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The book also lacks sustained attention to the Greco-Roman origins of Western logic as well as to the complex status of reason in medieval theology. Even the presentation of post-Enlightenment culture suffers from a curious blankness about Romanticism, which Saul rarely mentions but which powerfully critiqued Western institutions and ideology from within. Saul is superb, however, on military history, which is glaringly absent from the overliterary world-view of poststructuralism. Although he is unfair to Napoleon, whom he blames for inaugurating the pattern of godlike hero that would produce Hitler but that again has ancient precedents.

William Westmoreland are models of quick-take psychological astuteness. There are dramatic juxtapositions, such as a wonderful comparison of Cardinal Richelieu to Robert McNamara, against whom Saul levels devastating charges of incompetence. Saul zips through years of literature and art, flinging out opinions from the fruitful to the bizarre.

The current crisis in literary criticism, perfect grist for his mill, is passed over with a few disparaging remarks about deconstruction.

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Popular culture is treated in a dismissive, harrumphing way all too familiar these days. The discussion of Christian images ignores Protestant iconoclasm. Boone Pickens. Massively grounded in hard fact, the book unintentionally exposes the flimsiness and amateurism of New Historicism, a recent fad in literary criticsm influenced by Michel Foucault that finds imperialism under every doormat. After so dire a picture of western culture, we might expect some concrete proposals for reform.

In this, he has certainly succeeded. Rejecting the exhausted stereotype of Left versus Right, he opens up new lines of inquiry and creates new constellations of meaning. With his sophisticated international perspective and blunt freedom from cant, Saul offers a promising persona for the future: the intellectual as man of the world.

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I recalled a brief exchange, one of many conversations we shared over clattering golf clubs. These words came shortly after my reading crossed a very special threshold:. Crowther, do you find that the more you read the more everything seems to connect together? When one reads a lot and widely, the connections come fast and furious. Now and then, when one is, like me, a reader who always have a dozen books on the go, the connections appear unexpectedly between two books one is currently reading.

This pleasant surprise has happened to me recently.

All the King's Bastards

Paris in the Twentieth Century was published in French in That title, however, has stuck in my mind for almost two decades as the kernel of an art project I have finally started concrete work on. As I began preliminary sketches, I realized I should probably reread the novel whose title had been rolling around in my mind so long. Somehow, it took me two decades to get to it.

The Grey Bastards

So, 19th century French science fiction writer and 20th century Canadian philosopher. Just this: Verne and Saul describe virtually identically structured societies, although the details are, inevitably, different. And elevators and fax machines. Of course, when we really think about it, none of these predictions were that unpredictable. Its science fiction interest is purely antiquarian and its technological prophecy is modest.

The world Saul delineates — our world — is a society run by administrators of a system — technocrats. The System, either the perpetuation of it or personal advancement within it, is the ultimate reason for every decision. The bottom line is always the bottom line.

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Art and literature are no longer about pursuit of beauty or social engagement. Rather, artists and writers have become technocrats within their own branch of the system.

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Saul argues that everything in Western society is directed at sustaining the system rather than toward the well-being of the people trapped within it. Verne concentrates principally on the arts in his future. And the state of the arts is disturbing. All art is absolutely dismissed from Paris unless it has been turned to the purposes of applied science, technology or finance. Great drama of the past is rewritten to conform by assembly lines of dramatists, each specializing in a type of scene.

Symphonies are written to commemorate great chemical experiments. The language itself is changing into a collection of jargon. Saul is calling for the embracing of dissent, of kicking at the traces of all that we do without thinking. He is unable to live the life of the system drone, and, in the end, is crushed by that system and its failure. Here, all decision is administration, fundamental doubt or questioning is either ridiculed or impossible to consider, and the corporate model is applied to all aspects of life, including the life of the individual.

As Saul writes on p. What both Verne and Saul point out is that technology and systems administration are dehumanizing when accepted without questioning and doubt.


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Not only are doubts and questioning the only route to discovery and invention, but only the flexibility doubt brings us, indeed, sometimes only panic gives us what we may need to see and solve a crisis. Saul is very careful to explain that the system our technocrats manage, whatever the -ism they labour under, is the hopeless idea that human society can be managed by rational means alone:. Perhaps the most damaging part of our obsession with expertise and systems has been the restructuring of elected assemblies to make them more efficient.


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  • This equation of the idea of efficiency. If Byron were alive today, he would be a rock star, Saul writes p. And I expect Saul would find hope in the remarkable engagement and popularity of Canadian spoken-word artist Shane Koyczan. In contrast, Verne anticipates a society which no longer engages with its poets. But, is it not a two way street? How long will a poet be a voice in the wilderness before she either caves and writes what sells, or, on the other side, starves in a garret, or freezes in a cemetery above Paris?

    Such a society in fiction seems impossible, but our own society is a pea in the same pod. Modern society is an organism which serves only its meaningless self, not the humans who service it and are indifferently sloughed like so many skin cells or fingernail clippings. A technocratic, systematic society always has answers, whether or not those answers are helpful. But, as Saul concludes of societies such as ours. If the Socratic question can still be asked, it is certainly not rational.


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