In Homage to Catalonia (1938), his memoir of the Spanish Civil War, George Orwell describes how his wife was rudely woken by a police-raid on the hotel room she was occupying in Barcelona:
In the small hours of the morning there was a pounding on the door, and six men marched in, switched on the light, and immediately took up various positions about the room, obviously agreed upon beforehand. They then searched both rooms (there was a bathroom attached) with inconceivable thoroughness. They sounded the walls, took up the mats, examined the floor, felt the curtains, probed under the bath and the radiator, emptied every drawer and suitcase and felt every garment and held it up to the light. (Homage to Catalonia, ch. 14)
The police conducted this search “in the recognized OGPU [then the Russian communist secret-police] or Gestapo style … for nearly two hours,” Orwell says. He then notes that in “all this time they never searched the bed.” His wife was still in it, you see, and although the police “were probably Communist Party members … they were also Spaniards, and to turn a woman out of bed was a little too much for them. This part of the job was silently dropped, making the whole search meaningless.”
Orwell’s story suggests a new word to me: typhlophthalmism, meaning “the practice of turning a blind eye to essential but inconvenient facts” (from Greek typhlos, “blind,” + ophthalmos, “eye”). But it’s a long word, so let’s call it typhlism for short. Shorter is better, because the term could be used so often today. Orwell’s story is an allegory of modern Western politics and social commentary, where so many essential but inconvenient facts are “silently dropped” from analysis. For example, the Labour MP Denis MacShane and the Labour council in Rotherham were typhlistic when, for reasons of political correctness, they turned a blind eye to the horrors being committed by brown-skinned Muslims against White working-class girls.
Looking for Mr Reitman
And if you want to see another good example of typhlism at work, try one of the strangest and funniest scandals ever to set the Owl of Minerva hooting in the groves of Academe. The two central figures in the scandal are the New York University (NYU) professor Avital Ronell (born 1952) and her former graduate student Nimrod Reitman (born c. 1984). Ms Ronell, a “feminist literary theorist,” began her career studying with the enormously influential French philosopher Jacques Derrida and is now the Jacques Derrida Professor at the European Graduate School in Switzerland. As a sideline, she headed “the trauma and violence transdisciplinary studies program” at NYU. She is also a “self-defined lesbian,” while Mr Reitman is a homosexual.
Their respective sexualities, although not of course funny in themselves, are an essential part of what has made the scandal so entertaining. Mr Reitman has accused Ms Ronell of a sustained campaign of sexual harassment, including two incidents in which his 66-year-old lesbian mentor pulled him into her bed and “put my hands onto her breasts, and was pressing herself — her buttocks — onto my crotch. She was kissing me, kissing my hands, kissing my torso.” Read more