January 2, 2021
I am writing a book tentatively titled, Cancel Culture, Academic Freedom and Me. It’s mostly given over to parsing the rubbish of Cancel Culture gurus, and it’s definitely not a labor of love. The big question is whether I’ll finish off Cancel Culture before G-d cancels me. At the moment I’m wading through Ibram X. Kendi. Let’s just say for now that an upper-case X in your name + shoulder-length dreads can get you quite far among white liberals. Obama wouldn’t have gotten anywhere in life had he not made the strategic decision early on to change his Christian name from Barry to Barack.
After this dreaded and dreadful labor, I returned before sleep to Du Bois’s autobiography. This passage stopped me cold:
I felt a certain gladness to see her at peace at last, for she had worried all her life. Of my own loss, I had then little realization. That came only in after years. Now it was the choking gladness and solemn feel of wings! At last, I was going beyond the hills and into the world that beckoned steadily. There followed the half-guilty feeling that now I could begin life without forsaking my mother. I had realized all long that even college would not have induced me to leave my mother in want. I somehow argued that the family would support mother in my absence, yet I must have known this was impossible; that what she should always need was for me to be near. Now I was free and unencumbered and at the same time more alone than I had ever dreamed of being. This very grief was a challenge. Now especially I must succeed as my mother so desperately wanted me to.
My Mother was, well, a Jewish mother. (Except Du Bois’s mother wasn’t Jewish. Hmm.) When I read D. H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers, I passed it on to my Mother to read, saying it was the story of my life. It told of a suffocating mother and her two children. (She wasn’t Jewish either. Hmmm.) When the mother is on her deathbed, the children laugh nervously downstairs. My mother’s comment upon returning the book to me: “Such a wonderful mother, such ungrateful children.” It seems she missed the point.
When my Mother died, I first informed my two siblings, and then rang up Noam and Carol Chomsky. I told Carol, who then turned to tell Noam. Carol was a very warm person but not sentimental. Her mind was of a scientific bent, she was practical, no-nonsense. I never forgot her words, “Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but now you’re free.” It was a scandalous remark, but it was also true. It filled me with guilt. But now I saw it in Du Bois: “Now I was free.