Thursday, November 08, 2007

CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED. Contextual reading, or non-reading, taken to new heights today by Daniel Henninger in the Wall Street Journal, writing about Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and Clarence Thomas:
By now, "To Kill a Mockingbird" is wholly folded into the political life of the country. It is safe to say that most Democrats would consider the book to be an iconic testament to their legacy, liberalism's greatest achievement. One imagines that Harper Lee would agree with this.
Which statement is rendered odd by his next one:
But as with Justice Thomas's famously sphinx-like demeanor during oral arguments at the Supreme Court, there has been nary a peep in more than 40 years about the book's meaning from Miss Lee (it would sound absurd to refer to her as Ms. Lee).
Well, as long as we're speculating about the political beliefs of a closed-mouthed writer who said she wanted to be "the Jane Austen of south Alabama," why not go whole hog and suggest that, despite her presumed esteem for "liberalism's greatest achievement," she would also be a Clarence Thomas supporter?

First, it would sound absurd to Henninger to use attach "Ms." to her surname -- look, she's halfway to being conservative already! And Henninger points out that she defended (as any sensible person would) the use of the word "nigger" in her book, which seen a certain way supports Henninger's case, as this is a word with which conservatives are historically comfortable. Finally, Thomas grew up black and poor, and referred to his own hearings as a "lynching"; as Thomas was a party disinterested in the outcome, we may take his word for it.

Henninger determines:
We may assume that Harper Lee composed her remarkable story about the unjustly accused and gunned-down Tom Robinson so that some day a Clarence Thomas could rise from Pinpoint to the nation's highest Court.
The "a" is a neat dodge. But the clear suggestion that Lee was working, however unconsciously, to put Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court is about as valid as a suggestion that, in writing The Cradle Will Rock, Marc Blitzstein was working to make Jimmy Hoffa head of the Teamsters.

Near the end, Henninger seems to intuit that he has not made himself sufficiently explicit, and adds:
Today a black man is running for the presidency. Perhaps the campaign is too long and perhaps Barack Obama is too young and too inexperienced to be president. Consider, though, the current knock on Mr. Obama. It is that he won't attack Hillary with sufficient aggression, that he is too gentlemanly, even too "professorial" in demeanor. Presumably his critics would prefer the slashing tongue of a hip-hop performer than the self-contained Barack Obama, who epitomizes middle-class black achievement. Well, 15 years ago they preferred something other than the conservative middle-class black man sent to the Supreme Court.
Conclusion: liberals are so racist that they don't even want Barack Obama to run for President, and would prefer Ludacris or Busta Rhymes.

Henninger's piece is a classic example of Konservetkult criticism. He doesn't deduce Lee's view from her work, but uses shopworn conservative memes as shims to maneuver her into the correct position.

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