Blogs > Cliopatria > The Constant and Irresistible Blogospheric Thrashing of the Piñata Formerly Known as Lee Siegel's Ego Must Stop, in the Name of All that is Decent and Holy. (Well, Okay, Just One More Whack.)

Sep 4, 2006 10:14 pm

The Constant and Irresistible Blogospheric Thrashing of the Piñata Formerly Known as Lee Siegel's Ego Must Stop, in the Name of All that is Decent and Holy. (Well, Okay, Just One More Whack.)

Some weeks ago, there was a clash between Lee Siegel and Christopher Hitchens. I cannot claim to have followed it at the time. The matter involved Mel Gibson, who does not command attention, at least in my book.

And now, as you may have heard or noticed, the "Lee Siegel on Culture" blog has disappeared down the memory hole at TNR Online, following the revelation that its eponymous pundit had an imaginary friend named"Sprezzatura" who showed up in the comments section to hail Siegel as"a powerful critic" who is brilliant, witty, and possessed of the virile prose style of a much younger man.

Siegel is in his forties (as am I). He probably knows the bit in Cyril Connolly's Enemies of Promise about that miserable period when you realize, not only that you aren't a bright young writer anymore, assuming that you ever were, but that the people who actually are bright young writers don't really pay any attention to you, let alone hold you in awe.

A lot depends on how much awe you were expecting, of course. Just how to handle this disillusioning episode of self-disenchantment is, in any case, one of the tests that life throws down. Guess what? Reading Cyril Connolly doesn't help all that much. (Trust me on this.)

Even after the digital erasure by TNR, Siegel's blog is still in cache at Google. So, for however long they will work, here's a link to part one and part two of the dispute with Hitchens.

Hitchens now has some final words on the matter of Siegelian sockpuppetry. At least I assume they are final. It's hard to imagine he'd need to twist the knife yet again. An extract:

Picture Siegel if you will, scurrying to his blog every day to see if anyone has noticed his scrawlings, gibbering with rage when criticized by a real person (like me, say) but then howling with glee as he writes impassioned impostures in his own behalf, and giggling when he checks to see they have been printed. This is writing of the Bates Motel school. So is this, by the way, from another of his self-confected defenses of himself:
You’re a fraud, and a liar. And a wincingly pretentious writer. You couldn’t tie Siegel’s shoelaces.

Wow! This from a man who has his shoes on the wrong feet, and who sometimes finds it soothing to announce that he is a poached egg, and must forthwith lie down on a large piece of buttered toast.

The cream of the jest is the pseudonym under which Siegel sent this padding to his own cell. The chosen name was Sprezzatura. The term comes from Castiglione’s 16th century"Book of the Courtier," where it is described as a style that" conceals art, and presents what is done and said as if it was done without effort and virtually without thought." The dispatch of self-loving anonymous missives to the"Talkback" section of TNR hardly conforms to this airy nonchalance. It reeks, rather, of frantic calculation, masturbation and midnight oil. It’s the wanking hangup caller, and the picknose kid who rings the old lady’s doorbell and runs away. It actually illustrates what Castiglione gives as the opposite of sprezzatura; namely the affectation of one who is"forever praising himself, swearing and blustering about as if to defy the whole world."

I wrote to Siegel suggesting that he find some place of relaxation and enjoy the new free time at his disposal, and received a reply saying that he could"finish with you anytime. 'People' expect me to." For"people," read"voices"....I pass this on, as a warning to both editors and readers, in case this poor fellow manages to publish anything bizarre in the future.

Thanks to Nav Purewal for the Hitchens link

For all the humor extracted now from references to"writing of the Bates Motel school" and so forth, I do think some compassion is actually in order.

Yes, he did this to himself. And yes, watching Lee Siegel call anyone else on the planet"a wincingly pretentious writer" is pretty damned rich. The man did not just have a"kick me" sign on his back. He had it tattooed all over him, for and aft, and wore it on a baseball cap to boot.

Be that as it may, there is clearly something wrong with the guy. It does not seem possible that anyone could read his diary from Slate three years ago and not conclude as much.

A blogger whose comments imply first-hand experience of severe (possibly suicidal) clinical depression experienced some déjà vu while reading Siegel's work:

I recognized much of my own depression in those six-month old samples; the pattern of mumblingmumblingmumbling then EXPLODING WITH OUTRAGE over some observation, unimportant in itself and only barely a sequitur to the mumblingmumblingmumbling. Then there's the back-to-the-wall defense of Siegel offered by sprezzatura, coming out in two forms -- reiterations of Siegel's basic ever-tightening spirals of flowery pedantry, juxtaposed with his naaa-naa-naaa mantra.

Continuing this point in another post:

I think sprezzatura was using Lee Siegel as a straw man, to draw the attack, so strong, handsome, chesty sprezzatura could vanquish the mice that dared criticize either one of them. Then TNR canned him....Public humiliation, loss of the sole prop to his ego (see again his commentary on social relations and women), and an uncertain, probably bad, employment future. I think he's a very good candidate for a suicide attempt

That part about employment prospects may not be true. Over the years, I've watched as the vicious and deranged depart from publication after publication -- being, in some cases, more or less fired -- while yet rising steadily to the heights.

Is it worth mentioning that Lee Siegel has a book out now from a major press, and that its title is Falling Upwards?

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More Comments:

Vance Maverick - 9/6/2006

I goofed -- the quotation is genuine. It's from the citation for a National Magazine Award.

Never mind.

Vance Maverick - 9/6/2006

Try this search -- I wonder who wrote the blurb?

S J - 9/4/2006

"The man did not just have a 'kick me' sign on his back. He had it tattooed all over him, for and aft, and wore it on a baseball cap to boot."


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