Sunday, 17 March 2013

The age of feuilleton

I was listening in on a CNN (ie, while writing and not watching) yesterday where the broadcast went to the rightwing confab, CPAC  - not our venerable parliamentary cable channel but something to do with the tea party in the US - while Palin was talking when it occurred to me that the rightwing (no matter what country it belongs in) is not "anti-intellectual" per se. No, that assessment would be too smug on my part. Rightwing nuttery is rather more like what Hermann Hesse talked about at length in his book, Magister Ludi or The Glassbead Game: its intellectual basis derives almost entirely from a feuilleton-like mentality.

The online defines "feuilleton" like this:

a. The part of a European newspaper devoted to light fiction, reviews, and articles of general entertainment.
b. An article appearing in such a section.
a. A novel published in installments.
b. A light, popular work of fiction.
3. A short literary essay or sketch.
The Murdock empire (its tabloids, Fox Network, etc.) and Sunnews in Canada are political feuilletons because besides passing editorials and inserting their commentators into stories as journalism their whole content are devoted to easing people on how and what to think about by virtue of by-passing any semblance of "balance". These new takes on propaganda are all-encompassing bubbles of drivel.
Umberto Eco also talks about feuilletons quite a bit (especially in The Prague Cemetery, and his anthology of essays, Inventing the Enemy) and how these vehicles of "light fictions" have been and continue to be used for dark political purposes (ie, as all-encompassing, self-reinforcing bubbles of drivel that pass for discourse on history, art, politics, and religion). I mention Eco only in passing because I don't want to spoil anything for fans of Eco. But the facts remain...
This feuilleton-like mentality is as old as philosophical and political discourses if not older. Socrates' discourse is not only a response to sophism (a form of feuilleton) but his whole philosophical stance is intended as an alternative to disingenuous, light treatment of deep human and spiritual issues upon which feuilleton mentality preys (since we are all of us just naturally lazy, I'd surmise the disingenuous counts on that nature so it may create society in its own dark image (or at the least, desensitize us to its ugliness)).
Giovanni Pico (who I wrote about yesterday) was also concerned about the attractive snake oil of feuilleton mentality. His Oration on the Dignity of Man is justified ultimately by his said concerns:
28. Add to this [exhaustive list of different schools of thought he wanted to talk about] that any sect which assails the truer doctrines, and makes game of good causes by clever slander, strengthens rather than weakens the truth and, like flames stirred by agitation, fans rather than extinguishes it. This has been my reason for wishing to bring before the public the opinions not of a single school...but rather of every school, to the end that that light of truth Plato mentions in his Epistles through the comparison of several sects and this discussion of manifold philosophies might dawn more brightly on our minds, like sun rising from the deep. (Renaissance Philosophy of Man, p. 244)
Pico continues with the Socratic and Judeo-Christian expectation that critical knowledge (or faith) be not just words but that these notions inform our values and actions (ie, be opposite of what feuilleton cultivates):
It is surely an ignoble part to be wise only from a notebook (as Seneca says) and, as if the discoveries of our predecessors had closed the way to our own industry and power of nature were exhausted in us, to produce from ourselves nothing which, if it does not actually demonstrate the truth, at least intimates it from afar. For if a tiller of the soil hates sterility in his field...surely the Divine mind joined to and associated with an infertile soul will hate it more in that a far nobler offspring is desired. (ibid, pp. 244-245)
It has been these ideas and admonitions that bear down on me most severly as "from the depths I cry out to the Lord" in this Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita - "midway of [my] life's path." I'm not a religious person, but I've become more and more aware and concerned recently about something that I've lost along the way; namely, my spiritualism. I can reasonably doubt that the world-as-it-is has changed; it is my perspective (my umwelt) that is changing. I pray that I come out a better person.

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