Monday, February 20, 2006

The Hunting of the Snark (Two Fits of Agony)

1. Fit the First

Leon Wieseltier's review of Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell seems to be full of ill-founded snark -- although to be absolutely honest I can't say for sure, since I quit reading the review in disgust partway through. I don't think that Breaking the Spell is Dennett's best book, but it certainly deserves better than Wieseltier's supercilious little hit piece. (Wieseltier seems to have a penchant for these: his review of Nicholson Baker's Checkpoint (even farther from being Baker's best book than Breaking the Spell is from being Dennett's) was also a string of cheap shots, flagrant misreadings and enough splutter that you needed an umbrella to read it.) Fortunately some people have a stronger stomach than I and managed to actually finish Wieseltier's review, so that they can shoot it down with all the ferocity of Dick Cheney on a quial hunt. The best huntings of Wieseltier's snark that I've read are Brian Lieter's and P. Z. Myers's; a roundup of others is at Majikthiese. (Update: a third good hunter takes aim at Weiseltier's "digraceful and disrespectful hack job of a review" here.)

2. Fit the Second

In the meantime, for some better-aimed Snark that is less likely to up and Boojum on you, read Alex Ross's lengthy New Yorker essay on Theodore Adorno (from nearly three years ago, but I just came across it). A hilariously snarky essay that's a lot of fun to read. But I must admit I can't tell if the implication in the following three sentences is, A) intentional and meant as a joke; B) an accident of misfired prose (though I blame Adorno for sneaking up behind him and not announcing his presence, really) or C) intentional and meant seriously. I presume (A), because of the snarkiness of the rest of the essay, to say nothing of the usually careful editing of The New Yorker; but still, this is a wild trio of sentences:

Tragically, Adorno was himself a victim of the shock tactics of pop culture. In April, 1969, a group of female activists interrupted his lecture "An Introduction to Dialectical Thinking" by flashing their breasts in his face and taunting him with flowers. He died a few months later, on August 6, 1969.

"Charm it with smiles and with soap" indeed!

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