March 14, 2010 1 Comment
As I do every Sunday morning, I read Nick Cohen’s Observer column, knowing full well that one of two emotions will occur (as is always the case when I read him); that I’ll find myself shouting at the computer with disagreement, cursing and blaspheming, or that my hands and head quiver with agreement, as if to try and convince the screen of how correct this or that assertion is, whilst secretly wishing I’d put it that way myself. There is no middle position, and I know people feel he has lost his way, but if I’m still reduced to either of these states, then who am I to complain.
Today, much the same, but in mini. Cohen, on the subject of Ian McEwan’s new book Solar and the complexities of satire, anti-postmodernism and climate change denialism, notes that:
My colleagues should note that McEwan shows that the ICA rather than the Cape Farewell project has been the true butt of satirists ever since Amis invited its relativist crowd to raise their hands if they thought they were morally superior to the Taliban and only one third did. (“So many?” I hear you gasp. Yes, I was surprised too.)
There are a number of complaints I have about Cohen’s work, that do in part stem from his book What’s Left, which takes a stab at two things which I hold rather dear, namely the left, and certain current academic philosophy. For a start I enjoy reading the works of Slavoj Zizek, who I feel Cohen would find himself in agreement with if he looked into the reasons why Zizek’s vision of left wing politics is not to follow the liberal-left strain that runs through today. For Zizek, the European left is too far of the ilk that takes arguments like moral relatvism as sound, that is predicated on guilt (Romantic) and not evidence or analysis (reason), instead it is reduced to sentimentalities, and this is why two thirds of the redundent left raised not their hands.
Unfortunately, Cohen in his book did not aim to separate the modes of thinking, instead reduced all postmodernist language as belonging to the same quest – that of folly, not answering questions, or not saying anything at all (he rightly exemplifies Judith Butler for belonging here, but her language is a product of the time, in business-speak her Unique Selling Point that, in spite of what was written about her by Cohen, has something behind all the avant garde language Butler employs - gender is a kind of culturally constructed element that we are enforced to perform, as if it is an acting role that informs our sexual ontology - and it is this I disagree with, the style I just have to accept as what the audience wants. Cohen has no truck with this, but, then, it’s his loss – those who write with the postmodernist language, are not always postmodernist philosophers, and should be seen, in the context of the academic world, as having its equivalent in if a Guardian journalist was to try and win over Mirror-reading voters, a toned down language and subject matter, or any similar equivalent - the same man with the noble message persists behind the language, only it is used differently to suit the audience).
When I read Zizek denigrate the guit-ridden postmodern leftism that persists today, I put my argument in order that it doesn’t echo that most ridiculous form of left wing expression (for I like to think my own politics are not predicated on guilt, nor should I have any truck with politics which does), but when reading Cohen talk about the left, I almost feel as if I’m meant to take on this burden, where I might not raise my hand in the ICA. But let us be clear; the left has not lost its way, the people for whom Cohen talks about, the quaker-vegetarian chatteristas as it were, are not the left. Cohen rightly pours scorn on an expression of left wing politics which is peculiar, but like the example of postmodern language, sometimes expression fails meaning, or meaning is lost in expression. My problem with Cohen, therefore, is not what he says, for which a lot of the time I agree, but to dignify a lot of these romantic cranks – by which is meant politics of emotion not evidence, like those who didn’t raise their hand are – as leftwing is a perversion. I here call for the definitions to be modified; for those who have their politics arranged on merit of an emotional proximity must be the romantics, for those who have, as best they can, removed their emotional proximity to their politics, must be defined by any other name.