Friday, April 7, 2017

Are the Masses Still the Asses?

female buttocks by Peter Klashorst
In an essay entitled “Thinking like music,” (TLS, 3/17/17), Martin Schifino quotes the Argentinian writer Ricardo Piglia thusly, “Mass culture (or better still mass politics) was clearly seen by Borges as a machine that produces false memories and impersonal experiences. Everyone feels the same and remembers what they haven’t lived through.” Piglia’s point recalls two seminal essays by the Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset, “The Dehumanization of Art” and “The Revolt of the Masses.” These essays dealt with the juggernaut of uniformity—deriving particularly from the ways in which mass culture caters to the lowest common denominator and the attempts of classic modernism to recuse itself from it, by developing its own esoteric language. In the course of his essay Schifino recounts a meeting between Borges and Piglia who was a short story writer and academic (who taught at Princeton) and who died in January. Piglia’s paraphrasing of Borges point is even more pertinent today since the power of so-called mass culture has been exponentially increased by social media, which has all but drowned out everything but the most digestible of content. Twitter posts of 140 characters are what stir electorates, not volumes of classics like De Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments or for that matter Plato’s Republic which require a commitment to thinking in addition to deliberate action.

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