Tue 30 Jun 2009
On the back cover of the paperback edition of My Pilgrim’s Progress, George Trow’s second, and ultimately fatal, attempt to trace the line of Western Culture’s post-war descent into inanity, there is a blurb by the literary pundit, Sven Birkerts, that embodies the root of that inanity with uncanny perfection.
It reads: Trow models the thrilling possibility that one can, from the stronghold of one’s own experience and knowledge, decipher something of the world.
As if there were any other way!
You might be thinking that that sentence could be taken a number of ways, but it’s even worse in context :
“It’s an ambitious venture, especially as Trow proceeds with no authorized historical perspectives or terminologies. He goes forth solo, walking into the jungle with his compass and knife, a bit of an old-school anthropologist. What amazes me — and contributes to the true readerly excitement — is that in many ways he pulls it off. He models the thrilling possibility that one can, from the stronghold of one’s own experience and knowledge, decipher something of the world; that the murk of late modernity can be pierced and rendered at least partially comprehensible.”
Here is an established public intellectual, one of the men our culture has specifically tasked as an arbiter and caretaker of creativity and free expression, and he is openly professing his amazement that someone could actually make sense of the world without the aid of authorized perspectives and terminologies. As if using one’s subjective experience in that way were somehow a form of illicit thrill-seeking. He might as well be wearing a sign that says, “Don’t think for yourself.” Disgraceful.
Pyramid of Night (Mackay)