The online dictionary I just consulted says the plural is of “hiatus” is “hiatuses.” It offers this in a snippy tone, as if any decent English word should form its plural by the standard English-y means. As an admirer of Latin (and like Elizabeth Warren) I persist in thinking that this perfectly good Roman word suffers from Anglicizing. Hence I prefer “hiati.”
I need the plural to account for yet another prolonged absence from this blog. My excuse is Trump-stress.
During the hiatus I’ve been desultorily reading/rereading stuff about authoritarianism–Arendt on totalitarianism, Richard Evans’ history of the Third Reich, Bob Altemeyer’s The Authoritarian Personality.* This stuff is scary. For example, here is Evans on Germany in the early 1930s: politicians “began to tap lower-middle-class feelings of being overtaken by big business, the small shopkeeper’s fear of the department store, the male clerk’s resentment of the growing presence in business of the female secretary, the bourgeois sense of disorientation when confronted by Expressionist and abstract art and many other unsettling effects of Germany’s headlong social, economic, and cultural modernization” (3). Even though the details differ, the outline seems familiar enough: members of a class that cannot always protect itself become resentful and lash out at those they perceive to be villains.
Fiction about authoritarianism is equally terrifying. I’m halfway through Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, which imagines that Charles Lindbergh ran against FDR in 1940 and won the presidency using an “America First” platform. Roth did not make this up out of whole cloth: IRL Lindbergh actually was an admirer of Hitler and an anti-Semitic racist to boot. In order to sell the fiction (and to make a point) Roth depicts Lindbergh as a dashing figure: “the lean, tall, handsome hero, a lithe, athletic-looking man not yet forty years old arrived in his flying attire, having landed his own plane at the Philadelphia airport only minutes earlier” (15). This magnetism mesmerizes the crowds who flock to see, and later to elect, him President.
The Plot tempted me into ordering The Handmaid’s Tale (which I have not read in a long time) and Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here. Atwood’s Tale is currently a best-seller at Amazon, along with Orwell’s 1984. Apparently I am not alone in my paranoia.
A couple of nights ago I watched “Denial,” a film about historian Deborah Lipstadt whose Denying the Holocaust I once taught to students of rhetoric. Her book condemned the work of holocaust deniers, chiefly that of David Irving. Irving famously sued Lipstadt for defamation and cleverly did so in Britain, where the burden of proof is on the defendant–that is, on Liptstadt, to prove that Irving was lying. The film is about the ensuing trial. “Riveting” may not be the most accurate way to describe this film for anyone who is not interested in argument; but for those who are, it demonstrates how easily history can be distorted to fit an agenda (which also goes, it may not need to be said, for “fake news.”) Tom Wilkinson, who plays Lipstadt’s lawyer, ends the film with an extended monologue, beautifully delivered, that is a searing condemnation liars like Irving and the cultural harm they do.
So that’s what I did on my winter hiatus.
*”Desultory” is one of my favorite words, in part because the emphasis falls on the first syllable, unlike most English words. That’s one (the only?) benefit of Trump-stress: I have occasion to use the word “desultory.”