Iranian fantasies, bad translations, and electric cats


Leon Wieseltier

In WaPo, the New Republics controversial literary editor Leon Wieseltier responds to the “false and heartless” June 21 op-ed by Fareed Zakaria, in which  the Newsweek editor worries that too much concern for Iranian democracy will lead to war.  Wieseltier is usually unbuttoned — but this article rather takes the biscuit.  He concludes:

“The Khameini-Ahmedinejad ‘oligarchy’ represses and imprisons and rapes and tortures and murders its own citizens. It also promotes theocracy and terrorism in its region and beyond. All this is pretty plain. Why is Zakaria so fearful that American foreign policy will respond to such a government with stringency and loathing? Perhaps he believes that President Obama’s policy of respect and accommodation will solve the nuclear problem and bring a measure of decency to the rulers of Iran, but there is no empirical basis for such a belief. It is a much greater fantasy than the ‘fantasy’ that Zakaria deplores, which is no fantasy at all. Real realism consists of the recognition that nuclear peace and social peace in Iran will be reliably achieved only with the advent of democracy, and that since June 12, 2009, the advent of Iranian democracy is not an idle wish.

Milani (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

Morally and strategically — this is one of those perplexities in which they go serendipitously together — President Obama’s refusal to strongly support the Iranian resistance against the Iranian tyranny is not prudent, it is perverse. But when democracy comes to Iran, Fareed Zakaria will plummily assure us that this was his dream all along.”


However, in its central contentions that democracy will resolve the nuke impasse, he sounds a bit like Abbas Milani — without Milani’s tempered patience.  No surprise: Milani contributes to the New Republic and is a friend.  But glad that the taste for democracy as a resolution for the Iranian imbroglio is contagious.  I’ve written about Milani’s views on the subject here, and also on the Book Haven here and (along with writer Shahryar Mandanipour) here.


We’ve written about the new translation of Simone de Beauvoir’s Second Sex, and Marilyn Yalom’s defense of the controversial new translation.  Simone de Beauvoir herself was unhappy with the earlier translation by Smith College zoologist H.M. Parshley, who had never translated a book from the French and knew little about philosophy:  “I was dismayed to learn the extent to which Mr. Parshley misrepresented me. I wish with all my heart that you will be able to publish a new translation of it.”

In a Chronicle of Higher Education review of the new translation by Carlin Romero here, he concludes:

… it’s a shame that the Second Sex Translation Follies are turning into a well-made play in which everyone acts the role assigned by theatrical cliché. Maybe a wiser way to look at things is that it’s precisely because all have done so that we find ourselves in such a happy place. … The unabridged material before us … demands extraordinary respect for a writer and thinker who, earlier false images to the contrary, didn’t kneel to Sartre or write off the top of her head, but argued effectively and with rich evidence for a vision of women that now dominates the well-educated West.


Kit Smart

And finally, for fun, a friend alerted me nearly a year late about poet Robert Pinsky’s quick write-up of Christopher Smart’s “Jubilate Agno” — a poem beloved to  all cat-lovers.  Last year’s Salon article (It includes a 6-minute reading of the poem by Pinsky — definitely worth a click — here)

A sampling for those unfamiliar with the poem — in which Kit Smart considers his cat Jeoffrey:

For by stroking of him I have found out electricity.
For I perceived God’s light about him both wax and fire.
For the electrical fire is the spiritual substance which God sends from heaven
to sustain the bodies both of man and beast.
For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements. …

Robert Pinsky (Photo: Steve Castillo)

Ed Hirsch, too, referenced Kit Smart during his recent visit — perhaps Kit appeals to a modern sort of pantheism.

Smart was eventually consigned to a madhouse. According to Samuel Johnson, in Boswell’s work: “My poor friend Smart shewed the disturbance of his mind, by falling upon his knees, and saying his prayers in the street, or in any other unusual place…I did not think he ought to be shut up. His infirmities were not noxious to society. He insisted on people praying with him; and I’d as lief pray with Kit Smart as any one else.”

By the by, you might enjoy Pinsky’s pre-millenial commencement address at Stanford, which is here (with video link).

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