Gregor von Rezzori Leon Wieseltier - Essay

Leon Wieseltier

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Memoirs, not confessions: this anti-Semite asks not to be forgiven, he asks to be enjoyed [in Memoirs of an Anti-Semite]. Enjoying him is not hard; Gregor von Rezzori is a wizard of a writer. There is sin, but there is also style. Rezzori flaunts both. He will leave many readers in a muddle, and he will win many admirers. The man's malice is really elegant. His book is a new avenue through the century's most disgusting decades. It is the persecution of the Jews as told by a dandy.

Rezzori calls his book a novel, and he cannot be blamed for not calling it an autobiography. Fact or fiction, it is a book proudly consecrated to truth. (The last chapter, entitled "Pravda," is an apology for the author's embellishments, and for the author.) The impassioned protagonist of this chronicle of prejudice is Gregor, who was born during the Great War into an aristocratic Austrian family marooned in the Bukovina by the breakup of the empire. His father keeps faith with the imperial ideal; he fusses over a very ceremonial "German-hood" and—the primary demonstration of his undefeated Austrian patriotism—he hunts. He instills his son with a fitting hatred of the Jews, and of the mind as Jews practice it…. [Gregor's] ambition was the sporting life, and sex; and he did not want for horses and women. Yet he is left with the memory of a life that has miscarried. His marriages fail, his son dies, his culture disappears.

What has all this to do with the Jews? Gregor has a hypothesis about his life. His memoir interprets his life according to the appearance in it of Jews at its most critical moments. Jews, especially the women, have been the instruments of his humiliation. It is a short fall from the amorist to the anti-Semite, because Gregor is a sucker for Jewish women. He is a philo-Semite in bed. He admires the "Oriental" charms of his accommodating Jewesses, and is deeply affected by the ancient tragedy he detects in their eyes…. [But when] the women disappoint, so does the race. (p. 29)


(The entire section is 833 words.)