[Marxism] Polanski is Free!!
rfls12802 at blueyonder.co.uk
Mon Jul 12 15:42:48 MDT 2010
Here's my pal Arthur Trusscott's take on Polanski and others like him, from
New Interventions, Volume 13, no 2, Spring 2010.
Different Strokes for Different Blokes
THERE'S nothing like having a reputation as a writer, sculptor or film-maker
to have your other reputation as a dirty old man referred to in the most
delicate of phrases by the artistic intelligentsia. This has been proved
over the last few months with the publishing of Vladimir Nabokov's last
book, an exhibition of Eric Gill's works, and the arrest of Roman Polanski.
In September, Polanski had his collar felt in Switzerland upon his arrival
from France, where he has lived for the last 30 years or so. He was held
under an international alert issued in the USA in 2005 in respect of charges
relating to his having illegal sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl in
the USA in 1978. He is currently on bail, pending an extradition decision.
He could face a life sentence if he returns to the USA.
Now, a man in that predicament is usually pretty much on his own. Gary
Glitter, for example, convicted in Vietnam of having sex with under-age
girls, was universally reviled. That nobody came to his defence comes as no
surprise; indeed, Channel Four actually ran a make-believe drama featuring
his trial and execution for the sexual abuse of a child. But Polanski has
friends, lots of them. In the US Nation on 1 October, Katha Pollitt listed
'... Salman Rushdie, Milan Kundera, Martin Scorsese, Pedro Almodóvar, Woody
Allen (insert your own joke here), Isabelle Huppert, Diane von Furstenberg
and many, many more. Bernard-Henri Lévy, who's taken a leading role in
rounding up support, has said that Polanski 'perhaps had committed a
youthful error' (he was 43). Debra Winger, president of the Zurich Film
Festival jury, wearing a red 'Free Polanski' badge, called the Swiss
authorities action 'philistine collusion'. Fréderic Mitterrand, the French
cultural minister, said it showed 'the scary side of America' and described
Polanski as 'thrown to the lions because of ancient history'. French foreign
minister Bernard Kouchner, co-founder of Doctors Without Borders, called the
whole thing 'sinister'. Closer to home, Whoopi Goldberg explained on The
View that his crime wasn't 'rape rape', just, you know, rape. Oh, that!
Conservative columnist Anne Applebaum minimised the crime in the Washington
'Nobody knows you when you're down and out', goes the old blues song. That's
not the case if you're a famed film-maker.
Polanski's victim, Samantha Geimer, does not wish to see him in court again,
as she does not want to have the distressing episode raked over once more.
That is an understandable response, and it should be respected by the
authorities. But one gets the feeling, however, that the clamorous chorus in
favour of Polanski is more about propping up his cultural reputation than
respecting the wishes of a woman who wants above all to put this traumatic
experience behind her once and for all.
In the world of left-wing politics, the World Socialist Website's statement
on the Polanski case tried to deflect the condemnation of his behaviour by
pointing to the very serious crimes committed in the name of US official
policy, and to the fact that people responsible of far greater crimes lived
freely in the USA:
'Accepting that Polanski's case involved a criminal offense, the
circumstances of his sudden arrest after the passage of more than three
decades at the age of 76, the substantial evidence that his earlier
prosecution involved serious misconduct by the judge, the many mitigating
circumstances arising from the facts of Polanski's own tragic life, the
sentiments of the victim, the artistic significance of Polanski's work [it's
that excuse again -- AT], and, finally, the reactionary characteristics of
the media campaign -- all these elements and circumstances should give pause
to those who have adapted themselves, without taking the time to think, to
official public opinion. This is not apologetics. Thirty years after the
fact, things need to be looked at critically -- all the facts of the case,
all the human circumstances. It needs to be borne in mind: the abuses of the
state -- the extension of its powers -- is far more dangerous to the public
well-being than the actions of any individual. Dangerous precedents are
being set in this case.'
Of course one must question the motives of the US authorities and those of
the right-wing media in this and other similar cases. Both have long been
guilty of gross hypocrisy. But what about the arrogant attitude of
Polanski's illustrious friends? Taking into consideration the ancestry of
the World Socialist Website in Gerry Healy's branch of the Fourth
International, one might have expected a slightly more circumspect attitude
in respect of the matter of sexual exploitation of women...
Writing in the Guardian on 17 October, Fiona MacCarthy curiously describes
Gill's incestuous relationships with members of his family, including one of
his sisters and two of his daughters (and the family dog), as 'sexual
experiments'. Harmful perhaps, particularly in respect of the daughters?
Well, maybe not entirely:
'Both she [Petra] and her sister Betty appear to have absorbed the
experience, making apparently good and happy marriages, bringing up large
families. Their history challenges received opinion on the in-evitability of
damage done by child abuse.'
Not everyone thought MacCarthy's review acceptable. On 24 October, the paper
ran a letter accusing her of being 'close to... an apologist for Gill's
abuse of his children' and 'lacking appropriate responsibility in the
characterisation of his unacceptable abusive sexual behaviour'.
A month later, on 14 November, the Guardian featured Martin Amis' lengthy
essay on Nabokov's The Origins of Laura, compiled by the author's son from a
bundle of notes and jottings, and recently published to great fanfare. There
is, writes Amis, in the style so redolent of that classic pose of his being
draped over a chaise longue, a 'problem' with it, 'which turns out to be an
aesthetic problem, and not quite a moral one', one which 'has to do with the
intimate malice of age':
'The word we want is not the legalistic 'paedophilia', which in any case
deceitfully translates as 'fondness for children'. The word we want is
'nympholepsy', which doesn't quite mean what you think it means. It means
'frenzy caused by desire for the unattainable', and is rightly characterised
by my COD as literary. As such, nympholepsy is a legitimate, indeed an
almost inevitable subject for this very singular talent.'
Ah yes, don't use that word 'paedophilia', which, to the average person (I
am not thinking here of tabloid-incited lumpen 'paedo-bashers'), if not to
elevated littérateurs, has not a legalistic effect, but the impact of
predatory personal abuse committed against a boy or girl by an adult, one
who is usually in a position of trust.
And, in such circumstances, Amis' preferred word 'nympholepsy', which indeed
does mean 'ecstasy or frenzy caused by desire for the unattainable', is
nothing but a deceitful alibi. Amis cites huge slabs of Nabokov's repeated
lurid descriptions of adult males' encounters with young girls. Amis admits
that 'writers like to write about the things they like to think about' -- to
put it in plain words, Nabokov was a dirty old man with a very unhealthy
state of mind, perpetually letching over young girls. But what is Amis'
conclusion about Nabokov's lip-smacking fantasies? 'And, to put it at its
sternest, Nabokov's mind, during his last period, insufficiently honoured
the innocence -- insufficiently honoured the honour -- of 12-year-old
So Nabokov 'insufficiently honoured the honour' of the girls over whose
images he slobbered. And that is all that Amis -- and Amis at his
'sternest', please note -- will say.
Amis and his hero did not have it all their own way. On 21 November, a
letter from Elizabeth Trott hit out at Nabokov's 'determined, sustained and
luxurious' misogyny, and gave a sharp kick to Amis, that he 'loves his
master too much to call this what it is'.
MacCarthy skates on particularly thin ice when she averred that Gill's
behaviour could even be artistically valid, as 'perverse sex can produce
works of great beauty'. Now it is true that Richard Wagner's musical
imagination was fired to a considerable degree by his deep delving into
Germany's mythical past, and that this imagination, one which produced works
of great stature, was also steeped in anti-Semitism, the brutal consequences
of which subsequently became clear under the Third Reich. One cannot be
divorced from the other. But the coincidence of and at times interdependent
relationship between, on the one hand, artistic talent and, on the other,
personal prejudice and, with some, outright depravity should leave the
observer with a decidedly uncomfortable feeling.
One cannot detect that sense of discomfort in Amis' essay on Nabokov and
MacCarthy's on Gill, just mild qualms which the authors almost seem ashamed
to admit to having. Polanski's defence squad does not even feel slightly
abashed about what he did. We are not talking here about a consensual
relationship between an adult and someone slightly under the legal age of
consent. There is a world of difference between, to use a recent example,
the case of teacher Helen Goddard, who was scandalously prosecuted and
jailed for her affair with a 15-year-old pupil, and Polanski, who forced
himself upon a 13-year-old girl; Gill, who systematically sexually abused
his family; and Nabokov, who even if he did not put theory into practice was
not the sort of man whom anyone would wish to leave a young daughter with.
One can only conclude that an alarming number of intellectuals are happy at
best to minimise or downplay and at worst to excuse the sexual behaviour of
certain men on account of their artistic achievements, making justifications
that would never be made if any of them was, say, an office or factory
worker, or especially an ill-mannered yob from a sink housing estate.
Gary Glitter had no chance of his predatory behaviour being excused or
minimised by intellectuals. A singer of decidedly cheesy, low-brow popular
songs, rather than an acclaimed sculptor, film-maker or writer of
literature, he could never be in their gang.
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