David Rieff’s review reads like the recipe for preparing venison: first you have to eviscerate it, then you can enjoy the steak. He begins by gutting Lanzmann: “Even the most passionate of lifelong romances tend to cool with time. But…Lanzmann’s…self-involvement seems only to have risen with the passing decades.” Rieff identifies a style of French writing (not found among French scientists, moreso amongst essayists and such) as a “confederacy of braggarts.” Not to be found in the gaggle of penman traits such as irony, self-effacement or stoicism. Witness Sartre. Or Beauvoir, his (Sartre’s and Lanzmann’s) lover.
Then, we hear “[This book] is not just the sum of all its irritations…. [It] is an important book …that …recounts both the making of Shoah… and his thinking behind the choices he made in the film…” Rieff argues persuasively that the “private moral character of an artist… [not] undermine the worth of the art…” He cites artists such as T. S. Eliot (an articulate anti-Semite) or Wagner (“where to begin,” he says) or Bach (an abuser of choirboys) as amongst those whose work we would need to proscribe if we judged them by their lives, not their aesthetics.
As a side-note, Rieff mentions that the London Review of Books excoriated Lanzmann’s memoir because the reviewer didn’t like Lanzmann’s politics vis-à-vis the Palestinians: but this seems to be an old British ailment: to see everything Israeli via the fish-eye lens of Palestinians (not the original Palestinian Jews; the post-1948 renaming of the Arabs in the area.)
Rieff is a sharp thinker. His review is scholarly, thoughtful, well-written.
New York, NY
Jun 29 2012 - 2:39pm