Sunday, October 20, 2013

AMERICAN RADICAL: Norman Finkelstein and Romanticism

I have been in talks with my father for the past few months in regards to a future documentary we intend to produce, and the crux of the most recent talks we've been having is the basis of plot and narrative in cinema.  Basically, my own thinking is that the historical record of American mainstream cinema is rooted in the 19th century Romantic epoch that defined literature for the era from which cinema was born.  From this perspective, a great deal of the historical racism and bigotry in cinema boils down to the typical tropes of the world Romantic era, from plot concept and structure to the idea of protagonist/antagonist in characterization.  The epoch itself was defined by mechanical visions of the world as duality.  For Wagner, the master of Romantic opera, the Jew was the historical antagonist.  Marx and Engels posited the Proletariat against the Bourgeoisie, but the strictures and the dogmatic nature of Hegelian dialectics, the Romantic philosophy par excellence, led to the Bolshevik failure.  Dickens himself, the gold standard of English Romantic novels, relied on stagnated imagery of Jews in his books, with the perverted Jew Fagan falling at the end of a hangman's noose, a rightful end for the morality of the epoch.
Romanticism is inherently racist, in that it is rooted in concepts of national purity, religious sameness, and the demonization of The Other.  In fact, we often see the same repeated tropes of bigotry make appearances again and again over history.
For example, Jews, blacks, gays, and Communists have always been demonized as enemies of Christianity, the natural ordering of the 'races', and the alleged Divine Ordering of sexuality.  Indeed, many former Civil Rights activists from the 1960's and 70's have been able to easily recognize that arguments opposing gay marriage are the same ones, sometimes verbatim, that were used against inter-racial couples trying to get married.  It's inherent to the Romantic vision, and America is certainly a nation whose mythos are viewed Romantically.  Was Washington giving small-pox infested blankets to Native Americans an act of chemical warfare and genocide equivalent to what Saddam Hussein did to the Iraqi Kurds?  Should we see the power dynamic in a relationship like that of Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson as we look at any domestic relationship where women are held against their will, under the penalty of violence, by a man who was essentially following the standard definition of rape?
Obviously, these are absurdly rude and essentially nonsense points, because it defines the world into either one category or another.  I know many who would say these are valid thoughts, but their presentation is faulty not because of their validity, or lack thereof, but because of the method: there is no nuance, no wiggle room, no grays.  And, it is also worthwhile to remember the tables point both ways, and it is just as easy to use such reasoning about minorities.  This is especially relevant to the conversation because of the historical fact that the American neo-conservative movement, rooted in the post-War era, developed out of a clique of New York Trotskyists who saw no hope for the USSR after Stalin murdered their hero.  Today, we see the classic figures of the Romantic era utilized in the thinking of the Tea Party and the GOP, most openly in the quackery of blatant racists like David Horowitz, himself a former Stalinist.
Which brings me to AMERICAN RADICAL.  Here's the reality: Norman Finkelstein is neither a lunatic nor a living god.  I've communicated with him over email previously, and the impression I get is of polite Baby Boomer scholar who is prone to all the variety of peccadilloes you find in academics.  The most stunning revelation I have gained from him is that, after asking his thoughts on SCHINDLER'S LIST, he admits with some pride to only having bothered with ET when it comes to Spielberg.  Moses off the mountain, indeed!
However, in AMERICAN RADICAL, one is given the impression Finkelstein is a genuine psychotic prophet, and the forces of darkness amassed against him would make anyone a bit paranoid.  And who is his opposition?  Jews.
Not Israeli hawks or militant Zionists or even an organized group, like AIPAC, but this shadowy cabal of American Jews who atomize Finkelstein's career.  Obviously, there is such a thing as pacing and time, but when you have an Israeli rabbi debating Finkelstein with all the panache and class of Emperor Palpatine, without a shred of any background about the guy, the Dark Menacing Jew menaces again!

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