Guardian

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.


16 replies »

  1. Kirsch’s literary criticism includes demonstrating that the book: “fictionalizes this left-wing conventional wisdom” …

    The review in question would surely merely “claim” that. But “demonstrates”?
    Your own bias is immediately apparent there, Adam.

    Anyway: I was recently recommended Franzen by a couple of colleagues and will be making my own mind up after reading him.

  2. 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.

    that was the favourite argument of German guest worker haters way back quite some time. I haven’t heard it in a long long time.

    Franzen lives in Berlin and seems to know German, which makes me guess that there the argument maybe still alive.

    From what I’ve read and heard of the guy he doesn’t strike me as an original thinker so maybe he is just copying the still heavily influenced by Nazi-thought post war memes.

  3. “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.”

    Actually, it was many of those with the initiative to get up and go somewhere they could make a better life for themselves, leaving the dispirited and inept behind.

  4. How original.

    America the rogue state.

    The claim that immigrants were malcontents is one he must then also make of immigrants flooding into America today.
    However he seems not to do that. I wonder why.

    It also seems that he researched well what many Euros who hate America think when their pre-programmed jealousy comes to work in their heads make these ignorant statements.

    “Human bonds”

    WTF does that mean?

    This mystification of far away places by self loathing Americans is another unoriginal trope.

    Americans donate to charity more than any other people in the world. In sum and in proportion. It may not be the case for Manahattanites but it does hold for those “primitive suburbanites” in middle America. The ones who are so stupid and ignorant that they only see the bible and the owners manuals to their guns as reference to wisdom.
    This contempt for Americans is what drives the Left in America these days and it seems they are more than willing to peddle this horseshit abroad to get those friendly nods from the “sophisticates” sitting in their cafes talking Sartre when the unemployment rate is 12% .

    This open contempt and ignorance disguised as some snobbish disdain defines European anti Americans. Self loathers cannot take it as it offends them and their inflated egos so they jump on the bandwagon of America hate to feel accepted by the Euro chattering class.

    Reminds me of Gwenneth Paltrow who trashed America to curry favor with her Spanish hosts and other Hollywood airheads who come around to spout hate to shield themselves from the disdain they get in their new circles. Not realizing that behind their backs their new “friends” still talk of them as “damn yanks” or brutish capitalists.

    This yearning for acceptance by egotistic lefties makes them into the morons like Franzen. Little he knows that when he is not around his new friends they still refer to him as “a decent chap…considering that he is yank” or “as good as it gets from these brutes”.

    Reminds me of the way some talk about individual Jews trying to reconcile their antisemitism.

    “He is a Jew but for a Jew he seems honest and nice”….

    Wow what an endorsement.

    If this is what the Fretzens of the world are after, then let them have it.
    Looks like they re willing to settle with a lot less than these “malcontent selfish greedy characters” who left the paradise of Europe for the brutish greedy selfish America.

  5. armaros just made me think
    if Frantzen is now more or less living in Berlin, doesn’t he then qualify as one of those “not getting along with others malcontent” either?

    And what about all those now immortal US-authors who lived all or most of their lives abroad?

    Edith Wharton, Henry James, Ernest Hemingway, Gore Vidal and and and

    all of them people who couldn’t have made it at home????

  6. I think you are being ridiculously over literal in your interpretation of Franzen. He is making a joke. He loves America, as you would know had you read a fraction of his stuff.

    Franzen is in the same category as John Stewart and “Colbert”.

  7. zkharya
    if you are right, why then did I tune out of his Buchmesse interview after some minutes because he came across as the perfect pompous bore
    he is probably to be found somewhere in here

  8. Zkharya, Franzen described America as, and I quote, “almost a rogue state”. Such a charge is a sign of a deluded soul, and is the dictionary definition of anti-Americanism. I don’t need to read his book to be critical of his views of America.

  9. “Edith Wharton, Henry James, Ernest Hemingway, Gore Vidal and and and

    all of them people who couldn’t have made it at home????”

    What about TS Elliot and Ezra Pound, lovers of fascism.

    Gore Vidal is a crank and a conspiracy theorist.

    There is nothing wrong with living in France, the UK or whatever.
    That is not the point. The point is how you relate to those new places without throwing in with their stoning crowds.

    Richard Perle lives in Southern France and Hemingway lived in Cuba.

    My point is as Adams. Rogue state is off side. It is beyond Colbert or Stewart. They never said such things.

    Of course it is possible that the Guardian overplayed the anti Americanism of Franzen or blew it out of proportion. Still, the idea that only self hating Americans are acceptable in some circles like if they were Soviet dissidents living in the US during the cold war, is a twisted one and apropo for the Guardian and its anti zionist Jews and Islamist Brits.

  10. Gore Vidal is a crank and a conspiracy theorist.
    but his remark about Polanski in the Atlantic interview had the ring of truth to me:
    raped by this awful Jew, Polacko – that’s what people were calling him
    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2009/10/a-conversation-with-gore-vidal/7767/

    I object to the Franzen remark about immigrants because it goes after the little guy and when the little guy gets slandered it is always good to come up with a list of eminent people who did exactly the same. It makes the Franzens of this world look as ridiculous as they are. Again at the Buchmesse Franzen was so seriously unfunny that the stewart/Colbert-argument is beyond my imagination.

  11. Silke

    Franzen lives in Berlin and seems to know German, which makes me guess that there the argument maybe still alive.

    He apparently studied at the FU in Berlin – hence his knowledge of German.
    Can you explain that conclusion?

    maybe he is just copying the still heavily influenced by Nazi-thought post war memes.

    Eh? What on earth are you talking about?

    Adam Levick

    Franzen described America as, and I quote, “almost a rogue state”. Such a charge is a sign of a deluded soul, and is the dictionary definition of anti-Americanism.

    Why such a black and white analysis. There are IMO valid arguments for Franzen’s comment, even if I don’t necessarily agree with him.

    Dictionary definition? No way.