Intellectual Rigor Mortis

August 3, 2018

The limbs of a corpse stiffen approximately four hours after death. Western intellectual life has reached that point. Lazarus moment aside, there is no coming back.

 

At the height of the success garnered by the publishing of On The Road, a San Francisco journalist by the name Herb Caen coined the word beatnik. He then went for drinks with Jack Kerouac in the terrace of a San Francisco bar to try to convince him that his intentions were good and that the term had caught on marvelously. But Kerouac hated the term and, in vain, tried to convince everybody that, although he was 'king of the beats', he was no beatnik. It didn't work, though. In Jack's eyes the difference between those affirmations was abysmal but in the collective imaginary there was none. And the term stuck. It still does. The lifestyle had merged with the subject matter and, in an effort to be a portrait artist, Kerouac had become himself the portrait.

 

This is a problem dating back hundreds of years. Erwin Panofsky went to great lengths trying to assert than an art object has representational qualities at a number of cultural levels, e.g. it may very well be a depiction of nature, a model of how culturally-construed nature is perceived, or altogether a reality resting right on the border of how nature is construed by shared imagination. For Panofsky, natural meanings precede iconography and so he devoted the rest of his career to try to reign on the morass, attempting to unearth "iconology" as such. Kerouac did not have the chops to schematize such depth of analysis for his own mental survival and, so, he swam until the end of his life caught in the whirlwind of himself, his work, and what his work meant to the larger collective.

 

This is the irreversible rigor mortis that the formerly vibrant intellectual life of the West has reached.The chops of so-called thinking persons armed with an online soapbox are of such low caliber that the icons have melted into the nature of the discourse, confounding the subject matter with the person and with the significance that the subject in turn has achieved throughout the very, very few who still invest time in going through the editorial pages. What skin color is the speaker? What type of genitals were spotted at birth? Is he or she identified as something else? Is the subject banned for whatever group that person --in the collective imagination-- belongs to? In the old adage, we're moths feverishly circling around the dim light of things and persons instead of the colossal flame of ideas.

 

When The Atlantic hired and fired Kevin Williamson in the span of one second (sheepishly cowing to social media outcry over a comment he made about abortion) and when The New York Times hired Sarah Jeong to a rapturous applause by the leftist online army (greatly thanks to her racist and hateful comments against white people), waterfalls of e-ink erupted everywhere discussing video bits, tweets, and the personas in the middle of their respective hurricanes. Let's stop there for a second, though. Examples of this outrage manufacturing by the kilo abound but, again, the whole world appears to be stuck in a battle between being the king of the beat and a beatnik; a frustrating, masturbatory, and fruitless churning of neurons and time and kilobytes that boggles the mind. The intellectual life of the West is a cholesterol ridden vein triggering brain stroke after brain stroke. Why is everybody is still going around kicking a tyrannosaurus? These are corrupt, hypocritical, and coagulated institutions battling to stay relevant by the sheer force of clicks!

 

Look here: there's nothing new under the sun. Innovation is about creating a new product, finding a new market for an existing product, or selling an existing product to an existing market through new channels. That's it. Legacy media is regurgitating the same old stuff, with the same old people, using a new channel forcibly placed inside a straitjacket in order to behave like the old medium. We are at a crossroads and we have neither the impudence nor the ingenuity to stir the pot and turn it all upside down. This is not about some rigid writer, a pampered identity politics snowflake raking in the dollars, or dying media desperate to stay relevant. It is about building pristine, new, and daring cultural capital on the ruins of the old world. Outlets like The Atlantic and The New York Times are dead. Universities are dead. Sacred cows aren't good even for sausage. It is only through ripping off the curtains covering the phenomena taking place backstage that we'll force a renaissance through the establishment of little habits, piling up like grains of sand, until a storm builds up.

 

Kolakowski once wrote that the acquisition of a clear consciousness of cultural identity parallel to endless self-criticism is an eminently European balancing act, one which births the unique value of search. If we are to view ourselves at a distance while affirming the supreme value of confronting as many opinions as possible, then the medium, the product, and the market for fresh cultural production can overcome the coagulated structures of the thinking we're seeing crumbling around us. Who the hell cares if The Atlantic management lacks cojones? What relevance has, against the backdrop of the long canvas of history, a sniveling, racist brat playing to be a social justice warrior from the trenches of a comfy, air conditioned boardroom? If the freedoms of thought and expression are at stake, that doesn't mean that the weapons to be used are the traditional ones. Be the king of beats or be a beatnik. It's irrelevant. Just beat it.

 

 

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