Me Books are distinguished by the fact that the first-person voice is the only voice in the text, and “I-I-I” is tacitly believed to be the only seat of authority from which to report the world. That serial memoirists own this seat of authority is perfectly harmless until the touching letters from readers, the millions of dollars, the Bestseller mantles and the cover medallions aren’t enough. They want to pretend that what they publish is more than eloquent journal writing; that it’s cultural commentary; that their accidental adventures in addiction, divorce, death, and disease can be activated into episodes of accidental ethnography.
Looking over the master plan — a “Defending Our Freedom” exhibit, complete with a look at American race riots; a 1,776-foot tall steel monument to stubbornness planned for the old south-tower footprint, and a tacky basement replete with crushed fire trucks, a fake waterfall and ready-for-purchase kitsch — I find myself wondering what it is we are ignoring.
As Johnson has it, human intelligence is reduced to an instrumental tool for the cocktail hour, no more laudable than muscles at the beach. His is a trivial, non-cumulative, even regressive intelligence. It is hucksterism, rather than humanism. Which again begs the question: What is so great about an electronically conditioned intellect?
I lamented declining fiction sales, found the devil in technology, bemoaned marketing, and called the office the soul’s igloo. Finally, I resorted to pronouncements about the death of spontaneity. I eulogized imagination. Lit a candle for empathy. I framed it all, as precedent would dictate, in quotes by Roth and Amis and Wilde.