Pertinent Question: Are Our Writers As Lousy As Our Bankers?

Are Our Writers As Lousy As Our Bankers?

by Evert Cilliers aka Adam Ash

There is a certain kind of art made here in America for a lofty but banal purpose: to enliven the contemporary educated mind.

You know: the mind of you and me, dear 3QD reader — the NPR listener, the New Yorker reader, the English major, the filmgoer who laps up subtitles, the gallery-goer who can tell a Koons from a Hirst.

This art is superior to the cascading pile of blockbuster kitsch-dreck-crap that passes for pop culture, but only superior by a few pips.

This art sure ain’t Picasso, or Joyce, or Rossellini, or the Beatles, or even Sondheim. It’s more Woody Allen than Ingmar Bergman, more Joyce Carol Oates than James Joyce, more Jeff Koons than Duchamp, more Arcade Fire than the Beatles.

It does not expand the borders of art or wreck the tyranny of the possible or enlarge our hungry little minds.

It is art of the day to inform the conversation of the day by the people of the day who need to be reassured that their taste is a little more elevated than that of the woman on the subway reading Nora Roberts.

For want of a better label, here’s a suggested honorific for this kind of art:

Urban Intellectual Fodder.

Read the whole thing . . .


  1. Tbilisi says

    Thanks, happy to contribute! I am very interested in other takes on the book. There were some parts where I gave the author the benefit of the doubt, as it seems that there was a lot of, shall we say, editing for the benefit of the general reader.

  2. Tbilisi says

    @Dr Leo Strauss
    Good Doctor,

    I think the book is excellent overall. It’s the first thing I’ve read that provides any kind of systematic analytic treatment of the pervasive anti-Enlightenment legalized corruption about which we talk much in the Stiftung. Probably her most important point is that we are very much becoming a nation of men, not of laws, and thus reversing what is, next to using reason, probably the most significant innovation of the Enlightenment. I actually found reading it to be a relatively emotional experience: alternating between elation (in that someone has finally articulated intellectually what is so painfully obvious in experience) and despair (in that all this is indeed as pervasive and difficult to reverse as it seems, if not more so).

    The book’s strongest points are in Wedel’s ability to break informal networks of influence/power down into constituent units that can be observed and analyzed, both separately and in aggregate. Surely testament to her background as an ethnographer of Soviet-bloc elites, and it would indeed be great if GAO reconfigured their efforts accordingly. The biggest downside I felt is that the book is also a pretty solid blueprint for how to ‘make it’ in today’s DC, to those canny and amoral enough to ken it.

    So, to sum up, it’s pretty good – as polemic, as social analysis, and even as business book for the era of change.

  3. Dr Leo Strauss says

    Have only read excerpts from that one so can’t comment meaningfully. If you don’t mind the ask, what did you think of it? Not just on Summers but over all?

  4. Tbilisi says

    Re Larry Summers: I recently read Janine Wedel’s book Shadow Elite and the chapter on Harvard and the Yelstin Russia privatizations was astounding, even for the comprehensively disillusioned. Summers may not be good enough an economist for a Nobel Prize, but he definitely is capable of bringing about ‘change,’ at least for himself and his comrades.

    Any thoughts from the Readers on that episode in Harvard’s history, or on the book?

  5. Comment says

    Gene Robinson just wrote a book saying that Oprah and Richard Parsons are more powerful than the black underclass and the gap between Oprah and gangstas appears to be growing,

  6. Comment says

    Woodward on Rose still pushing Powell’s undeniable record of military and political success. Irony undetected.

  7. Comment says

    “Larry Summers was snatching lunch during the African Development Bank annual meeting while I interviewed him. Under no circumstances, his minder said, were we to take pictures while he was eating — a wise precaution as it spared our cameras from the backlash of presenting him chomping greedily on a huge burger. It was a fascinating experience that said much about Summers, his voracious hunger, a man in a hurry, not thinking of all the consequences.”
    ~Japan Times 10-4-2010

  8. Dr Leo Strauss says


    Agree with him about the novels. But his taste in music sucks.

    re music, gotta second that. What he says is embarrassing – for him.

    Also true, Tbilisi, what you note – it’s a damning blanket indictment. We float on the flotsam and jetsam of transient ‘social’ offal and jettison more and more pursuing vacant trendiness.

    Remember the classic “Twilight Zone” episode ‘Time Enough To Last’? Burgess Meredith was the last man alive after nuclear war. Distraught, he suddenly finds an intact public library. As a lover of books he revels at the collection and all his free time. He then drops his glasses, shattering the thick lenses, leaving him effectively blind.

    Laughable to think of it today – some self-focused, double mocha-frappachino-sipping Amerikhun wakes and realizes they’re the last human . . . using Google’s social network flop, Orkut.

  9. Tbilisi says

    The same can be asked of nearly all contemporary social and political scientists and other ‘scholars’ of society (with the exception of a few anthropologists). To paraphrase:

    “this scholarship is superior to the cascading pile of bestseller polemic-reportage-crap that passes for political and social commentary, but only superior by a few pips.

    It does not expand the borders of what is known about the human race or wreck the tyranny of illogic or enlarge our hungry little minds.

    It is scholarship of the day to inform the conversation of the day by the people of the day who need to be reassured that their narrow worldviews and obvious opinions are a little more elevated than that of the woman on the subway reading USA Today.”

    As a believer in the Enlightenment, it’s a painful realization that if all the scholarly social scientific journals suddenly disappeared, we would become only marginally dumber. This was not supposed to be the result of mass education and material well-being.

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