know about Vladimir Putin's authoritarian re-making of the Russian state, courtesy of "opposition politician" Vladimir Kara-Murza.  Trenchant criticism of a new genre -- "sanctimony literature," from a young Ph.D. candidate in philosophy at Harvard by the name of Becca Rothfeld.  A remarkably revelatory essay by University of Chicago philosophy professor Agnes Callard whose title speaks, more or less, for itself -- "Romance Without Love, Love Without Romance."  Film critic David Thomson's fantasy of creating a long movie reel in which film stars, present and past, are matched or mis-matched via the wonders of computer programming in the moments leading up to, but under no circumstances including, a first kiss --  a first kiss of the most meaningful kind, the kind that may not exist anymore.  For example, Louise Brooks in the arms of George Clooney; who would not want to see that?

Leon in an extended interview a while back tried to make the case that it need not mark him as a throwback that the physical form of each issue of Liberties is an essential part of the project.  It is paper bound in paper, it is true, but each of the highest quality.  The cover, at least of this latest, is a soothing light blue/purple in hue.  The inside front cover, which, like the back, serves as a perfect bookmark, quotes Maimonides -- "Accept the truth from whoever utters it."  And the logo, which appears often, is a very contemporary-looking series of swirls cribbed from a presumably more representational 15th century Botticelli illustration that the artist executed for Divine Comedy.  

It's a volume, in other words, that you might lend to a friend, but one that you would only give for good to a very good friend.

Should we regret nevertheless that Leon has forgiven himself to such an extent that he has not remained in the shadows permanently?  What would his old friends Barbra Streisand, Twyla Tharp, Shirley MacLaine, Lionel Trilling, Leonard Cohen and Ruth Bader Ginsburg have to say about this?  Would they forgive him as well?  Or would they prefer that he have gathered up his money and repaired to the Patagonian Plantation that I took pains to describe on November 6, 2018?

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