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It’s rare that you find fully realized FICTIONAL characters in the world…

…. By which UD means that almost every actual, non-fictional human being presents with nuance, a sense of unreachable depth, ambiguity, contradiction. Norman Maclean gets at this when thinking about his tragic younger brother: “[I]t is those we live with and should know who elude us.”

Even those to whom we’re closest, that is, ultimately present as mysteries, exhibit the human traits of unreachable depth and contradiction. Everyone, really – or almost everyone – is recognizably human by virtue of their possession of a complex, enigmatic, and vulnerable private self.


And then there’s Alan Dershowitz. For as long as he’s been in the public eye, Harvard’s finest seems nothing — nothing — but a strutting monomaniac, a staggeringly unidimensional embodiment of the medieval humor “choleric.” Tip him forward in time and find him, post-medieval, on Moliere’s stage, firing up the floor boards with rage, hypocrisy, sense of entitlement, and faux moral indignation. A person who regards himself as a supremely righteous exemplar in a world of villains, his speech consists of rifle-blasts of accusations against his enemies: LIAR LIAR NAZI WHORE LIAR WHORE NAZI.

Moliere’s Dershowitz has gotten rich defending, in courts of law, female genital mutilators, murderers, and many other bad people, but this, he roars, proves his ethical superiority: GIVE ME YOUR TIRED YOUR POOR NO ONE ELSE WILL DEFEND THESE HUDDLED MASSES. And despite evidence of his using that wealth to lead a rather decadent personal life among rather decadent friends (sometimes they are the same people he is defending in courts of law, or in the newspapers, or, reportedly, to President Trump, in search of a pardon for them), he boasts that he belongs to not one, not two, not three, but FOUR synagogues. So there!

Like all flat characters, Dershowitz is as hilarious as he is heinous; it’s always funny in a startling way to find puppetry rather than profundity – Ubu rather than Macbeth – and as he gets close to death and we realize the long-expected moment of self-recognition or shame or at the very least reflection, the moment he becomes a recognizable human being instead of a machine, will never come, our laughter at him becomes more unsettling. It is guilty laughter, laughter at a person trapped in a failure to become a person.

His latest rifle-blast, in the pages of scummy Newsmax, begins with a boyish, wide-eyed, gentle, baffled photograph of his friend Prince Andrew. In this picture, Andrew asks Why is this happening to me? And in the fevered defense that follows, Dershowitz explains that it’s all because of greedy whore Virginia Giuffre, who also plucked Dershowitz himself out of thin air to sue for millions of dollars. It’s a travesty. A TRAVESTY.

Margaret Soltan, January 16, 2022 11:30AM
Posted in: forms of religious experience

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8 Responses to “It’s rare that you find fully realized FICTIONAL characters in the world…”

  1. Rita Says:

    Alan is a has-been; we want UD’s commentary on the prez of UMich and his STEAMING HOT XXX emails!

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Rita: LOL.

    I dunno. It’s a little bit funny, as they say, the psychology of UD‘s choices – why she chooses to say nothing, for instance, about the Ferris State professor who a few days ago viciously told his class via zoom that they’re nothing but disease vectors to him, they can go fuck themselves, etc.

    In that case and others like it, I think the principle I’ve tried to follow is that things in academia (and elsewhere) have to as it were mean something beyond themselves. When one random prof has a meltdown (in this case, probably after decades of barely withheld obscure personal bitterness), it’s shocking and pitiable, etc., but doesn’t communicate much about anything beyond the particular dude. I freely admit that if the meltdowner was a famous Ivy prof or whatever I’d maybe do a number on it… But again, maybe not.

    Now of course the U Mich prez is a big deal person; that’s a fine important school and it seems to have hired a jerk for its most important position (well, second most important: first is of course football coach), which is a newsworthy thing. UD‘s GWU isn’t as burnished a place, but I did cover the curious hiring of a prez who thought we the faculty would be salivating at the thought of competing among ourselves for a trip to Disneyland with the prez. I remember being too stunned to laugh when I got the excited presidential email announcing this.

    He was pushed out of that job real fast. Severe culture clash which maybe someone on some hiring committee might have anticipated.

    But as to very high-rankers who do very low stupid self-destructive things – when I think about this, I always get a very clear image of Francois Holland sneaking out of the Elysee at night on his little scooter to see his girlfriend. Many otherwise intelligent people in high positions are brought down by matters of the heart, or even just matters of the dick, and the U Mich guy is just the latest. Is he merely another example of a well-established, sorta pathetic, but not terribly significant, trend? Or is he worth looking at more closely?

    I guess I’d contrast this email scandal with a clearly much more important one: the Colin McGinn story at U Miami. This one did have implications beyond itself having to do with possible sexual harassment, free speech, the responsibility of universities to respond to student complaints, etc. Far as I can tell, the Michigan thing is much more Julie Gayet/Francois Holland than U Miami grad student/Colin McGinn (Gayet and Holland are still together after almost ten years!) – two consenting idiots, perhaps, but consenting. I haven’t read their emails, and maybe if I did Scathing Online Schoolmarm would have something to say…

  3. Rita Says:

    No, disease vector guy was good for a laugh but nothing significant, I agree. I think UMich president is more interesting bc, as you say, president of big important school but also bc the actual content of the emails for which he seems to have been fired (at least as the university has published them) is at the scandal-level of a fumbling middle school note passed in class – “I love to hear you say yes.” “Come and eat some knishes with me…” (Knishes!!!) One email is just excerpted as containing the word “sexier.” Sexier than what? A couch, maybe. The sexiest one suggested that he would come over to her place for a “private briefing.” That’s peak raunchiness for this guy, evidently.

    It’s like these two people are Nietzsche’s last men, carrying on the world’s most boring affair, one that no one with a pulse could even bring himself to notice, but because it violates the company rules on email usage and “relationships with subordinates” (incidentally, isn’t everyone at a university subordinate to the president?), he must be destroyed by his fellow last men, who can’t allow even this little amount of life to take place in their bureaucracy. (The article I read suggested that prior conflicts b/w this guy and the university board were probably the more likely cause of his firing, and the emails a formal pretext. Could be, I don’t know. But the emails are the saddest example of “illicit romance” I’ve seen in a while.)

  4. TAFKAU Says:

    I read the emails, too, Rita, and I must disagree strongly with you. A couch–any couch, even the $200 Rent-a-Center sofa that you abandon next to the dumpster at Goodwill–is *far* sexier than anything contained therein. I assume that there must have been an actual flesh-and-blood affair taking place, simply because it’s impossible to believe that these sad, sub-Hallmark-Movie-level flirtations were enough to get anyone fired. Even the seeming smoking gun–he forwarded her an article titled “Sexual Fantasies of Everyday New Yorkers”!–turns out to be a dud (it’s a New Yorker humor piece; one fantasy: “I find a lunch in Midtown that costs less than ten dollars”).

    Rather than salivating over the TOYs (“thinking of you”) and MYs (“miss you”), the media really ought to be exploring the relationship between Schlissel and the Board of Trustees. How did that relationship become so toxic that the Board not only went fishing through his emails looking for a reason to fire him, but also decided to humiliate him publicly by releasing all 118 pages (I know they’d probably have been FOI’d anyway, but still…). I guess they got an anonymous complaint, but their response to Schlissel could just as easily have been, “For God sakes, man, get a gmail account and go read some Lord Byron.”

  5. Margaret Soltan Says:

    TAFKAU: Funny! I’m clearly missing something, not reading through all lascivious 118 pages… Yet I think my reluctance to do it goes to something both you and Rita note: There’s a weird privacy-violation overkill going on here, and it feels uncomfortable for me to play along. How badly does the guy need to be punished for being too dumb to open a personal gmail acct? Hasn’t the fact that the word “knish” will appear in the headline of his Daily News obit (MICH KNISH SQUISHED) made him suffer enough?

    And yes, the real story must involve the real reasons things, er, went down as they did. It’s like – when the murder victim is found with one clean fatal bullet, that’s cold execution; when the murderer has gone to the time and trouble of slashing him forty times, that’s hot rage. Three guilty emails would have been enough; why stab him over and over?

    One scenario – pure speculation – is that, as in the Colin McGinn case, the person who gave the school all the emails is indeed the knishee, who loved her some Schlissel until he told her his wife and four kids were more important and he wasn’t going to get a divorce. The Woman Scorned scenario has it that along with handing the trustees every word, she announced her intention to sue him and the school for whatever … harassment is most likely, with her claiming that her equally deep breathing was just her playing along for fear of anger/retaliation from the big cheese. The seeming overreaction of the school would then be serious ass-covering.

  6. Matt McKeon Says:

    Your lovely first two paragraphs(I feel like cut and pasting them onto, I don’t know, everything), were beautifully written. That they teed up a brutal, contempt fueled curb stomp was icing on the cake.

  7. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Thank you, Matt! On both counts – cake and icing.

  8. Anon Says:

    He should have been fired for stupidity. Using his UM email for his love notes. What a moron.

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