Letters From the July 29-August 5, 2019, Issue
In Defense of Aesthetes
I found James McAuley’s analysis of Renaud Camus [“Killer Kitsch,” July 1/8] broadly persuasive, but I think he’s mistaken to claim “the aesthete is a natural reactionary.” Certain species of aesthete—e.g., the fussy period fetishist Camus seems to be—do tend that way, and many examples come to mind (Céline, Pound, Riefenstahl, and Marinetti, all of whom McAuley mentions).
But if an aesthete is someone who takes questions of beauty and representation seriously, who meditates as deeply as one can on the means and ends of art, who sees the pursuit of art as braided inextricably with life itself—and, for me, that is what an aesthete is—there is nothing natural at all about the association of the aesthetic with political reaction.
There are a great many aesthetes committed to transformative politics and justice. Consider Bertolt Brecht, Charles Olson, W.H. Auden, Pablo Picasso, John Cage, Martha Rosler, and Alice Notley. I could keep going, but let’s just cut to the aesthete’s aesthete, Oscar Wilde, and his “Soul of Man Under Socialism.” Scorn not the aesthete!
The Imperfect vs. the Irredeemable
Joe Biden is a flawed candidate with a long list of political liabilities. He would not be my first (or even fifth) choice for the Democratic nomination. But suppose Biden wins it and stands as the candidate best positioned to reunite the party’s black and white working-class bases? Reading Jonathan Kozol’s expert deconstruction “Biden and Segregation” [July 1/8], based partly on an interview from 1975, one can preview the disgust as purists flee to next year’s Ralph Nader or Jill Stein.
For better or worse, we have binary elections in this country. Next year’s will be existential—a choice, perhaps, between the imperfect and the irredeemable. Today’s Republicans may be irredeemably corrupt, but they grasp one essential political reality: solidarity above all. I am not suggesting that we go easy on our candidates, but any one of them would be Lincolnesque compared with the current president.
The Democratic primary field will sort itself out. But let us not hand the enemy an ax. The alternative is four more years of white supremacy, climate denial, nuclear brinkmanship, rampant corruption, Constitution trampling, immigrant trashing, and much more.
south orange, n.j.
Pigs in Space
Katha Pollitt’s July 1/8 column “Rocket Men” is an excellent indictment of the commonly held notion that ultrarich entrepreneurs must be so smart that they can solve all our problems—in this case via escape to other planets or to space. Still, Pollitt misses an important point. The science and technology of space travel were developed at enormous public expense over the equivalent of centuries of collectively supported education, research, and experimentation. How then does businessman Elon Musk (very good at hiring people who understand the collectively developed principles of design) get to charge $200,000 for a flight to Mars, or businessman Jeff Bezos (very good at using the US Postal Service to deliver goods ordered through collectively developed computer technology) get to charge whatever he feels like for a spot in a space pod? There can be no better examples of collective resources being hijacked for private gain.
the bronx, n.y.