4 Putdowns by Tony Judt

Tony Judt (1948 – 2010) was a British historian who died of motor neurone disease 6 years ago.  His books on French history as well as his tome Postwar are some of the great contributions to their field and it this intellectual platform that allowed him, in his essays, to write some of the most appositely humorous intellectual demolitions in literature.

On David Cesarani’s biography of Arthur Koestler entitled Arthur Koestler: The Homeless Mind :

if André Gide was recording opinions about Koestler in his diary “in the 1960s,” then Cesarani has had access to some very privileged information: Gide died in 1951.

On Louis Althusser’s Memoirs:

Indeed, the book’s main theme is his own psychological and social inadequacy, a defect for which he naturally holds his parents responsible, in equal parts. His mother’s insistence on naming him for a dead uncle is blamed for his lifelong sense of “not existing”: Louis being homonymie with the word “lui,” meaning “him,” the young Althusser’s name rendered him impersonal and anonymous. (He seems not to have given much thought to the millions of happy Louis among his fellow countrymen.)

Again on Althusser’s Memoirs:

But then, on November 16, 1980, he murdered his wife Hélène in their apartment at the École Normale. Or, as the jacket copy of The New Press’s translation of his memoir coyly puts it, “while massaging his wife’s neck [he] discovered he had strangled her.” (To be fair, this is how Althusser himself explained the event; but it is curious to find the claim reproduced unattributed on the book.)

On Tony Blair:

In the spring of 2001, during a BBC radio discussion of the forthcoming British general election, a young journalist voiced her frustration. “Don’t you agree,” she asked her fellow panelists, “that there’s no real choice? Tony Blair believes in privatization, just like Mrs. Thatcher.” “Not quite,” replied Charles Moore, editor of the (Conservative) Daily Telegraph. “Margaret Thatcher believed in privatization. Tony Blair just likes rich people.” That is indeed so, and although Moore’s witticism doesn’t really address the question, it points, perhaps inadvertently, to something seriously amiss in England today.

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