Thursday, July 19, 2012

Deep Thoughts By Tablet Mag

It takes a lot to unite John Podhoertz and MJ Rosenberg, Commentary and The Nation, all on one issue. But Anna Breslaw's sick attack on Holocaust survivors in Tablet Mag has managed to bring pretty much everyone together in entirely justified condemnation of both Breslaw for writing the piece, and Tablet for publishing it.

I don't really have anything to add to the piece itself, but I did want to remark a bit on Tablet's explanation for the article. They've published two so far -- neither by Breslaw, who is laying low -- and neither is what it should be: a sincere, unadulterated apology. Rather, they seem to be taking the tack of saying that while they don't agree with Breslaw, they view her article as "a means of honestly processing the complicated, damning, and even self-indicting impulses for Jews who are now generations removed from the Shoah." As Adam Chandler concluded:
I say this not to endorse what Ms. Breslaw has written, but to endorse these self-investigations, even if they turn up feelings — in us, in family, in the broader Jewish community — that at first (or may always) seem ugly or coarse. What’s underneath is the try, which for many is difficult enough.

The idea here seems to be that Breslaw isn't just some smarmy contrarian bomb-thrower. Rather, hers was an honest look at a tough issue, and even if it touched a few raw nerves (hell, even if her conclusions are undeniably offensive), shouldn't we encourage such difficult introspection?

Here's the thing, though. It is entirely possible for someone to have thought long, and hard, and deeply, about a difficult subject -- and still produce conclusions that are unworthy of publication. Conclusions that are foolish and ignorant and hurtful and demonstrate an impoverished moral compass. It's an editor's job to spot that -- an editor who is bedazzled because an author "thought really hard" about what she was saying is an editor who needs to find a new job.

Indeed, it's almost more indicting of Breslaw if it wasn't simply a misbegotten attempt at being provocative. At least then it might be nothing but a performance. But if we're to take her editors seriously -- that Breslaw was baring a window into the deepest recesses of her soul -- well, then we've revealed that her soul is blackened and diseased.

But the point is that Tablet seems fixated on the notion that any thought is worthy of publication so long as it's honestly attained. This is the hallmark of sloppy editing, and it manages to reflect even more poorly on the magazine and its direction than the original decision to publish Breslaw's article. Introspection is a valuable thing, and it should be encouraged. But it does not follow that all products of sincere introspection are valuable. Tablet needs to understand the difference if it's going to avoid mistakes like these in the future -- or indeed, recognize it made a mistake at all.

1 comment:

PG said...

I can't believe that someone who is baring her soul in good faith would attempt to do so in the course of what was supposed to be a TV review. "Breaking Bad" might the greatest show ever, and it still would not be an appropriate hook for discussing Holocaust survivors.