“Poshlust,” or in a better transliteration poshlost, has many nuances, and evidently I have not described them clearly enough in my little book on Gogol, if you think one can ask anybody if he is tempted by poshlost. Corny trash, vulgar clichés, Philistinism in all its phases, imitations of imitations, bogus profundities, crude, moronic, and dishonest pseudo-literature—these are obvious examples. Now, if we want to pin down poshlost in contemporary writing, we must look for it in Freudian symbolism, moth-eaten mythologies, social comment, humanistic messages, political allegories, over concern with class or race, and the journalistic generalities we all know. Poshlost speaks in such concepts as “America is no better than Russia” or “We all share in Germany’s guilt.” The flowers of poshlost bloom in such phrases and terms as “the moment of truth,” “charisma,” “existential” (used seriously), “dialogue” (as applied to political talks between nations), and “vocabulary” (as applied to a dauber). Listing in one breath Auschwitz, Hiroshima, and Vietnam is seditious poshlost. Belonging to a very select club (which sports oneJewish name—that of the treasurer) is genteel poshlost. Hack reviews are frequently poshlost, but it also lurks in certain highbrow essays. Poshlost calls Mr. Blank a great poet and Mr. Bluff a great novelist. One of poshlost‘s favorite breeding places has always been the Art Exhibition; there it is produced by so-called sculptors working with the tools of wreckers, building crankshaft cretins of stainless steel, Zen stereos, polystyrene stinkbirds, objects trouvés in latrines, cannonballs, canned balls. There we admire the gabinetti wall patterns of so-called abstract artists, Freudian surrealism, roric smudges, and Rorschach blots—all of it as corny in its own right as the academic “September Morns” and “Florentine Flowergirls” of half a century ago. The list is long, and, of course, everybody has his bête noire, his black pet, in the series. Mine is that airline ad: the snack served by an obsequious wench to a young couple—she eyeing ecstatically the cucumber canapé, he admiring wistfully the hostess. And, of course, Death in Venice. You see the range.

Interview link.

One-Off: In Defense of Bullshit

One-Off: In Defense of Bullshit

Leon Wieseltier takes aim at FiveThirtyEight.

His distinction between analysis and advocacy is a little innocent. (Like the insistence of the man who went from the Times to ESPN that he is an “outsider.”) Is numeracy really what American public discourse most urgently lacks?

Mr. Wieseltier had a prime opportunity to approach the reoccurring theme of internet ‘debating.’ I enter argument, I throw some insults out there, and then I go to the proverbial “WhyIAmRight.com” before debating anew. If only indirectly Wieseltier comes close to making that point but at the last second ducks away to offer up some platitudes about inequality. Are we really lacking proper ‘numeracy,’ what a awfully pretentious word, Mr. Wieseltier? I do not know too many people who believe that inequality is absent from America. I do, however, see quite a few people–from all sides–defending themselves with the ‘need-not-be-said’ type of arguments. e.g. I vote for X, and it need-not-be-said that according to this argument concocted from these obscure and misguided numerals I am right. I know there is inequality, and it need-not-be-said that according this argument concocted from these obscure numerals I am right. And those are the worst type of arguments. They are not debates, the ‘debate’ is two people talking past each other.

Nevertheless, it makes for good, light reading. And anyone who mentions Isaiah Berlin deserves a bone.