The “dull and throbbing” anti-Americanism of Jonathan Franzen (The Guardian interview)

Jonathan Franzen is an American novelist and essayist. His third novel, The Corrections (2001), drew widespread critical acclaim, and earned Franzen a National Book Award

Adam Kirsch, writing a review of Franzen’s new book, Freedom, for The New Republic, noted several disturbing themes.  Kirsch’s literary criticism includes demonstrating that the book:

“fictionalizes this left-wing conventional wisdom about [Jewish philosopher] Strauss, the Jews, and the Iraq war…Franzen is spreading it to a much wider audience—complete with images of a wizened, cranially distorted Jewish puppet master, who cynically chuckles about how “we” control the U.S. government from behind the scenes. That Franzen could uncritically reproduce this kind of imagery is a reminder of how ugly and obsessive the antiwar discourse sometimes became.”

Recently, Guardian correspondent Sarfraz Manzoor interviewed Franzen about his new novel, friendship, and American politics. While you should see the full interview for yourself, some of what Franzen says about America says as much about the Guardian as it does about Franzen.

Here are some highlights from the interview:

Manzoor: Some of the characters in Freedom speak quite positively about the European approach towards freedom and community and the ideas is (from your book) that people came to America for money and for freedom, and it almost seems that what you’re suggesting is that the U.S. fetishizes freedom and forgets that there are greater freedoms to be had by having [human] bonds.

Franzen:  I’m at pains not to endorse any interpretation of my book but, believe me, this isn’t grating on my ears what you’re saying.  In the last decade America has emerged even in its own estimation as a problem state.  There are many criticisms one could make…like the treatment of the Indians…it goes way back…and our long relationship with slavery…and then the Cold War where we were certainly culpable, but the degree to which we are almost a rogue state and causing incredible trouble around the world in our attempts to preserve our freedoms to preserve our SUV’s….

His characterization of the U.S. as a rogue state is simply a perfect display of how the far-left goes beyond mere critiques of U.S. policy, descending  into the naked anti-Americanism which has so much currency in the totalitarian world.  With all his sophistication and erudition, he parrots the most facile , not to mention hateful, narratives of his own country typically advanced by those in the world least dedicated to the progressive politics he presumably supports.

Manzoor: Like Operation Enduring Freedom?

Franzen (laughs): Yeah, Operation Enduring Freedom.  It does make me wonder what it is in the national character that’s making us a problem state. And, I think this mixed-up, childish notion of freedom.  And, perhaps, truly, who left Europe to go over there (to come to the U.S.)?  It was all the malcontents. It was all the people who were not getting along with others.

This is truly a remarkable statement.  Franzen characterizes the millions of Europeans (and citizens from other continents) – who escaped the poverty, and political and religious oppression, which characterized life for such people in their native countries (especially during the major waves of U.S. immigration in the late 19th and early 20th century) to start their lives anew in a land which clearly represented for them “a land of opportunity” – as “malcontents…who were not getting along with others.”

Manzoor: Are you more comfortable in America now then when you started writing the book?

Franzen: No.  The liberal left has power but the system itself is so screwed up..and we (The Democrats) are relatively the adult party…so we’re responsible for making an unworkable system work.  It’s this kind of discouragement and dull, throbbing anxiety.”

Yes…much like the dull, throbbing anxiety I feel when I contemplate how many Guardian fellow travelers – not to mention Franzen’s fellow Americans – may subscribe to his views.  I continue to wonder how certain Americans (and her allies abroad), who simply can not deny that the U.S. is blessed with simply unparalleled political freedom and economic affluence  – which would have been simply been unimaginable throughout most of human history – have developed such a seemingly immutable masochism and self-loathing.  The moral inversion on display in Franzen’s interview with the Guardian represents something close to the ground zero of such a dynamic.


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