The Uncanny John Mearsheimer

by A. Jay Adler on September 28, 2011
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Popularly understood as something eerie, strange, and supernatural, the uncanny in Freud retains that sense of the strange, yet adds to it the contrary feeling of the familiar. This clash of contrarieties is profoundly unsettling.

[T]his uncanny element is actually nothing new or strange, but something that was long familiar to the psyche and was estranged from it only through being repressed.  The link with repression now illuminates Shelling’s definition of the uncanny as ‘something that should have remained hidden that has come into the open’.

In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, we should recall of the novel, in contrast to the movies, Frankenstein is Dr. Frankenstein, the creator of the monster, and not the monster himself, who is a nameless dread, like a repressed element seeking to break through to the surface. In the novel, the monster and his creator are alternately in pursuit of, and flight from, each other, seeking in that exchange of positions both to know and to deny, to destroy, themselves.

I am not performing a psycho-blog-analysis of John Mearsheimer, anymore than Shelley analyzed the doctor. I merely note Mearsheimer’s creation, with Stephen Walt, of the past few years, and the emergence of the “something that should have remained hidden that has come into the open.”

Adam Holland brought to our attention Mearsheimer’s back-cover blurb-endorsement of the latest book by the notorious Jewish anti-Semite Gilad Atzmon. (We might think Jewish anti-Semitism, like the light-skinned “black” passing for “white,” a kind of ur-form of the uncanny – “something that was long familiar to the psyche and was estranged from it only through being repressed.”) Jeffrey Goldberg drew further attention over several posts to this latest development from the co-author of The Israel Lobby, and so did, Walter Russell Mead, Harry’s Place over several posts, and others. Mearsheimer offered an unyielding defense of himself at Walt’s blog at Foreign Affairs. The defense, like the blurb, is a curious creature, an Alien bursting from the chest of John Hurt, strange and horribly disturbing, yet looking like very much like our own intestines, now headed, and headed somewhere, ultimately for us.

Mearsheimer’s first Maginot line of defense is that his blurb was for the one book only and not an endorsement of Atzmon’s anti-Semitic ideas in general. This is the argument of a country ready for conquest.

I am only endorsing this one work by (Vlad the Impaler, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Robert Mugabe, David Duke, Ratko Mladić), not what he stands for in life altogether, and the fact that I feel no discomfort associating myself with him, linking our names together in the indelible record of history, has no import to any understanding of who I am as person, and nothing should or can be made of it.

This is a most flimsy argument to make. Perhaps recognizing, while not acknowledging, this position’s bursting seams – perhaps feeling, even as he writes, his own entrails busting like an inner demon through the shell of his skin – Mearsheimer proceeds to do a most curious thing. Despite claiming that his blurbed endorsement was limited only to the current book, he proceeds to defend Atzmon against the most devastating charges against him, and of which there is abundant and damning evidence – that Atzmon is a Holocaust denier and a trafficker in the vilest anti-Semitic tropes and traditions. It is like watching a Jekyll become Hyde before one’s eyes.

Let me now turn to the specific claim that Atzmon is an “apologist for Hitler.” Again, I am somewhat reluctant to do this, because this charge forces me to defend what Atzmon said in one of his blog posts.

Are there no mirrors in Mearsheimer’s home? It wasn’t Goldberg’s charge that forced him to defend anything. It was his own careless disregard for the entailments of that for which he has come to stand, and extend through Atzmon, that apparently compelled him to further bring into the open what should have remained hidden.

One of the characteristics we see in a certain kind of modern critic of Israel – the kind who is not merely critical of settlement policy, let us say, but who is clearly unsympathetic to the state itself, and to the historical record and truth of its travails – is a defensive belligerence against the counter charges to the critic’s claims. The critique of these individuals seems inevitably to extend beyond Israel to a whole nexus of Jewish power and influence that is said to sustain Israel against what should be, these critics argue, the more natural opposition to what Israel really is, and how it has come to be harmful, along with its network of Jewish support, to host nations of that dangerous element with separate loyalties.

No entry into contemporary intellectual life more characteristically has represented this kind of criticism than Mearsheimer’s and Walt’s The Israel Lobby. The two have since demonstrated all of that characteristic defensive belligerence to their own critics. This is not an unusual response to criticism, one might say. Nothing necessarily telling in that. Except…except…some of these critics are drawn by the fury of the debate – to employ a term of current domestic politics – to double down on their position. They become – compelled, it does seem – to poke the beast of anti-Semitism, to see how far they can disturb the animal while still claiming they were just out for a walk in the woods meaning no harm to any Jew.

It is almost too perfect that an author of The Israel Lobby has associated himself with Gilad Atzmon, and now even defended him. It confirms all his critics have claimed, while he has locked himself in the laboratory determined to create bastard life from spare parts and electricity. What remains to be seen is whether he will pursue, in belated recognition, the monster all the way to the Arctic reaches, and if he too will die on the ship, the monster come for him.

AJA

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