jimsleeper.com » What on dit About The New Republic’s Literary Editor

What on dit About The New Republic’s Literary Editor

By Jim Sleeper – September 18, 2010, TPMCafe

In French the phrase on dit means, literally, “one says.” But really it signifies what someone in the know considers it au courant and fashionable to say.

No one works harder to parade his apartness from such pseudo-sophisticated posturing than New Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier, who dispatched the apostles of on dit last week by complaining,

“Our sophistication is merely a skill for many surfaces. … Its objective is breadth, not depth. It is… the intellectual aspiration of a dinner guest. …. We teach ourselves to become even a little haughty about what we discovered the day before yesterday. (“What, you haven’t seen Osipova?”) And the victims of our intimidation go home to bone up in private, to remediate their out-of-the-loopness and prepare themselves for a role in the on dit–except of course the strong ones among them who recognize this game for what it is, and prefer something better than sophistication, more specific and more substantive, a parcel of knowledge strenuously acquired and genuinely possessed…..”

And here is Wieseltier, recognizing the game for what it is on October 8, 2001, as the ruins of the World Trade Center smoldered, dispatching Vanity Fair sophisticates’ reactions to the calamity:

“I always wondered what it would take to put a cramp in the trashy mind, and at last I have my answer: a mass grave in lower Manhattan. So now depth has buzz. The papers are filled with hip people seeing through hipness, composing elegiac farewells to Gary Condit and Jennifer Lopez. The on dit has moved beyond the apple martini. It has discovered evil and the problem of its meaning. No doubt about it, seriousness is in. So it is worth remembering that there are large swathes of American society in which seriousness was never out. Not everybody has lived as if the media is all there is. Not everybody has been consecrated only to cash and cultural signifiers. Not everybody has been a pawn of irony.”

Not a pawn of irony but its master, Wieseltier has consecrated himself to the kind of sincerity and profundity that, well before 9/11, made him join Richard Bruce (Dick) Cheney and Carl Christian Rove on the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. Even on Sep. 20, 2001, as he was penning the comments quoted above, Wieseltier and 40 others signed a public letter to George W. Bush from the neo-conservative Project for the New American Century urging that ”even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. Failure to undertake such an effort will constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism.”

The on dit about Wieseltier is that he keeps on repeating himself, in print and in politics, as I showed at some length here two years ago. Perhaps that is something for him to ponder and — dare one say it? — atone for. He can’t do that by banging away at people who’ve dropped him from their dinner party lists, and certainly not by sounding, week after week, as if he himself had penned my own modest proposal for his epitaph:

I am so wise,
That my wisdom makes me weary.
It’s all I can do
To share my wisdom with you.