Features November 2004
The lessons of “Lonelyhearts”
On the lessons of suffering we can learn from Nathanael West’s Miss Lonelyhearts.
The social significance of an idea is not necessarily proportional to its truth, its coherence, or even its comprehensibility. In his introduction to a new edition of Warrant for Genocide, which is the history of the concoction of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a clumsy forgery that even now has a certain political resonance for the susceptible and weak-minded in an important region of the globe, Norman Cohn writes:
It is a great mistake to suppose that the only writers who matter are those whom the educated in their saner moments can take seriously. There exists a subterranean world where pathological fantasies disguised as ideas are churned out by crooks and half-educated fanatics for the benefit of the ignorant and superstitious.
Nor, of course, is all writing concerned with communicating ideas, at least in any sense that an intellectual might recognize....
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