Tuesday, October 24, 2017

And Now Leon Wieseltier

Pigs, it seems, come in all sorts. We have jet-setting celebrity cave men like Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein, bragging about the models and actresses they lured to their luxury motel suites; we have Roger Ailes, constructing Fox New as a personal fantasy of beautiful but tough women showing their legs under his glass tables, but unable to get any more from them than a too-long hug; we have priests who can't keep their hands off the altar boys and high school teachers unhinged by the youthful sexuality of their students. For me the discovery of new exo-planets was somewhat dimmed when I discovered that astronomer Geoff Marcy, whose team at that point had discovered more distant worlds than any other, sexually harassed his students for decades; investigators found pictures of female students on his cell phone that he took during his own lectures.

We also have men who seem thoughtful and interesting, some of them rooted in old moral and religious traditions, posing as prophets while they reach under their guests' skirts or slip rohypnol into their drinks. Men who have expressed much that is best in humanity in philosophy, politics and art – Picasso, Arthur Koestler, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby – turn out to be monsters when it comes to sex and women.

Which brings me to Leon Wieseltier, who just lost his chance to launch a new magazine called Idea after former employees launched a small movement to expose him:
Several women on the email chain said they were humiliated when Mr. Wieseltier sloppily kissed them on the mouth, sometimes in front of other staff members. Others said he discussed his sex life, once describing the breasts of a former girlfriend in detail. Mr. Wieseltier made passes at female staffers, they said, and pressed them for details about their own sexual encounters.

One woman recounted that while she was attempting to fact-check a column Mr. Wieseltier wrote, he forced her to look at a photograph of a nude sculpture in an art book, asking her if she had ever seen a more erotic picture. She wrote that she was shaken and afraid during the incident.

Mr. Wieseltier often commented on what women wore to the office, the former staff members said, telling them that their dresses were not tight enough. One woman said he left a note on her desk thanking her for the miniskirt she wore to the office that day. She said she never wore a skirt to the office again.
As to scale, so far this looks more like Roger Ailes than Bill Cosby, pathetic fumbling that frightened women mainly because of Wieseltheir's power as their boss and a cultural icon. But, oh, Leon. Why you? You sometimes seemed so wise, as able as anyone in our fallen time to articulate why some people still value religious tradition. Here is just one example of the way Wieselthier brought old Jewish wisdom up to date, from his essay remembering his friend Leonard Cohen:
We sometimes read and studied together, Lorca and midrash and Eluard and Buddhist scriptures and Cavafy. We could get quite Talmudic, especially with wine. In Judaism there is a custom to honor the dead by pondering a text in their memory. Here, in memory of Eliezer ben Nisan ha’Cohen, is a passage on frivolity by a great rabbi in Prague at the end of the 16th century. “Man was born for toil, since his perfection is always being actualized but is never actual,” he observed in an essay on frivolity. “And insofar as he attains perfection, something is missing in him. In such a being, perfection is a shortcoming and a lack.” Leonard Cohen was the poet laureate of the lack, the psalmist of the privation, who made imperfection gorgeous.
Wieseltier has appeared several times on this blog, sometimes because I agreed with him and sometimes because I didn't. He had much to say. When I agreed with him I found his words moving and profound, and when I disagreed I found him interesting to argue with.

Sex often functions as the wild card in human nature and human societies. It leads to the crossing of lines and the breaking of rules, to the mixing of ethnic groups and the violation of class boundaries, because it makes people crazy. Mingled with power, it turns even wise men into thugs.

The good news is that the ancient conspiracy to sweep all these crimes under the rug seems to be breaking up. How much that will protect new generations of women from male predators remains to be seen.

5 comments:

Shadow said...

Let's not start thinking that it is only sex that is somehow different. He is articulate, erudite, intelligent -- none of which is protection against his disgusting behavior because he is also crude. In fact, his learning, position, influence might be enablers.

"And insofar as he attains perfection, something is missing in him. In such a being, perfection is a shortcoming and a lack.”

Indeed!

"The good news is that the ancient conspiracy to sweep all these crimes under the rug seems to be breaking up."

Surely you jest.



John said...

Well, maybe that was too much, but I do think that these things are more likely to be exposed now than ever before.

Anonymous said...

When I click the link to lead me to the actual blog where Wieseltier"s accusers registered their complaints, I am led back to the original NYT's article on the matter. Harvey Weinstein's accusers continue to make themselves known, by name, as they unveil their unsavory experiences. Where is the blog where these women do much the same?

Anonymous said...

This Morlock has been a perv forever. About a decade ago my cousin Nancy had a summer job at The New Republic she was buoyant about only to have it ruined by the erstwhile Leon pestering for a date. No matter how many times she politely rebuffed him he persisted even going so far as having a male minion encouraging her to go out with him because he (Leon) was "The premier Jewish intellectual. He will open worlds for you." She was disgusted and quit that day. She had complained to other staffers and they all shined her on. Leon's comeuppance like Harvey Weinstein,Bill O'Reilly, James Toback was long overdue and I applaud The Brookings Institute for canning his tuchas as well.

Caren Shapiro said...

Why are all these creeps so ugly? The only difference between Leon Wieseltier and Harvey Weinstein is that at least Harvey didn't pretend to be a "philosopher".