Recently I came across an interesting review of The Wandering Who, the book by Gilad Atzmon that has reached so far and wide that it might be called The Wandering Book.
The review is by one Stanley Heller. In the interest of full disclosure I will note that I do not know Heller, never heard of him before and never read anything by him, so any perception of bias in his favor on my part is unfounded. I did google his name and found a Stanley Heller who had signed an article on the site of a non-profit organization, WESPAC, a foundation that “connects the people of Westchester with a progressive agenda for the planet and its peoples.” Very impressive. The article by this Heller, called Time to Play Hardball, talks about activism on behalf of the Palestinian solidarity movement and recommends, among other meritorious actions, wearing a kuffiyeh because Jews also wore a yellow star. I decided this couldn’t be the same person as the more serious-minded reviewer.
I have read a few reviews of the The Wandering Who before, some by highly reputable scholars, intellectuals, and human rights activists, but even though they were all enthusiastic, they were also almost pedantically factual, and none struck me as so personally and emotionally engaged as this most sincere review. In fact I would say that this very quality, in excess, is also its weakness. The review suffers from a surfeit of sincerity.
Heller starts by confessing candidly that he hates the author, refused to read the book but wished very much to refute it. So he had to leaf through it to obtain some quotes to use. I put this down to my guess that Heller is a young and inexperienced writer or else he would not give away his predetermined conclusion in the first few lines.
Luckily this is compensated by another confession: Heller shares with the reader his ambition, which boils down to showing up those prominent academics and reputable human rights advocates for the fools they are to have been “mysteriously” bamboozled into praising the book. Say what you will, but this kind of boundless self-confidence – one Stanley Heller demolishing Baroud, Boyle, Cook, Falk, Mearsheimer, Mezevinsky, Petras, Qumsieh, and others like them – has a touching quality about it. It is like a 6th grader announcing that E = mc2 is wrong and he will prove it to you. You almost want to root for the underpuppy. His total self-confidence (detractors, not I, would call it chutzpah) makes you want to read on.
The review is made up of quotes lifted from the book in the sequential order of chapters and it is a minor weakness of élan that Heller’s intended refutations are less than substantial, like “Huh?” “Ridiculous,” “Pitiful,” “What rubbish!” or “sludge.”
He also claims he made himself read the book “so you don’t have to,” an unfortunate statement because it brings to mind unwelcome suggestions of censorship and book burning. Nevertheless, even if he made it a bit clumsily, the suggestion not to read the book is not all that naïve and without purpose from Heller’s personal point of view: the readers’ familiarity with the book might invite criticism of the review from nitpickers and accuracy maniacs.
It is true that some of Heller’s renditions of Atzmon’d concepts are misinterpretations or just plain false but to be fair, these only include concepts like “Jews,” “zionism,” “anti-zionism,” “anti-anti-zionism,” “Jewish lobby,” “Israel, or “anti-semitism.” He is completely accurate on others, like “jazz.”
The review would have benefited from completely omitting any reference to Weiniger himself or to Weiniger as discussed by Atzmon. A review is not profoundly marred if you delve into topics you know nothing about if you can fake it well, but if you do not, the reader –always a fickle customer–might become suspicious and wonder “What else does he discuss in here that he really knows nothing about?”
As he matures I am sure he will learn to avoid it.
Another minor lapse, and this makes me almost certain that my guess is right and he is indeed a very young writer, is that he does another “Weiniger gaffe” and gives his opinion that jews did not know they were jews until Hitler so informed them. It is on a par with his statement that the jews active in a human rights movement as jews are essential because they kosherize the non-jews, thus protecting them from accusations of anti-semitism. He thus trips himself and unintentionally lands in the category of “anti-zionists zionists.”
Most readers would be confused by his attempt to explain what “zionism’ is and by extension “anti-zionism” when he says Atzmon is ‘aiding’ zionism, but that is because Heller himself is confused and misses the irony of Atzmon’s “proud self-hater.”
Nevertheless I think that only trenchant and hasty critics would consider Heller’s first review bad. In fact it is a good beginning. It is made up of:
- misinterpreted quotes
- inaccurate statements (Atzmon’s classification, description and all references to Jews)
- arguments consisting of exclamations and interjections
- references to bibliography unknown to him.
If all of these were taken out, however, he would be left with a good framework to build a review on.
I am a firm believer that young writers should be encouraged and helped in their first attempts rather than excoriated for lapses and errors that are the “inherent diseases” of the childhood of a writing career.
Copyright deLiberation 2012