I just can’t make no connection

David P. Goldman gained a large-scale following as the Spengler of Asia Times. Apart from being a well-immersed observer of China with strong opinions, he is also a well-trained musicologist with strong opinions. He has argued that Wagner’s deepest anti-Semitism expressed itself not in his manifestos but in his music: attempting to subvert “the ordering of time through tonality,” Wagner’s work erodes the foundations of Judeo-Christian faith.

Not that I agree or disagree: rather, Goldman’s analytical angle reminds me of Soviet and, more generally, Marxist musicology.

Goldman’s recent First Things piece, T. S. Eliot and the Jews, occasionally goes too far in the speculative direction but this particular claim seems to be grounded in Eliot’s poetic output:

Eliot’s Jew-hatred was racial. It was not (as Harold Bloom claimed) “simply a mark of the authenticity of his Neo-Christianity.” This is evident from his imagery, full of horror at the stereotypical appearance of Jews…

The proof is in the lines, apparently: Goldman is reading them a little too straightforwardly, perhaps, but one can’t easily get over their gratuitous crudities. They are everywhere in Poems, Eliot’s collection of twelve pieces published in 1920. His narrators are easily disgusted and driven to indecorous reaction – recall the smells, sights and fears one of them recounts in Whispers of Immortality. They don’t bother refining their resentments, which seem suspiciously close to the poet’s own.

Unsurprisingly to those familiar with his writings, Goldman then reaches far beyond the obvious. On a deeper level – he claims – T. S. Eliot’s anti-Semitism was linked to his rejection of tragicomedy:

Modern tragicomedy is not uniquely Jewish, nor is its humor exclusively Jewish… But it is characteristically Jewish: Jewish in inception, and replenished by Jewish ­sources, most explicitly in the case of Faust… The Jewish account of man’s existential predicament… informed the definitive dramatic masterpieces of Spanish, English, and German literature.

I’m in no position to argue with this. I simply doubt the proposed link between T. S. Eliot’s antipathy to Jews and his allergy to Hamlet. If Eliot preferred his tragedies strictly tragic, he had to take Bérénice over Hamlet any day. I imagine that Tolstoy, had he lived to a hundred years, would have approved of Eliot’s choice but would have scolded the young man for his intolerance and bias.

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