Pacino Merits An Oscar for A Performance He Refused
Pacino Merits An Oscar for A Performance He Refused

Of Richard Wagner it was said that his music is better than it sounds.

Once, in my youth, I listened to something quite grand on the radio, and assumed it was Franz Liszt, which would be okay, until someone came along and told me that it was Wagner all right, so I turned it off.  But Liszt – he too was a ferocious anti-Semite.

Do we really need to know? If we know too much about the people who compose the music and write the books, chances are there will be nothing left to enjoy. Do I really need to know that Felix Mendelssohn was a convert? Likewise shall we deny ourselves Gustav Mahler?

Brahms, I keep being told, was another one with anti-Jewish tendencies, but I have yet to verify this. Or maybe I’d rather not know.

Beethoven, the greatest of them all, was absolutely not an anti-Semite. Quite a relief.
Beethoven, the greatest of them all, was absolutely not an anti-Semite. Quite a relief. If you know otherwise, please keep it to yourself.

But why are we talking music when the subject is Al Pacino and Norwegian Knut Hamsun? Because here’s a perfect situation as to the fix we’re in when we know that a dishonorable artist produced an honorable work of art. What to do with this information?

Shall we proceed?

Al Pacino said no. This morning we learned that this beloved actor turned down a Copenhagen theater’s staging of Hamsun’s Nobel Prize winning novel “Hunger.” He was offered a role and he refused. Good for him. Hamsun was all in for Hitler. Yet Pacino had no qualms about playing Shylock for several runs in New York City.

Don’t ask me to figure it out. Except for the fact that pickings are mighty slim if we start getting too particular.

Hemingway remains one of my favorite authors, but in “The Sun Also Rises” Robert Cohn is furnished with every stereotype in the book -- whiny, pushy. Hemingway liked to refer to himself as Hemingstein. I don’t remember why. Maybe because Gertrude Stein was such a huge influence for him.

So rose is a rose and an anti-Semite is an anti-Semite.

Hamsun – well, anti-Semites come in several flavors, mainly the casual and the fanatical. Hamsun, as with bedfellows SS Nazi, Gunter Grass, or Ezra Pound, was fanatical. What a shame. Returning to my youth, when I was determined to read everything ever written, I was smitten by that book, “Hunger.”

Only later did I learn that this came from a very twisted mind. Does it change the book?

As for the novel, it’s about a man starving to death, and it’s really about despair and the lonely man’s disassociation from the rest of humanity. Back then, the late 1800s into the early to mid 1900s, some of the finest writing came from novelists using that same theme…apartness.

Think Kafka, of course, and someone less familiar but equally fine, our own John Fante. His “Ask The Dust” echoes “Hunger.” It’s a big world. But we’re all alone. Later came Salinger and his Holden Caulfield on despair and the search for meaning…in other words, the search for God.

I’ll say it again, as I do so here, that “writing is prayer.” Otherwise life is absurd.

Few said it better than King Solomon in the divine “Ecclesiastes.” Solomon inaugurated Futility as a fact of Life and Literature.

But, in stream of consciousness that informs all writing, Solomon was mindful that defiance leads to Faith. Despair yes, but surrender is forbidden to us.

Samuel Beckett picked it up with – “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”

As to why the subject of apartness that was introduced by the wisdom of the Jews – why this should attract literary anti-Semites, this is beyond me.

Generally it’s best to stick with the Art and forget the Artist. Better not to know the man or the woman.

We’re sure to be disappointed, as was Pacino. He made the right move and sent a strong message.

That ought to win him an Oscar, for a performance he refused to give.

Jack Engelhard writes a regular column for Arutz Sheva. The new thriller from the New York-based novelist, The Bathsheba Deadline, a heroic editor’s singlehanded war on terror and against media bias. Engelhard wrote the int’l bestseller Indecent Proposal that was translated into more than 22 languages and turned into a Paramount motion picture starring Robert Redford and Demi Moore. Website: