Masturbation and midnight oil

In a comment on the “Egg On Deniers’ Faces” thread below, regular Harry’s Place reader and self-confessed “Devoted Wardytron Fan” WJ Phillips is cruelly accused of “post(ing) through numerous email addresses and nicknames in a vacant bid to try and persuade us that we’re dealing with a multitude who hold your views”. You’re probably already composing eloquent protests in his defence, and quite right too. Please, however, don’t devote all of your sympathy to Mr Phillips. Save some for writer, cultural critic and former New Republic senior editor Lee Siegel. Earlier this month, as the New York Observer reports, Mr Siegel was suspended after being caught commenting on his New Republic blog and leaving pseudonymous praise for himself under the name “sprezzatura”. Sprezzatura had told another commenter on the blog “You’re a fraud, and a liar. And a wincingly pretentious writer. You couldn’t tie Siegel’s shoelaces.” Elsewhere, in a swipe at Daily Show host Jon Stewart, sprezzatura had written “Siegel is brave, brilliant, and wittier than Stewart will ever be”, under a comment headed “Siegel is my hero”. The 48 year old self-described intellectual later added “Groupthink from a mob of bullies cowering behind their user-name aliases. Groupthink! Groupthink! Naaa naaa naaa-naaa naaa!”.

In a further defence of himself, sprezzatura wrote that “Every young writer in NYC has it in for poor Siegel it seems. They all write like middle-aged hacks. He has the fire and guts of a young man”. One middle-aged hack it’s fairly safe to say has it in for poor Siegel is Christopher Hitchens, who’d been criticised by him for condemning Mel Gibson’s recent anti-semitic outburst having previously written in defence of David Irving’s right to publish books and articles denying the Holocaust. After Hitchens had written that, while he condemned Mel Gibson, he wouldn’t call for him to be jailed or for this films to be banned, Siegel responded:

Hitchens insists that he wasn’t speaking out for Irving’s views, only for his First Amendment right to publish, etc. But…why waste so many years of your life defending a man’s right to express hateful, false ideas, which you then spend more years of your life condemning when they come out of the mouths of other people? (Maybe somebody needs a hobby?)

I’m guessing the reason is something to do with liberty, if it means anything, being the right to tell people what they don’t want to hear, something like that. Talking about Hitchens’s relationship to Jews, Siegel described this as “weird, tortured and obsessive”, criticising his “decades-long ranting against Israel”, his “hand-me-down obsession with Saul Bellow’s Jews, his “Herculean efforts on behalf of an unremitting Jew-hater”, and his own Jewish blood, which Hitchens, supposedly, flaunts in self-defence whenever he wants to “take the rod to Jewish protesters against Irving, or to Zionists, or to any undesirable Jewish trait he thinks needs exposing”.

In his response to what Siegel called his “dumb mistake”, and which he described, with customary magnanimity, as “stooping to the level of these people who were commenting on my pieces” – Hitchens invites readers to:

Picture Siegel if you will, scurrying to his blog every day to see if anyone has noticed his scrawlings, gibbering with rage when criticized by a real person (like me, say) but then howling with glee as he writes impassioned impostures in his own behalf, and giggling when he checks to see they have been printed. This is writing of the Bates Motel school…It reeks, rather, of frantic calculation, masturbation and midnight oil. It’s the wanking hangup caller, and the picknose kid who rings the old lady’s doorbell and runs away.

It goes without saying, of course, that Harry’s Place would never, and could never, describe any of our own beloved commenters in such terms.