Jessa Crispin explores how we deal with great novelists who were also anti-Semites, like Louis-Ferdinand Céline, author of Journey to the End of the Night:
Artists are not saints. We all know this. What we can’t decide is when to dole out punishment for their actions. Is it enough to prosecute them when they’re alive? Or should we continue to persecute their reputations after their deaths?
Say the name Knut Hamsun, on the other hand, and the first thing in your head is probably “Nazi.” Not Hunger. Not “brilliant Norwegian writer,” but “Nazi.” And while our reaction should be one of disgust, the fact that Hamsun was in his doddering old age showing signs of mental decline even before he went all rah-rah Hitler (he was 80 at the time Germany invaded Norway) whereas Céline was an intelligent, mentally competent writer in the bloom of youth it makes you wonder how arbitrary are these reactions.
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