Performative Contradictions in Reviewing

Eric Schliesser makes a very witty observation about Kekes’ review of Paul and my “Companion” regarding Bob Grant’s biographical piece. It’s especially witty since there are in fact two “companions“.

Kekes’ comments again reeks of sour grapes. Bob makes it quite clear:

Though as my main topic will be his love life, which is not the same as his sex life, though the two are obviously connected. And perhaps both are, more distantly, with his work. Michael in several places says that love was the main business of his life. If we are to take him literally, therefore, his work appears as more of a sideline or an antidote, and even he admits from time to time that he is using it to deaden his sorrows or drive away his demons.

Admittedly this is a tricky undertaking, but its done with aplomb and is hardly sordid. There is no-one better placed to have undertaken such a complex and sensitive theme – there were some half-truths making the rounds and Bob does a fine job of setting things straight. Regards Grant “peddling often malicious hearsay”: for those of us who know Bob and know of his admiration for MO, nothing could be further from the truth. Furthermore, Bob was able to speak to several of the ladies in question and to Simon and more besides. I don’t know why people are troubled by knowing their intellectual hero is no paragon of virtue. “It is not at all inconsistent,”Oakeshott wrote, “to be conservative in respect of government and radical in respect of almost every other activity.” And in this sense, his private life (which NEVER was really a secret) throws down the gauntlet to the “conservatism” characteristic of the fundamentalist Right, that through its moralizing and preachiness, actually blurs the private-public distinction. As Paul and I wrote in our introduction:

Drawing on not only the letters and notebooks in the public archive at the LSE but also private diaries and letters as well as extensive personal interviews with Oakeshott’s friends, family, and lovers, Grant shows just how central erotic love was to Oakeshott’s life and how obsessively, irrationally, selfishly, and often destructively he pursued it. This Dionysiac aspect of Oakeshott’s private life stands in stark contrast to the polished, Apollonian character of his writings and philosophy in general, and it will no doubt shock those who are familiar only with the latter. Nevertheless, it is no part of Grant’s purpose to reduce Oakeshott’s philosophy to his private life or, Nietzsche-like, to see it as a mere rationalization of his personality. Instead, he sees a more complicated dynamic at work: Oakeshott’s anti-utopian politics serve as both a counterweight and a Hobbesian foundation for his erotic utopia.