I bought George Moore’s Confessions of a Young Man at the Lantern, thinking that it was by G.E. Moore. Not so. But this Moore is a lively, if inconsistent writer. At something over a quarter of the way through, after Moore has abandoned painting for lack of talent and determined to take up poetry, he writes about Mallarmé.
Moore had been educating himself in French poetry, starting with Victor Hugo and working his way up to contemporary French poets (contemporary, in this case, meaning the 1870s) in a process of (somewhat) calculated autodidacticism.
He writes about ‘Mallarmé’s Tuesday evening, a few friends sitting round the hearth, the lamp on the table.’
I kept reading for another half dozen sentences before pulling up short and going back to that sentence and finally comprehending that he had been attending weekly literary salons at the home of Stéphane Mallarmé. My mind was blown by the reality of what I have missed by being born too late.
And yes, it is different now. It’s worse.
Our cultural heroes and leaders are not writers and poets and dramatists, nor essayists and philosophers, but libertarian technophiles who see the latest app as part of an inexorable process that magically culminates in the alleviation of suffering or hunger or some other global ill. The whole shebang is a self deluded shell games, like the South Park underwear gnomes, they convinced that they have embarked on the first step of a messianic journey that leads inexorably, inexplicably – magically! – to some greater end.
At the same time, we have not yet completely thrown off our adulation of pirating financiers nor the revelation of the fast descent into madness, pain, and suicide of Lord only knows how many former college and NFL players much diminished our fawning love athletes playing dangerous games of brute force.
I’m not claiming that Baudelaire’s debaucheries are to be emulated nor Shelley’s private (as opposed to public) morals modeled, but for fuck’s sake, can we stop calling Steve Jobs a great man? He was a megalomaniacal marketer. For fuck’s sake, people! I have an iPhone, but the building of a fief-like cult of consumption within a consumer addled culture has not broadened our minds, lifted our souls, nor made the world an appreciably better place. Indeed, it can be argued that Steve Jobs most lasting legacy will the impact of a spate of Chinese suicides on the families they left behind.
So… for fuck’s sake, people, shape up!
I know it’s hard, because it’s all so seductive. I used to work for a couple of tech forward firms, including a semi-early adopter of using emails to ‘activate’ activists and, later, a company that managed text messages for nonprofits and political campaigns. I wrote texts and copy for smartphone apps and social media and told their clients how these new strategies that I developed, these new technologies that I was selling would change everything! The people who signed my checks, they absolutely believed it. And, in some small, meaningless, tactical way, they were right, but in a larger, more important way, they were dead wrong and all the world’s souls will ultimately suffer for not seeing it.