The masked philosopher

Excerpt from a 1980 interview in Le Monde entitled “The Masked Philosopher”:

It’s amazing how people like judging. Judgment is being passed everywhere, all the time. Perhaps it’s one of the simplest things mankind has been given to do. And you know very well that the last man, when radiation has finally reduced his last enemy to ashes, will sit down behind some rickety table and begin the trial of the individual responsible. I can’t help but dream about a kind of criticism that would not try to judge, but bring an oeuvre, a book, a sentence, an idea to life; it would light fires, watch the grass grow, listen to the wind, and catch the sea-foam in the breeze and scatter it. It would multiply, not judgments, but signs of existence; it would summon them, drag them from their sleep. Perhaps it would invent them sometimes – all the better. All the better. Criticism that hands down sentences sends me to sleep; I’d like a criticism of scintillating leaps of the imagination. It would not be a sovereign or dressed in red. It would bear the lightning of possible storms.

The whole interview can be found here. The intellectual in question spoke under the condition of anonymity as a means to deconstruct the ways that awareness of authorship conditions our response to texts. “A name makes reading too easy,” quoth the masked philosopher, because it relieves the reader of the responsibility of making his own judgments about the text’s content.

It’s a salient point considering that celebrities, pundits, politicians, and self-interested actors determine so much of what we read and how we interpret what we read. Also relevant from the interview is “the feeling among the critics that they will not be heard unless they shout louder and pull a rabbit out of the hat each week.” I.e., behind the extreme views and “pseudopolitization” of issues by cable news networks and talk-show talking heads is the need to be heard and the anxiety of not being heard (albeit more of a financial greed than an existential anxiety…).

As an example, read here or here about how the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine was intentionally and falsely connected to autism. A lawyer and a former surgeon used falsified lab tests and fear-mongering — leading to sensationalism, confusion about immunizations, increased outbreaks of measles, etc. — in order to make a quick buck. The cynicism of it is sickening.

It’s a sobering tale about the power of corrupt individuals, unaccountable media, and unreflective consumers to wreak havoc and confusion. And, the dearth of quality science journalism is extremely troubling in a time when technology is advancing well beyond our ability to digest and morally evaluate these “advances.” (Will write a post about “technology” next week.)

On a lighter note, looking forward to a weekend romp through DC restaurants and museums with my favorite family.

Oui, Monsieur Foucault, our imaginations will scintillate and leap.

First image via: Stunning Hi-Res Public Domain Astronomy images

Second image source: Flikr user oliva catherine locher

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