Sunday, 30 December 2012

Experience? It’s Like… Finding the Worcester Sauce on a Supermarket Shelf

Several months writing about a problem – the simple certainties of the half-educated – and then I read Robert Byron, who nails it with one clever vignette.

This is morning at the Legation I met a Colonel Porter who asked what my share in the world’s work was.  I said I had been looking at Mohammadan architecture.

“Mind you,” he replied, “I’ve seen a good deal of Palestine, Egypt, and Persia, and I’ve given a good deal of thought to the matter.  I can tell you the key to the problem if you like.”

“Really.  What is it?”

“The whole thing’s phallic”, he uttered in a ghoulish whisper.

I was surprised at first to note the influence of Freud on the North-West Frontier, but soon discovered that for Colonel Porter the universe itself was phallic. (The Road to Oxiana)

These are the lucky ones.  Always, they believe, they have found the solution to the problem of the world; the answer revealed in some good book, or by a wise man with a charming smile and a sales patter of uncanny profundity.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

The Liberal Stalinist

He likes to portray himself as an outsider, a performer, the peripatetic circus man; the clown.  He is always buzzing about!  A gadfly revelling in the cries and angry rebuffs, the yelps of irritation, his iconoclastic wit provokes amongst the overly serious and slow of mind.  He loves to upset people, although we all know it is only harmless fun and academic games.  A Bruce Forsyth of the conference circuit who is careful always to remind us with a well-timed wink that his risqué jokes and theoretical provocations will not upset the children.

I’ve not read a single one of his books, though he has written many.  I’ve read a few articles, and they are enough: too thin to be worth recalling.  It is the reason, I suspect, he’s so in demand: light entertainment for the thinking classes and some serious comedy for the rest, who’ll find it easy enough amongst the glossy pages of the Sunday supplements.  The headmaster and the civil servant allowed for once to giggle (“those academics, hey?”) and to congratulate themselves on their own cleverness; not worrying overly much about the passages they do not understand; it is, after all, what you would expect when an amateur meets a professional on the latter’s familiar terrain.  “He has a brain that’s for sure”, they might say, pleased to have understood just a bit of what they have read.  “Though I haven’t lost it either; could still find my way around Hegel if only the wife would let me…”

I’ve written about Zizek before; and I’ve got another piece in draft, that I may finish one day.  Three pieces about a minor thinker, with little originality, and who will vanish like newspaper print on the day the fashions end…  I cannot justify myself, dear reader.  I’d like to say, to make this piece worth reading, to give it at least some value, that he represents a wider phenomenon, and is therefore important as a symbol of our contemporary predicament.  That we can understand our culture through a study of this one man is the reason I yearn to give you.  This is not altogether untrue.  He is the intellectual supermodel who creates fake controversy so that the products she advertises sell in their millions – in his case all that expensive internet space around his Guardian articles.  Every age has them, to a greater or lesser degree.  A close look at Zizek potentially an insight into our own peculiarly mediated world, which needs well-educated people who are yet also strangely ignorant; their knowledge of subjects, even (especially?) amongst university graduates, often extraordinarily thin; the commentariat the source for most of their opinions.1 But that is not the reason I have written this piece.  A guilty pleasure, a spasm of emotion; the craving for ice cream…  Yes, I am afraid, my friends, that’s the sum of it.