We also have men who seem thoughtful and interesting, some of them rooted in old moral and religious traditions, posing as prophets while they reach under their guests' skirts or slip rohypnol into their drinks. Men who have expressed much that is best in humanity in philosophy, politics and art – Picasso, Arthur Koestler, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby – turn out to be monsters when it comes to sex and women.
Which brings me to Leon Wieseltier, who just lost his chance to launch a new magazine called Idea after former employees launched a small movement to expose him:
Several women on the email chain said they were humiliated when Mr. Wieseltier sloppily kissed them on the mouth, sometimes in front of other staff members. Others said he discussed his sex life, once describing the breasts of a former girlfriend in detail. Mr. Wieseltier made passes at female staffers, they said, and pressed them for details about their own sexual encounters.As to scale, so far this looks more like Roger Ailes than Bill Cosby, pathetic fumbling that frightened women mainly because of Wieseltheir's power as their boss and a cultural icon. But, oh, Leon. Why you? You sometimes seemed so wise, as able as anyone in our fallen time to articulate why some people still value religious tradition. Here is just one example of the way Wieselthier brought old Jewish wisdom up to date, from his essay remembering his friend Leonard Cohen:
One woman recounted that while she was attempting to fact-check a column Mr. Wieseltier wrote, he forced her to look at a photograph of a nude sculpture in an art book, asking her if she had ever seen a more erotic picture. She wrote that she was shaken and afraid during the incident.
Mr. Wieseltier often commented on what women wore to the office, the former staff members said, telling them that their dresses were not tight enough. One woman said he left a note on her desk thanking her for the miniskirt she wore to the office that day. She said she never wore a skirt to the office again.
We sometimes read and studied together, Lorca and midrash and Eluard and Buddhist scriptures and Cavafy. We could get quite Talmudic, especially with wine. In Judaism there is a custom to honor the dead by pondering a text in their memory. Here, in memory of Eliezer ben Nisan ha’Cohen, is a passage on frivolity by a great rabbi in Prague at the end of the 16th century. “Man was born for toil, since his perfection is always being actualized but is never actual,” he observed in an essay on frivolity. “And insofar as he attains perfection, something is missing in him. In such a being, perfection is a shortcoming and a lack.” Leonard Cohen was the poet laureate of the lack, the psalmist of the privation, who made imperfection gorgeous.Wieseltier has appeared several times on this blog, sometimes because I agreed with him and sometimes because I didn't. He had much to say. When I agreed with him I found his words moving and profound, and when I disagreed I found him interesting to argue with.
Sex often functions as the wild card in human nature and human societies. It leads to the crossing of lines and the breaking of rules, to the mixing of ethnic groups and the violation of class boundaries, because it makes people crazy. Mingled with power, it turns even wise men into thugs.
The good news is that the ancient conspiracy to sweep all these crimes under the rug seems to be breaking up. How much that will protect new generations of women from male predators remains to be seen.