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Close and closer readings

Pulitizer prize winner, Walter Duranty was the chief New York Times correspondent in Stalinist Russia. His unparalleled access to Stalin’s inner circle was, it appears, purchased by a great deference to the man and a willingness to deny to millions of readers in the West the premeditated starvation of at least seven million in the Ukraine. After the war, as indications of the truth became more and more evident, his star dimmed considerably. Yet with the cold war in full swing, his insider knowledge of the Politburo was still in demand and in 1948 he finessed a book deal with William Sloane Associates. Duranty’s biographer, Sarah J. Taylor writes,

But almost immediately after striking the agreement, Duranty pulled a boner, an embarrassing lapse in taste that nearly quashed the whole deal. Somewhere along the line in his several chats with Sloane, the topic of another book came up—one that Duranty had much admired in his youth. It was the Weininger book, and he recommended that Bill Sloane read Sex and Character, perhaps to consider for a revival. Unfortunately for Duranty, Sloane did. [Taylor, p. 330]

Sloane was appalled. Duranty went on to explain himself in a letter to him, as quoted in Taylor,

It is all the things you say and hopelessly dated to boot. Nevertheless it did have a great vogue around the turn of the century and it was also the fact that I was only 20 or thereabouts when I read it myself but even so I was astonished to think I could have ever admired the book, and what’s more, that enough other people admired it in those days. To me, now, it seems a silly mess of Schopenhauer and pro-fascism, the sort of book that Hitler might have written at that time. [Taylor, p. 331]

Duranty likely didn’t know that Hitler had indeed read the book and, according to Hans Frank, Hitler’s lawyer, considered it bedside reading (Brigitte Hamann). The war was over, but Duranty seemed oblivious of the climate change on the subject of anti-Semitism in the post-Holocaust period. Not even a Jew, himself (as Weininger was), would now be caught dead publishing the things Weininger had. And Duranty had long shown himself a casual anti-Semite in various untoward comments about noses. We say casual, since he was not one to stand on principle. If being pro-Semitic had early on been conducive to his projects, he would no doubt have been that. His now unfashionable anti-Semitism seems to have been a function of a general fixation with the past.

Duranty liked his women “dumb and in a recreational mode.” Taylor mentions this again in the context of Weininger [Taylor, p. 33] as if to suggest Weininger must have been used to bolster Duranty in this attitude. “A woman is never so stupid as a man can be.” Neither must have read this line in Weininger. And the use of women for male sexual recreation could scarcely have been further from Weininger’s program. Hitler and Mussolini were—and, while we are at it, a good part of maledom still are inclined to read Weininger selectively. Hitler may well have considered Weininger his favorite Jew. But that didn’t stop the Nazis from banning his book [Burns, p. 311]. “They wanted the Aryan woman to shell out thoroughbred babies in short order and in healthy quantities to keep the Master Race well stocked, and Weininger’s talk of abstention would not do.” [Luno] Some of the Nazi censors, if not quite Hitler (or Duranty or Mussolini, etc….or Sloane or Taylor, for that matter), apparently did read Sex and Character more closely…

Weininger virtually consigns such characters to the ash heap of history. But that’s beside the point, isn’t it?


Thanks to a reference by John S Moore on the Weininger/Duranty connection.

Posted by iaia in anti-Semitism, Weininger (Sunday March 12, 2006 at 11:45 pm)

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