May 1, 2017 (Monday)

by Yule Heibel on April 30, 2018

And so it is Monday again, and I’m back to the routine of getting up quite early, and writing here first thing, feeling slightly buzzy as I try to wake up fully. It was so cold in the house when I got up (61ºF) that I turned the heat back on. I’ll turn it off again in a couple of hours, but feel I the need to take the edge off the cold, at least for a while. It seems crazy that we were dealing with 80ºF++ temperatures on Saturday, and now it’s back to the “high” 40s. Well, okay, maybe 53ºF by this afternoon. Brrr.

Yesterday I read a few more chapters in Elkin’s book – the one about Tokyo was really interesting. I looked the book up on Amazon, and then read some of the reviews. She has a number of cogent 2-star reviews (no 1-stars, though), and after reading them I really started to question my own opinion. I like the book, but on reading the negative reviews I start to think there’s something wrong with me for liking it.

It seems to me that a lot of things – many social dynamics – are working more and more like this now. You like something based (mostly) on the style, or, in the case of writing, the author’s voice. The turn of phrase, the ability to conjure – you take pleasure in the work. But, oho!, the critics cry. We have reasons, specific bullet-point style reasons, for calling out the book’s failings. And they go on to list all the things the book – or author, rather – is alleged to have not done, to have failed to do. They don’t mention the things she does do (present a different perspective, conjure her scenes effectively, have an engaging voice, make you think), only the things she didn’t.

I understand this is a key and crucial component of critique, that it’s necessary. But I think we’re dealing with a quality versus quantity problem here, too, of the kind Adorno described when he tried (he tried!) to explain the nature of what had taken place under Nazi Germany, the monstrous thing we call the Holocaust.

I’m not comparing this to the Holocaust. O b v i o u s l y. I’m comparing Adorno’s heuristic of quantity-vs-quality, using it to think my way to something. Forget I ever mentioned the Holocaust – upon saying / writing which I know any reader will think of nothing but the Holocaust now. So now that my reader here has forgotten it, I would ask the reader to turn her mind to the quantity-vs-quality problem. Except I have no readers, these are morning pages. Okay, fine.

I’m saying it’s the same as (or similar to) the experts and elites vs …hmm,  the non-experts?, the populists? problem. Say you have two well-established, expert book critics writing about Flaneuse. One likes it, the other hates it. Fine. There’s not too much amplification there. But on Amazon, you might have six – or six hundred! – critics (“non-expert” lay people) who hate it and five (or five hundred) who love it. Each critique has particulars, has qualities. But now they’re so amplified and so manifold that they tip over into quantity. That’s what I mean, and that’s what Adorno was talking about as far as I understand him: quality tips over into quantity, and then all bets are off.

Somehow, at some basic level, our brains seem unable to deal with too much quantity, something in our brains scrambles.

And everything these days has that “tipping-over-into-quantity” aspect – which, ironically, then becomes a quality (that’s the dialectic). Everything is amplified beyond our usual ability to comprehend, to get our hands around. In the Sixties and Seventies we extended our hands into our brains using the popular phrase “get one’s head around,” but it started with the hands, with being able to hold the thing. It’s not that we can’t hold two contradictory thoughts, either. Minds and hands able to discern quality have always existed. It’s that we feel done over when asked to hold hundreds at the same time. This is now everywhere.

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