I’ve had my say about neocon Sufi
Stephen Schwartz, and several Straight Up readers have had theirs. So here’s his say. It
arrived in an email message. The header began: “I thought you were dead.” The message itself
continued downhill from there.
On the evidence I’ve seen, Schwartz has a faith-based belief in wishful thinking — primitive
thinking, ethnologists might call it, as in magic incantations and sorcery — so I
take his meaning to be: “I wish you were dead.” In other words, he was giving me the Evil
Now to the message:
You were never very bright, but isn’t it interesting that you’re writing so much
about me, but that nobody ever writes about you?
[His bloviating self-importance
remains intact. — JH]
I figured you’d somehow get that you were dumb to write off three-piece suits in the hippie
era, an interest in surrealism (about which more below), and Sufism as “wrong.” Surrealism was
not a nonexistent movement then. Lamantia showed up a few years later and we had some
interesting, long chats. Your alma mater, City Lights, even installed a surrealism section right by
the door. But I’m glad to be your whipping boy, as I have new books coming out from serious
publishers, which it seems you don’t, and can use the extra publicity.
[No one ever
doubted the existence of Surrealism as a European movement in art and literature that grew out of
Dada in the 1920s and flourished through the 1940s. A San Francisco surrealist movement in the
1960s is what I doubted. The reference is to Philip Lamantia. If a chat
between two people makes a movement … oh, never mind.]
I notice you dis the academy, but brag about placing your archives at Northwestern. Hmmm.
I never became an academic. So describing me as an academic proselyte is a little
[Yet another instance of willful incomprehension. Sometimes the worst pedants
never make it into the academy.]
What’s your beef with Sufism? I’d much rather be a navel-gazer than a necrophile off the
corpse of Herbert Huncke, of all people. I knew him, too, well enough to see through that scam. I
thought nobody had heard of Taylor Mead in at least 20 years. He’s still alive, too?
beef isn’t with Sufism, about which I couldn’t care less, but with a particular Sufi. Why am I not
surprised that Schwartz, a former obit writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, thinks in terms of
corpses and necrophilia? And now he’s giving Mead the Evil Eye.]
I remember your ridiculous “Answers to Questions from J.J. Lebel.” He was a latter-day
surrealist, you know — I met him in Paris later, at the same time as I visited Breton’s house and
met his widow. You can read about that on THE WEEKLY STANDARD
[More advertisements for his inflated self, but I’ll give him the link.]
Keep at it, guy. Playing jazz “in your head” sounds suspiciously like making
love “in your head,” but you’re what, at least 65 now, right? That photo of you [left] makes you
look real old. A little too old for the salsa clubs, but who am I to judge?
[No sense of
humor and an age-ist, too. What difference would it make if I were 65, which I look forward to
reaching one day?]
Don’t bother to answer.
Schwartz then followed up with another message:
Making fun of my initials is real clever. Did you
know that I became a Sufi in Bosnia where among other things I served as an unpaid investigator
of war crimes? I retired from my job at the SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE to work in the
Balkans. Not as important or as morally worthy as keeping the reputation of Herbert Huncke
alive, but it works for me.
[Unpaid investigator of war crimes? Not to be too cynical,
how about freelance reporter seeking the main chance?]
But don’t take my word for it. Take Clifford Geertz’s. In the New York Review of Books
Geertz termed him “a strange and outlandish
figure,” which is putting it mildly. He traced Schwartz’s peculiar zig-zags
from an anarchist-Trotskyist, who started out by calling himself “Comrade Sandalio,” to a
cheerleader for Reagan’s war in Grenada, as Amir Butler
notes. Veering from a self-described “internationally recognized
surrealist poet” who believed in “the class struggle” to a New Age rightist, Schwartz was
someone whose compass never pointed north. “The only consistency in [his] career has
been the frequent ideological shifts that have characterised it,” Butler writes.
[L]ooking into his history -– from his days as a reviled member of San
Francisco’s far-left anarchist-punk community, to his conversion to Jewish conservatism in the
mid-1980s while working on a CIA-funded report on Grenada, to his sudden reappearance on the
modern political scene as a spouter of pro-war anti-Muslim hate -– one can see that Schwartz has
always been perceived as a blowhard making any ridiculous statements he thinks will impress his
audience, without any real convictions or evidence to back them up.
Let’s admit that White is a weirdo white supremacist anti-Semite, as
Schwartz has pointed out, and that the Marxists on the list had a bitter falling out with their
former comrade. So their testimony is highly questionable. But this description by Keith Sorel,
from the Winter 1994 issue of Anarchy! Magazine, dovetails with my recollection of Schwartz and
strikes me as accurate indeed:
In the summer of 1984 [I] made contact with “Comrade Sandalio,” also
known as Steve Schwartz [who] claimed he’d found the philosophers stone of the class struggle …
Schwartz claimed that the Russian and German revolutions and all the revolts and uprisings since
1917 [have] been minor footnotes to the union-controlled San Francisco General strike of 1934 …
I began to detect a pattern of screwy activity. Schwartz had a penchant for making grandiloquent
statements and later retracting them or refusing to back them up. … In Caffe Trieste in North
Beach he repeatedly bragged loudly that he was “one of the world’s leading historians of the
Well, have we had enough of Schwartzy boy? I have. Movin’ on.