Old Sock Drawer

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#103: Empire of Illusion – revisited

March 18th, 2010 by Mary Leong

So The Tyee published an interesting and exceedingly eloquent analysis by Stan Persky of Chris Hedges’ Empire of Illusion. As you might recall, I granted Empire of Illusion the title of “the one book you must read of 2009” in my end-of-year arts and culture rundown. I see Tyler has taken my advice and gone off and read it.

With the decline of literacy in favour of popular culture’s garishness, I share Hedges’ grim fascination with the direction the world is heading. The article prefers to observe popular culture in a detached manner rather than viewing its detrimental effects. An interesting take, but one I must disagree with. Persky comments that Hedges fails to take into account the literal causes of literary decline, such as the rise of social networking on the Internet, decline of book-reading, and increasing “knowledge deficits” in youth – a failure at being informed about history, geography, literature. He goes on to state that Hedges’ examples are for the most part, unrelated to actual literary decline and an overly bleak look at things.

On my part, I beg to differ. Persky does not account for the fact that his literal causes of literary decline – less reading, more Twitter et cetera – is caused by the examples Hedges chooses to draw from. A steady lack of interest in books doesn’t simply emerge from nowhere. Decreased attention span in youth leading to the lack of interest in books? Hedges attributes it to the rise of “spectacle” – pornography, reality television, falsified entertainment wrestling. The rise of education for money-making rather than education for erudition. The reign of a relatively unintelligent plutocracy (for more on this, read Idiot America). Why would you even think of reading when you could get your information from YouTube?

I quote verbatim from Persky’s article, “So, it’s a book about rather than for the unwashed but shampooed masses whose minds are inundated by junk culture.” And so, I ask, why not? Once the clock has gone forward, what is there left to be done? Rousseau would say we’ve gone so far down that there’s no way to turn back the clock and rescue ourselves from the state we’ve fallen into. We’ve given up the noble command of the written word in favour of visceral entertaiment and there is no going back. The only thing we can do now is to acknowledge that this regression is quite real indeed: we cannot go back, but we can move forward to something less destructive.

Once again, I firmly encourage you to read Empire – I definitely want to know what you guys think.

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2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Eastwood Mar 19, 2010 at 6:58 am

    It current sits near the top of my to-read list.

  • 2 Mary Leong Mar 25, 2010 at 8:12 pm

    I can’t wait to hear what you think of it, Eastwood. You always have the best commentary on books!