Mark Helprin Is Right Wing—And Maybe a Twerp


Check out a great interview with reclusive rock-star novelist, journalist, and onetime Dole speechwriter Mark Helprin, in which he calls Ayn Rand "the world's biggest midget," declares "I am right wing, and maybe I'm a twerp–I don't know," and talks about rappelling down the side of the New Yorker office building. It's a long sitdown with Doublethink's fiction editor Kelly Torrance.

A summing up of Helprin's charmingly retrograde attitudes, in his own words, for those who haven't had the pleasure of his novels Winter's Tale, Memoir from Antproof Case, or Freddy and Fredericka or read his articles in the Wall Street Journal:

I don't think of women as a political tribe. I am unconcerned with sexual dysfunction, because up until now, thank God, I haven't had any. I am religious by nature, I'm not a nihilist. I don't follow, I don't even know what the tenets of things like deconstructionism are, and all those schools that come up and their way of looking at things that people strive to incorporate into what they write. I don't even know what they are. Because I sense from a distance that I don't want to know. And therefore even if I had no politics, actual politics, my cultural point of view is hopelessly out of date with the modern literary sensibility. Which is nihilistic, and ironic, detached, cool, and cowardly.

Also, this:

Doublethink: Are there any contemporary writers whom you read, that you admire?
Mark Helprin: No.

What's not to love? Read the whole thing.

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  1. MH is my favorite author. You neglected to mention his best work, “A Soldier of the Great War.” Also, he writes excellent short stories.

    Money quote, among many:
    “When people write violent absurdities on the walls of a city, the city itself becomes violent and absurd.”

    But yes, he is a bit of a blowhard, and certainly a wank.

  2. My favorite writer of all. My favoritest book in the whole wide world is Winter’s Tale. And Refiner’s Fire is a gem as well.

    And I can only quote one line from memory, from Winter’s Tale: “The mayor looks like an egg. Period.”

    While I don’t think Winter’s Tale is a To Kill a Mockingbird, obviously, I do think that it’s one of those books – like Mockingbird – that if the author never published another line for the rest of his life, that one book was enough.

  3. What a goddamn jerk. But I have no willpower when I hear he has a book out I’ve never read… thanks for the links.

  4. “Read the whole thing”

    You kidding?

    It’s ust another contemporary writer

  5. Heh. He professes not to know what the tenets of modern literary sensibility are and then immediately says that his cultural point of view is hopelessly out of date with the cowardly, cowardly modern literary sensibility.

  6. He’s wrong on deconstruction.

    You do have to distinguish it from the academic vision of it.

    Read Derrida, slowly enough so you don’t skip (I copied him out into a notebook just as a speed control) and you will be surprised.

    And here’s Derrida, demolishing every misgiving from the left on the war on terror :

    “What appears to me unaceptable in the “strategy”
    (in terms of weapons, practices, ideology, rhetoric, discourse, and so
    on) of the “bin Laden effect” is not only the cruelty, the disregard for
    human life, the disrespect for the law, for women, the use of what is worst
    in technocapitalist modernity for the purposes of religious fanaticism.
    No, it is, above all, the fact that such actions and such discourse _open
    onto no future and, in my view, have no future_. If we are to put any faith
    in the perfectibility of public space and of the world juridico-political
    scene, of the “world” itself, then there is, it seems to me, _nothing good_
    to be hoped for from that quarter. What is being proposed, at least implicitly,
    is that all captialist and modern technoscientific forces be put
    in the service of an interpretation, itself dogmatic, of the Islamic
    revelation of the One. Nothing of what has been so laboriously secularized
    in even the nontheological form of sovereignty (…), none of this seems
    to have any place whatsoever in the discourse “bin Laden.” That is why,
    in this unleashing of violence without name, if I had to take one of
    the two sides and choose in a binary situation, well I would. Despite
    my very strong reservations about the American, indeed European, political
    posture, about the “international terrorist” coalition, despite
    all the de facto betrayals, all the failures to live up to democracy,
    international law, and the very international institutions that the states of
    this “coalition” themselves founded and supported up to a certain point,
    I would take the side of the camp that, in principle, by right of law,
    leaves a perspective open to perfectibility in the name of the “political,”
    democracy, international law, international institutions, and so forth.
    Even if this “in the name of” is still merely an assertion and a purely
    verbal committment. Even in its most cynical mode, such an assertion
    still lets resonate within it an invincible promise. I don’t hear any
    such promise coming from “bin Laden,” at least not one in this world.”

    “Autoimmunity: Real and Symbolic Suicides” _Philosophy in a Time of Terror_ p.113

  7. Helprin and Tom Robbins… sour and sweet; sweet and sour?
    Both make words 2×4’s, but, a reader must first be a reader, then be a bit masochistic to be snapped out of ones shit.

  8. Since deconstruction is a “concept” with absolutely no fu*king meaning, I don’t see how one could be wrong about it, Hardin.

  9. Ayn Randian,

    I’d say it does have meaning. What Derrida said though is that the term can’t be defined. I’d say though that it can be adequately defined as a method by which one takes a text and deconstructs the underlying intellectual, etc. scaffolding of the text.

    Ron Hardin,

    Yeah, Of Grammatology is a great book.

  10. Anyway, I liked Memoir from Antproof Case (as much as say Riding the Iron Rooster or One Hundred Years of Solitude but not as much as the Master and Margarita or The Soldiers of Salamis).

  11. Ayn Randian,

    My thoughts on Deconstructionism follow PhilLips. I’ve tended to think of it as the artistic equvilant to the (in)famous Rand rant to ‘check your premises’. IMHO, in the best Deconstructionism works we can see, in Phils’ words, the ‘intellectual scaffolding’ of ideas as well as text.

    But I am a simple networking geek and no ones art critic but my own.

  12. Of Grammatology was the first Derrida I read. It’s a fine book of essays, on various authors trying to explain how language came to be. They all run into a peculiar difficulty, which Derrida tries to bring out by following them closely.

    The drill is that they constantly start over at a certain point.

    There’s no reason to like the book unless you’re interested in what it’s looking at (the origin of …), but if, say, you’re puzzled why Artificial Intelligence, the field of computer science that has had the longest run of unfulfilled promise, isn’t working out, you might find the difficulties these authors encounter instructive.

    Or if you’re into pure classical philosophy, a smaller set of people, I imagine.

    But pick up a Derrida book on something you might already be interested in, like _Spurs_ (skip the introduction), about women. There’s always something you can take away and use in them.

  13. In terms of raw summary of deconstruction (hah!), check out the Villanova Round Table. It comes as close as is feasible to explaining a concept that rebels against explanation. And it refutes a ton of myths about the subject.

    MH is a crank, but a well-spoken crank.

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