Book: The Man Who Saw His Own Liver
Author: Bradley R. Smith
Type of Book: Short story collection, semi-autobiographical
Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Smith, as a writer, has an interesting writing style and Smith, as a man, is a polarizing figure.
Availability: Published by Nine Banded Books in 2007, you can get a copy here:
You can also buy it directly from Nine Banded Books.
Comments: Bradley R. Smith may be the only Holocaust revisionist who writes about topics that have nothing to do with the Holocaust. And that’s good because while I know just enough about the Holocaust to hold my own in such conversations, I also am not invested in the topic enough to want to read books along the lines of what one expects from David Irving and Ernst Zündel. Admittedly, I haven’t read Smith’s book about his journey into Holocaust criticism, so perhaps then he concentrated exclusively on revisionism to the point of minutia, but I don’t think that’s the case. We’ll see when I read it.
Perhaps he has more to write about because Smith has led a far more interesting life than Irving or Zündel, once you remove the legal drama. But then again, Smith has had his own share of law troubles, and not the kind you might think. In 1962, Bradley R. Smith was convicted under California’s obscenity laws for selling a copy of Tropic of Cancer. In 1963, he appealed the verdict and the higher court sent the case back down to the lower courts in light of the California Supreme Court having determined Tropic of Cancer was not, in fact, obscene. Taking this anti-censorship stance bankrupted Smith. Regardless of how you feel about Holocaust revisionism, it’s impossible to deny that Smith is more than the one-topic obsessives who are often attracted to Holocaust studies because such topics feed their antisemitism and loathing for institutional intellectual authority. Smith has suffered financially and socially supporting freedom of speech – even speech liberals respect. He has gone on record as saying:
I do not believe in thought crimes, in taboos against intellectual freedom.
Perhaps that is what makes this book so odd – Bradley R. Smith is a living intersection of ideas that, on their surface, may seem mutually exclusive. But people and ideas are never wholly black or white. This played out vividly for me in terms of Smith’s personal politics because I generally have little patience for most libertarian ideas yet could see at times where Smith was coming from and could sympathize with his point of view. I think that was because Smith didn’t cloak himself in Randian-superiority. He mostly just wanted to be done with intrusive influences in his life. I can respect that.
This book of vignettes was initially conceived as a one-act play. When you read it as a dramatic piece, it feels much more powerful than a series of remembrances, but the book still carries a lot of power as a series of short stories. Through a proxy narrator called A.K Swift, Smith discusses his life and his ideas in a manner that is confessional, almost Beat-like in style. Though Smith does have this proxy narrator, the details in this book closely mirror his own life enough that I am just going to refer to the narrator as Smith, but that choice is also just to make things easier for me because I tried to refer to the narrator as “Swift” initially and ended up calling him “Smith” so often that I just gave up and switched to Smith.
In the next few sentences, I am taking into account information not shared in this book, but once you know the scope of Smith’s life, if you ignore the time Smith spent serving his country during the Korean war and the time he spent in Vietnam with press credentials documenting the Vietnam war, his peripatetic lifestyle is reminiscent of Kerouac or Burroughs (minus horrifying addictions and uxoricide). He spent time learning to fight bulls, invoking Hemingway. His personal life was complicated, passionate and strange, and one feels a bit of Carver seeping through in his prose. Bradley R. Smith is a sort of holy outsider, a man who has dwelt on the fringes and remained true to his search for truth, no matter the personal and social costs.
This sort of odd holiness is shown best in the section wherein Smith seems to play Christ in his green card marriage to Alicia, who serves as his Martha and Mary all in one.
I married Alicia so she could get a green card, I made her over with one stroke from an illegal wetback into a legal worker. Her income increased substantially with the green card. It made her happy.
It’s not easy having a good-looking wife who is devoted to serving you and not seduce her. So I now have a wife, and a step-daughter, and we’re making plans for the future.
Smith urges Alicia to consider divorcing him sooner rather than later for legal and property reasons but “Alicia is deaf to everything but marriage and love.”
Everything I need done she does for me. Everything I want she gets for me. She watches over Mother and Marisol, she cooks and cleans, and it gets erotic. There’s no end to it.
But Alicia’s Martha-like industriousness is married with a Mary-like devotion to Smith. He tries to give her an out, telling her this level of servitude is not necessary, but Alicia will hear none of it. She asks him to let her serve him and he acquiesces to her desire.
I could feel the heat flowing out of her fingers onto my arm.
I do not ask you for anything else, she said.
The implications of the words, the wide-open black gaze, the electric touch of her fingers.
The heart pounding.
That’s not exactly the way it worked, of course. She’s thought of one or two other things to ask of me.
That’s all right.
I don’t mind.
See what I mean about invoking Raymond Carver. There are other very emotional, personal stories in this book, and the best is a longer-form short story at the end called “Joseph Conrad and the Monster from the Deep.” This is a heartbreaking story about the death of Smith’s two younger brothers, twins, whom he adored and for whom to this day feels great responsibility and loss.
Smith’s personal life is just one portion of this slim volume. Smith discusses politics and religion in a very simple, straightforward manner. He detests the idea of paying taxes into a bureaucratic system he considers wicked, and Smith’s ideas about bureaucracy are not anything new. He points out that the Nazi bureaucrats who did wonderful things for infrastructure also were the bureaucracy that did their best to remove Jewish presence from Germany forever. That the white bureaucrats in South Africa created the most “civilized” society in Africa and in the process managed to “institutionalize racism and serfdom.”
That here in America it is the bureaucrats who manage the great welfare programs that protect the old and the poor and it’s the bureaucrats who run the programs that produce thermonuclear weapons that hold hostage the poor and old in other lands.
Who hold hostage the children.
All over the earth great gangs of bureaucrats stand in symbiotic relationship with each other. No matter which nation, no matter which program or policy the state intends to promote, its bureaucrats have sworn their allegiance to it, sworn to carry out its every desire.
The next sentence reveals a lot about Smith. In a world wherein we make utter villains of everyone we disagree with, from politicians to the jerk who annoys us on community message boards, Smith can see the good in even those whose actions he sees as detrimental to his liberty.
What do you say to these bureaucrats when you know they are your friends and neighbors, when you know how decent they are?
When you find Smith mentioned anywhere, especially on blogs, you generally find at least two people who consider Smith the worst sort of scum for engaging in revisionism, assigning to him horrible attributes, thinking him outright evil. I wonder how many people wondered what to say to Smith when they realized he was not an anti-Semitic and racist Stormfront cardboard cut-out?
Like me, Smith doesn’t have a lot of use for religion, especially it’s modern manifestations. Here he reacts to a story about a priest in El Salvador who joined the revolutionaries via the liberation theology movement.
So the priest is going to bless the people who are killing the people for the good of the people. The usual.
The priest could have chosen to kill the despot directly, the despot is the guilty one, but that isn’t how priests think.
The priesthood today operates on the same rough principles as the Aztec priesthood did four hundred years ago. High ideas in the service of God and the perfectly imagined society, with bloody terror and chaos for the people.
Bureaucrats, revolutionaries and priests. The age-old destroyers of right relationship.
They will never understand that there is no way to social justice, that social justice is the way.
They never will understand how means exist concretely in a way that ends do not.
They never will confess that this is the moment.
Well, sometimes we do need revolutionaries. Social justice may be the way but many people don’t agree and sometimes you have to wipe the slate clean via a few head shots against a brick wall. But I really appreciate how it is that Smith places the blame for chaos at the feet of those who cause it, not the men who are affected by it.
Smith muses a lot on religion, especially Christianity. His wife Alicia gives him a Bible and he reads it because of Alicia’s influence.
…she told me to read it, that it would help me live my life less foolishly.
That is what I want, I told her. To live the life less foolishly.
Smith ends up mostly appalled by what he reads. It’s pretty hard to consider him an anti-Semite after reading this book, though I guess the truly devout could turn his distaste for the stories in the Old Testament into a sort of blasphemy or anti-Jewish sentiment because he finds components of the Torah grotesque. But again, Smith shows how he is a man who knows who is responsible for the evil in this world – those on the top and their lackeys. The priest wouldn’t kill the despot directly and neither would God.
I started at the Creation and now I’m to the story where God brought the Jews out of Egypt. It wasn’t easy, God had to make a lot of innocent people suffer, but to God it was worth it.
It’s a very ugly story.
Moses and Aaron would go to Pharaoh and demand he let their people go and Pharaoh would say okay. But later his heart would harden and he would refuse to let the Jews go.
Whereupon God would jump up in a rage.
God turned the Nile into blood. He made the fish stink. He buried the land of the Egyptians in frogs, covered Egyptian men and beasts alike with lice, sent swarms of flies to infest the homes of Egyptian women and locusts to eat Egyptian crops so that ordinary people would starve.
There is nothing to show that Pharaoh himself went hungry, or Pharaoh’s court.
There is nothing to show either that the Chosen were distressed by the fate of those God had not chosen.
The link between the liberation theology priest and God himself is undeniable but it’s also interesting that Smith notes that no one on either side seemed to mind much when Egyptians who had not held anyone in bondage suffered God’s wrath while the Pharaoh was unharmed. And it just got worse. Pharaoh’s defiance drove God crazy.
In the end, God suffered a spiritual break.
There is no other way to describe it.
God went insane and that night He entered every Gentile house in Egypt and tore up every first-born Gentile from his cradle, ripped away every first-born Gentile child sucking at his mother’s breast, and killed it.
In all the land of Egypt that night there was not a single Gentile home where the mother and father were not weeping grievously for their slaughtered babies, or a single man or woman who felt himself chosen who did not feel encouraged.
There is a mindlessness, a ferocity to that old story that is unimaginable to anyone with decent sensibilities.
As a myth, this is pretty grotesque. But I always remember the Book of Exodus when believers insist that the Bible is the literal word of God. Who could worship a deity that would do such things when He could choose to just smite the person responsible? And who could trust a God who avenged the Pharaoh’s earlier murder of first born sons with equally savage infant murder? God turned Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt just because she turned her head in a direction he didn’t like so how come he couldn’t just kill the people who held the Jews in bondage? Some members of my family think the Bible is the literal word of God, so I don’t say lightly that people who believe this and still worship God anyway make me nervous.
But this isn’t just Smith denouncing the Bible as a vicious mythos. He goes on:
We American are like the Chosen today, Gentile and Jew alike. Our way of life must be preserved at every cost.
Our children are worth more than those children who have not been chosen.
If we Chosen Ones are threatened, our Government has taken upon itself the right, the holy responsibility, to destroy all those who have not been chosen.
God and man set it together, in ancient Egypt and modern Japan.
A God-like State with God-like responsibilities. That’s what they tell us we need, our Judeo-Christian leaders.
But his book isn’t all dead Egyptians and victims of the atomic bombings in Japan during WWII. Smith can be amusing when he wants to be. One night, he fell asleep while in a Mexican jail holding cell and woke up to find someone had taken a dump on his foot.
Squatting over some guy’s foot when he’s asleep, that’s what men think is funny. It’s one of those male characteristics that all over the planet testifies to our universal brotherhood.
Crapping on a sleeping man’s feet aside, this book could be called preachy. Maybe for some it is. For me, I tend to think this is Smith showing us not only the man who saw his own liver, but he is also showing us his heart. There is a vulnerability to this book, as Smith reveals his weaknesses, his disgust and an almost innocent revulsion for the modern world.
I hesitated before writing this discussion of this book. I get tired of being called an anti-Semite whenever I write of people who are themselves anti-Semites or question elements of Jewish faith or recorded history. The world is indeed very black or white. You toe certain lines, you end up getting labeled in all sorts of manners. Despite the voluminous amount of content I have written in my life, some think me a racist due to my affection for black metal or a Jew-hater due to some of my friendships. I got called an anti-Semite when, using far politer language, I revealed I think Pamela Geller is an anti-intellectual, morally-challenged assclown. The reasoning is that if I dislike an Islamaphobe, then I must be in favor of the Muslims wiping out Israel. Yet within the article wherein I discussed my dislike of Geller, there was no mistaking that I dislike anti-Semitic ideas. I was pretty clear on the topic. Ultimately I decided there is nothing I can do about what anyone decides to call me based on my reactions to the things I read. People gonna think what people gonna think.
But to refuse to discuss this book, let alone not discussing it because I like it and fear the reaction from the usual suspects, is cowardice. It is all the more despicable given what Bradley R. Smith endured because he believed it inappropriate that the government could criminalize reading Henry Miller and stood up against such intellectual tyranny.
This is a thought-provoking, touching and at times funny book. It’s only 139 pages, the font is large and the untitled chapters are short. Most readers could read this in one sitting. I recommend you do read it. Nine Banded Books has it on sale for five bucks, so taking a risk will be less financially involved if you hate the book. I enjoyed this book and grew to like Bradley R. Smith enough that I looked into him, read some of his other books, and saw again for myself how it is that nothing is as cut and dried as it seems when social justice is involved. Please read it and come back here and let me know what you think, even if your response is wholly negative. Smith went bankrupt fighting for the notion that no one should be able to limit what other people are permitted to say. He wants you to be able to say what you think and I do, too.