Janet Malcolm and Joshua Cohen

by Corey Robin on June 19, 2021

Janet Malcolm has died. I, along with three other writers, wrote something about her for The New Republic.

Like Orwell, who thought Homage to Catalonia would have been a good book had he not turned it into journalism, Malcolm described her writing as a failure of art. Only writers who invent, she said, can write autobiographies. Journalists like her could not. They lacked the ability to make themselves interesting. The light of their work was powered, almost entirely, by the self-invention of their subjects.

You can read the rest of it here.

On Tuesday, at 7:30 pm (EST), I’ll be interviewing Joshua Cohen about his amazing new novel, The Netanyahus. You can sign up for the online event here. I can’t say enough good things about the novel—it’s about Jews, Israel, the Diaspora, identity politics, campus politics, declining empires, tribalism, nose jobs, and more. And Cohen is just an extraordinarily fertile mind, a genuine novelist of ideas, who’s also very funny. Should be a fun event. I hope you’ll join us. Again, sign up here.

Brideshead re-revisited

by John Quiggin on June 19, 2021

While we are talking about tangentially religious topics, it might be fun to look at the question of Boris Johnson’s nuptials. It’s been stated in seemingly authoritative terms that it was OK for the twice-divorced Johnson to be married in a Catholic ceremony, because his previous marriages were outside the church.

My knowledge of this question comes from the TV version of Brideshead Revisited[1], where a minor character, engaged to a Catholic, jumps through all sorts of hoops to convert to Catholicism, then discovers that he is disqualified by a previous divorce, arising from a non-Catholic marriage.

Things have loosened up quite a bit since Evelyn Waugh was around, so I thought these rules might have changed. But it seems clear that this is not the case. The central point is that the Catholic Church accepts non-Catholics marriages as valid, in the absence of the conditions that would justify an annulment. Indeed, if it was the actual teaching of the Church that all married non-Catholics were living in sin, we would probably have heard about it before now.

Where does this leave Boris, and the Church? I Am Not A Canon Lawyer, but my guess is that, even if the marriage was contrary to church law, it would still be valid and binding. But it certainly seems that the great and powerful get special treatment from the Church, as they always have done.

Not always favorable treatment, however. It looks as if Joe Biden may be singled out from millions of other pro-choice Catholics for exclusion from Catholic communion. That would set an interesting precedent.

fn1. I read the book first, but I remember this episode from the TV series