The New Yorker bloviates on the Germanwings crash, citing the Bible, Shakespeare, and Conrad

March 28, 2015 • 10:45 am

So someone probably told New Yorker staff writer Philip Gourevitch that he had to write a few words about the Germanwings plane crash, and about the horrific likelihood that it was a suicide combined with mass murder. There’s not much to say about it, really, because we don’t know much now, but that’s never stopped the New Yorker.

So Gourevitch cranked out 1250 words of bloated prose, “A bewildering crash,” that, in the end, said nothing. If there’s any fault of the New Yorker, it’s the tendency of some authors to say very little, but say it in lovely words. Give me articles by John McPhee any day! Here’s a sample of Gourevitch channeling Mr. Kurtz:

The horror. It’s all there in the sound of Lubitz breathing. The wind of life, the wind of death. That steady soughing tells us all that we know so far, and all that we don’t yet—and may never—know, about this atrocity, the deadliest aviation catastrophe in France in more than three decades. Just as the brevity of the flight, and the apparent spontaneity of the captain’s decision to leave the cockpit—to stretch a leg? or take a piss? or have a chat? We do not know—tells us that Lubitz could not have planned before he flew that day to crash the plane that way; and just as the locking of the door, and the pushing of the button that brought the plane down, tell us that he acted consciously and deliberately, so Lubitz’s breathing, unbroken by any attempt at speech, tells us that he chose not to explain himself. He knew that he was on the record. What did he think he was doing? What came over him? What possessed him? And why?

This, dear readers, is bad writing. We learn nothing there that wasn’t already in the news. It’s merely an excuse for an author to show off his style and his learning.

The only interesting bit in the whole turgid piece is the ending, and there, amidst another pompous and gratuitous reference to Ecclesiastes (Gourevitch had already quoted a big chunk of Shakespeare’s Richard III), we find the tiniest suggestion that this whole mess doesn’t comport with the idea of a benevolent God:

When death strikes without the rhyme or reason of coherent human agency, in the form of a tsunami or an earthquake, a flood, or lightning bolt, or falling tree, the insurance companies, godless agencies of capital though they be, describe the blow as an “act of God.” Even those who like to believe in a divinity that loves us and means us well can grasp, and take some sort of solace in, the awareness that creation is random and incomprehensible and indifferent; that—turn, turn, turn—there is a time to every purpose under heaven; that, in short, it is not personal. Still it seems to go against our grain to accept that we are part of this natural order of disorder ourselves—and that the wholesale murder of innocents by someone as apparently motiveless as Lubitz (as far as we know so far) might also best be understood as an act of God.

But of course nonbelievers have said exactly this after every hurricane, tornado, and flood. We just don’t get paid a lot to say it while larding it with allusions to Shakespeare, Conrad, and the Bible.

35 thoughts on “The New Yorker bloviates on the Germanwings crash, citing the Bible, Shakespeare, and Conrad

  1. It’s all there in the sound of Lubitz breathing.

    While I’ve heard that this is what ATCs could hear, have they actually released recordings to the press? I wouldn’t think so (correct me if I’m wrong), so even this seems disingenuous.

    The horror indeed.

  2. This sort of writing is spoofed in ‘Private Eye’ with articles by ‘Polly Filler’ – obviously paid by the word 😛

  3. Bad writing. Evidence of the inverse relationship between the number of ideas the writer has and the number of words they use to get those ideas across.

      1. I imagine the very idea of tweeting is profoundly offensive to artistes such as himself.

        I’d rather that, instead of tweeting a message, people were forced to mime it on Skype.

        Then we’d see how committed they really were to informing the world that their dog just farted, or that their baby just said its seventh word.

      2. My feelings exactly. I thought it was a load of pretentious crap. What’s the going rate for the New Yorker ? At least $2.50 a word? For 1250 words. The Polly Filler comment above by JK Smith is completely apt too.

  4. Believe you hit it just about right with bloviate. Maybe he was going for a little Steinbeck or Hemingway as well.

    When all is said and done, the airline industry operates on tombstone technology. After every incident or crash they study and examine and finally make some changes and then wait for the next one.

    1. That’s really bad. Its like, no sense investigating this one….shit happens.

      And think of all the airplane highjackings that happened and still they did nothing. They use to high jack a plane to Cuba every month it seemed. Then, only after 9/11, hey, we should do something about that.

      1. Well, the hijackings to Cuba never (so far as I know) killed any passengers. So trying to prevent them would have cost more in $$$ and the sum total of inconvenience to all travellers, than just letting them happen and dealing with the consequences – which were probably no worse than when an airliner got diverted due to bad weather.

        As I recall, citizens of Eastern Bloc countries also used to hijack airliners semi-regularly to get to the West, which doubtless met with the unofficial approval of the (western) powers that be.

        So on the whole hijackers were considered to be a mild nuisance, no more. That’s the recollection I have of the times before the World Trade Centre crashes.

  5. “Yep, humans are as susceptible to becoming road kill as every other animal on earth – who knew.”

    Perfect SharynS.

  6. What could comport more with the Christian worldview than a sinner engineering “the fall” anew for innocent people, just as Adam did?

  7. Ugh, I’ve read poetry written by teenagers going through a goth phase that was better than that.

    1. My one masterpiece during the two years at sixth form college was the stunning, sepulchral mood-piece ‘My Diseased Heart Was Torn Apart, By A Cheating Tart(In A Class Called Art)’. Goth teen poetry should not be dismissed lightly.

      1. From the sound of the title, rather than dismissed lightly, it should have been taken out and shot. For the benefit of all concerned, you understand 🙂

          1. Oh, admitted. My juvenile literary attempts are still the source of embarrassment to me when I think about them. Fortunately all witnesses are missing or dead, or soon will be if they are unwise enough to mention it in my presence…

  8. “The wind of life, the wind of death . . . ”

    The Wind of Bloviation, whether in the New Yorker, or the reportorial bloviation of the NY Times, with editors allowing fatuous reportorial bloviation and opionionating in supposedly objective news articles.

  9. Newspaper’s are becoming so physically dimensionless that, perhaps, they feel it
    necessary to bloviate for the sake of their advertisors, and themselves. The concept of conveying only facts in so-called news articles and reserving opinion and bloviation for the Op Ed, Editorial or Remarks pages seems to have passed on first.

  10. Bloody hell – I’d better go and catch up on the news. Some German plane falling out of the sky?

  11. There is a very lot to know, 149 worth of knowing, perhaps he (Gourevitch) could have found something in some sort of memorial to them. Or is it, lets concentrate on the suicide mass murderer and the victims? they were invisible then (to Lubitz) as they are now.

  12. This is really disappointing to see, and honestly quite surprising. I recently read Gourevitch’s book on the Rwandan genocide and its aftermath, “We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories from Rwanda.” It was an excellent book. An informative, unflinching, well written account of the situation. I’m not sure what happened to Gourevitch in the intervening years (It was published in 1999) Perhaps he has just become lazy and overly sentimental with the passage of time.

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