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Showing posts from November 10, 2013

American anti-intellectualism

The United States, it is often said, is an anti-intellectual country.   Okay, I admit “often said” is a weasel phrase, which intends to exculpate the author from doing any research.   So doing a little research, one can go to, for instance, Richard Hofstader’s classic “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life”. Hofstadter writes that he wrote the book in the 1950s, when it seemed that the Eisenhower presidency was all about actively knocking about “so called intellectuals going around showing how wrong everybody was who disagrees with them” – to quote Eisenhower himself. Hofstadter does a thorough job of searching out American intellectuals, going back to the Puritan clergy. Of course, he has a more sociological sense of the intellectual, and through that lens can see that far from being an era of disrespect for the intellectual, the Eisenhower fifties enshrined the intellectual as “expert” with far more influence and money than, perhaps, at any time since the scribe-dominated da

geneology of the worse, the better - a rerun

Judas, De Quincey and Lenin: on the worse, the better The famous phrase, “the worse the better”, is often attributed to Lenin. Supposedly, this is Lenin’s addition to the black book of political strategy, and no doubt in Hell he is discussing it over chess with Old Nick Machiavelli himself. As far as I can tell, however, the phrase appears in Lenin’s works as a quotation from Plekhanov. In Three Crises, writing in 1917, Lenin sets himself the task of analyzing the revolution thus far – after the fall of the Czar. He remarks that so far, the demonstration, as a political form, has accrued a peculiar importance. And he backs away from the situation to analyze it: The last, and perhaps the most instructive, conclusion to be drawn from considering the events in their interconnection is that all three crises manifested some form of demonstration that is new in the history of our revolution, a demonstration of a more complicated type in which the movement proceeds in wa

contra, reluctantly, david foster wallace

Geoff Dyer recently wrote an essay about how one has an allergic reaction to certain writers. Dyer’s allergy is to David Foster Wallace. Now, Dyer is by no means my favorite essayist; and it makes sense that a writer as encyclopedic as Wallace could repulse an essayist who once wrote about his “reader’s block” – his struggle with reading new material, aka books, which had come upon him counted myself in middle age. Myself, I have very fine memories of reading Infinite Jest lying in bed in New Haven one winter. I wanted the book to go on and on – and in that sense it was, for a long book, not long enough. However, perhaps something in my tastes has shifted. I recently checked out Consider the Lobster, DFW’s essay collection, to dip into essays that I remembered as being the most hilarious and clever things ever – and I felt something different about them this time. I felt, well, that they were lazy and not so good. This surprised me. It was the first essay in the collection,