The Day After: November 9, 2016

After waiting for Hillary’s speech all morning, I finally gave up around 11 a.m. and came upstairs to work–it seemed like the only way to calm the sick-in-the stomach feeling.  I found e-mails from friends in France and England, sending their condolences.  No one has died, but it feels like a day of mourning.

So what went wrong, and why were all the polls inaccurate?  I’ll let the pundits weigh in on that.  What I need to express is my fear and rage:  the United States has elected as its 45th President an unprincipled, ignorant scoundrel who has surrounded himself with the worst.  In his prophetic poem, “The Second Coming” (written in 1919), the great W.B. Yeats wrote:  “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.”  I don’t think the first half  of that sentence applies in this case–we have had plenty of excellent convictions expressed by sane people over the past few months–but the second half certainly does.  The “passionate intensity” of Trump’s worst followers is beyond doubt:  they want immigrants out, Jews (aka “global power elite”) reined in, Blacks and gays sent back to their place.  I think it was Nicolas Kristof who wrote, quite early in the campaign, that “Make America Great Again” really meant “Make America White Again.” The embrace of Trump by the KKK and the alt-right corroborates that claim.

I am ashamed of Jews who voted for this man.  And I am in a cold rage against the Republican establishment that allowed him to prosper.  There was a time, not long ago, when bigoted speech–not to mention outrageous speech and behavior against women–would have discredited any politician, even among  Republicans.  No longer.  Trump’s rants against “political correctness” were really rants against decency. The Republican establishment went along, and they will live to regret their cowardice and opportunism.  Was a Supreme Court nomination worth trampling on every value that Americans have been  justly proud of for more than two centuries?  Liberty, equality, into the mud! Hatred and ignorance, Hello!

Yeats ended his poem, written just a few years before the  “beerhall putsch” that first brought the name of Adolf Hitler into public view, with the following lines:  “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,/Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?”  Those of us who know the history of Europe in the 1920’s and 1930s have good reason to feel afraid.

But history need not repeat itself.  If we feel rage and fear, we should also feel a determination to do battle against the mob mentality that Donald Trump and his enablers (shame on you Giuliani, shame on you Christie, shame on you  Ryan, McConnell, McCain and all the others!) have unleashed on our country.



Burquini Blues

September 5, 2016

It’s Labor Day, and the wind is shaking the branches outside my window–Hurricane Hermine making her presence known.  At this end of summer,  my thoughts turn to the crazinesses of the past few weeks–among which the “burquini debate” in France surely takes first prize.  The Conseil d’Etat, France’s high court, recently declared it unconstitutional to forbid women from wearing burquinis on French beaches, after several municipalities in the South and in Normandy had passed laws to that effect.  But it’s a sad day when you need a high court to declare what any reasonable person knows: people should be allowed to sun themselves and swim in whatever attire they choose.  Women in France can go topless on any beach, while many others cover themselves in protective sun-proof clothing.  The attempt to single out Muslim women is a sign of France’s current hysteria about the potential “threat” posed by any and all of its Muslim citizens (who represent approximately 8% of France’s total population).  Terrorism is real, and it is a threat– but it does not lurk  under a burquini.  Hatred and fear of a whole population will never protect us from the terrorists, whether in France or elsewhere.  As we in the United States know, cynical  attempts by politicians to exploit and stoke such fears are not limited to France.  Reasonable people of the world, unite!

A Fond Goodbye to “Aggieland”

When I arrived in Texas for a full-semester of residence as a Faculty Fellow at TIAS, the Texas A&M Institute for Advanced Study three months ago, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Like many Northerners, I had certain stereotypes of Texas in my head:  men in  ten-gallon hats, possibly sporting pistols in their belts, heavy southern drawls, Cruz bumper stickers everywhere. The reality has turned out to be far more complex, and humanly interesting, than I could have imagined.  The huge, sprawling campus of A&M harbors many colors under its canopy, in every sense of the word, and I have made friendships I treasure. Differences persist, of course:  I’m still not used to being addressed as “Howdy,”or being called “Ma’am” by everyone from administrators to the  barristas at Starbucks!  But I have learned a great deal about Texan hospitality and diversity.  Thank you, Aggies!


Suleiman author photo; credit Allen ReinerSusan Rubin Suleiman is the C. Douglas Dillon Research Professor of the Civilization of France and Research Professor of Comparative Literature

She was born in Budapest and emigrated to the U.S. as a child with her parents. She obtained her B.A. from Barnard College and her Ph.D. from Harvard University, and has been on the Harvard faculty since 1981, where she is currently the C. Douglas Dillon Research Professor of the Civilization of France and Research Professor of Comparative Literature. She retired from full-time teaching in 2015.

Suleiman is the author or editor of numerous books and more than 100 articles on contemporary literature and culture, published in the U.S. and abroad. Her latest book, The Némirovsky Question, to be published by Yale University Press in fall 2016, is about the Russian-French novelist Irène Némirovsky and issues of “foreignness” in 20th-century France. Her other books include Crises of Memory and the Second World War; Authoritarian Fictions: The Ideological Novel as a Literary Genre; Subversive Intent: Gender, Politics, and the Avant-Garde, and Risking Who One Is: Encounters with Contemporary Art and Literature. She has edited and co-edited influential collective volumes, including French Global: A New Approach to Literary History and Exile and Creativity: Signposts, Travelers, Outsiders, Backward Glances.

In addition to her scholarly work, Suleiman is the author of Budapest Diary: In Search of the Motherbook, a memoir about Hungary. Her book reviews and articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The American Scholar, Moment Magazine and other newspapers and magazines.

Suleiman has won many honors, including a decoration by the French Government as Officer of the Order of Academic Palms (Palmes Académiques). She has held a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Rockefeller Humanities Fellowship, and several NEH Fellowships. She has been an invited Fellow at the Collegium Budapest Institute for Advanced Study in Budapest and at the Center for Advanced Study of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters in Oslo, as well as the Texas A&M Institute for Advanced Study. During the 2009-2010 academic year, she was the invited Shapiro Senior Scholar-in-Residence at the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.In 2015-16 she was a Faculty Fellow at the Texas A&M University Institute for Advanced Study in College Station, Texas. She lives in Belmont, Massachusetts.