Jonathan Frazen gets an open forum for pontificating about the bankruptcy of modern life. Too bad he’s the one who is intellectually bankrupt. The essay is a pathetic diatribe against modernity, the internet, capitalism, Jeff Bezos, and, well, pretty much everything that isn’t a diatribe against something.

The thing about his hatred and nihilism is that it’s a ruse, an illusion, his own way of profiting from and eagerly, actively, willingly participating in the very systems he claims to despise. Proof? Here:

And yet, to echo Kraus, I’d still rather live among PCs. Any chance that I might have switched to Apple was negated by the famous and long-running series of Apple ads aimed at persuading people like me to switch. The argument was eminently reasonable, but it was delivered by a personified Mac (played by the actor Justin Long) of such insufferable smugness that he made the miseries of Windows attractive by comparison. You wouldn’t want to read a novel about the Mac: what would there be to say except that everything is groovy? Characters in novels need to have actual desires; and the character in the Apple ads who had desires was the PC, played by John Hodgman. His attempts to defend himself and to pass himself off as cool were funny, and he suffered, like a human being. (There were local versions of the ad around the world, with comedians David Mitchell and Robert Webb as the PC and Mac in the UK).

I’d be remiss if I didn’t add that the concept of “cool” has been so fully co-opted by the tech industries that some adjacent word such as “hip” is needed to describe those online voices who proceeded to hate on Long and deem Hodgman to be the cool one. The restlessness of who or what is considered hip nowadays may be an artifact of what Marx famously identified as the “restless” nature of capitalism. One of the worst things about the internet is that it tempts everyone to be a sophisticate – to take positions on what is hip and to consider, under pain of being considered unhip, the positions that everyone else is taking. Kraus may not have cared about hipness per se, but he certainly revelled in taking positions and was keenly attuned to the positions of others. He was a sophisticate, and this is one reason Die Fackel has a bloglike feel. Kraus spent a lot of time reading stuff he hated, so as to be able to hate it with authority.

Notice the two things that Frazen does here. First, he tricks the reader into language that automatically makes his own view about Mac versus PC the correct (“hip”) view. (This is done in the first sentence of the second paragraph, though the preceding paragraph is needed in order to understand that Frazen believes that the PC is the cool/hip/correct character.) As secondary item to note here is that Frazen is apparently also pulled into doing the thing that is “one of the worst things about the internet”, namely, taking a position on what is hip. Question for Jon: if this is one of the worst things about the internet, why have you just done it?

Second, he gets the reader to buy into the notion that Kraus is wise and sophisticated and a person whose opinions matter and are probably correct. But note: the entire essay is essentially Jon comparing himself to Kraus and implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) equating his own creativity, insight, and genius with that of Kraus. This is clear in the second half of the second paragraph above. So in passing off compliments on Kraus, Frazen is really just patting himself on the back. I wonder what Frazen has to say about the propensity of the internet – social media – to encourage self-aggrandizement?

If Jon is the creme of the contemporary intelligentsia – as such other sophisticates as Oprah would have us believe – then the intelligentsia is in a pretty sorry intellectual state.

-JD Cross

 

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