Judith Thurman

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Like many who’ve read Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the novel during this terrible time of a demagogue reaching the White House. The writer imagined an alternative history in which the legendary aviator Charles Lindbergh, an actual spokesperson for the America First Committee and admitted white supremacist, was able to defeat Franklin Delano Roosevelt for the Presidency, changing the course of history for much the worse. It seems to have unfortunate parallels with our own bleak moment.

Roth doesn’t exactly see it that way, however. In an email exchange with Judith Thurman of the New Yorker, he explained the key difference:

“It is easier to comprehend the election of an imaginary President like Charles Lindbergh than an actual President like Donald Trump. Lindbergh, despite his Nazi sympathies and racist proclivities, was a great aviation hero who had displayed tremendous physical courage and aeronautical genius in crossing the Atlantic in 1927. He had character and he had substance and, along with Henry Ford, was, worldwide, the most famous American of his day. Trump is just a con artist.”

Yes, that’s true, Trump is merely a Simon Cowell-ish strongman, not a real-life superhero whose daring made the world smaller when foreign acres of the Earth still felt as distant as the dark side of the moon. But the book’s sense of foreboding, the feeling that we’ve drifted far and disastrously from our ideals, definitely resonates.

An article in the April 28, 1941 Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported on Lindbergh’s abrupt resignation from his Army post in response to Roosevelt’s criticism of the flier’s speeches, in which he urged American isolationism, a belief which was fortified by his appreciation for Aryan superiority and feelings of anti-Semitism.

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I was recently gifted with a copy of the latest issue of the excellent Fashion Projects, which is edited by the beautiful (and pregnant) Francesca Granata. The presumed father of the child, Jay Ruttenberg, editor of the Lowbrow Reader Reader and a favorite of hoboes everywhere, is a contributor.

This issue focuses exclusively on fashion criticism and has interviews with Guy Trebay, Suzy Menkes, Judith Thurman and others. You can sample and purchase it hereAn excerpt from Granata’s conversation with New Yorker writer Thurman:

Fashion Projects: 

I was wondering how you came to your current post writing about fashion at the New Yorker?

Judith Thurman: 

It was sort of happenstance. I followed fashion, but not professionally. I had worked at The New Yorker before I left to write the biography of Colette. David Remnick, who had just taken up the editorship of the magazine in 1999 said, ‘Why don’t you come back and work for us? I know you can write about books and art, but what else can you do? Is there something else you really want to do?’ To which I replied ‘Actually I would love to write about fashion. I think I would always be an outsider; I am not going to write about it as an insider, like my great friend Holly Brubach a wonderful fashion critic who covered the collections. I said I don’t want to do that and you don’t want me to do it.’  He said, ‘You are right.’ So that’s how I started.

Fashion Projects:

So you started writing about fashion, somewhat recently, in the last decade or so. What drew you to the subject?

Judith Thurman:

I see it as an important element of culture and itself a culture. That really interests me. It is a form of expression, a kind of language dealing with identities. And the aesthetic of it also drew me to it. I love clothes and couture and its history is very interesting to me. For instance, I have always gone to museums and studied the clothing in the paintings. However, I don’t particularly like the fashion world and I try not to write about the business side of it.

Fashion Projects:

So you see yourself more as a cultural critic writing about fashion as opposed to a more traditional fashion critic covering the collections?

Judith Thurman:

Yes, although I have written about the collections. I used to go once a year to do one collection, whether it was menswear or couture or Paris or New York. I kind of stopped doing that. They were very hard pieces to write, since I wasn’t actually critiquing the clothes, I was trying to find some sort of zeitgeist that was coming out of the collections.”•

Jay Ruttenberg: Stole wardrobe from scarecrow.

Jay Ruttenberg: Dresses like a scarecrow.

I find that insulting.

I resent that.

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