Tuesday, February 15, 2005

No Shit!

Literally. The New York Times reviews a book on bullshit but refuses to print the "shit" part of the word. This review is funny on so many levels. First, that someone writes a philosophical book on bullshit and the art of bullshitting; second, that the New York Times does a serious review and then, third, can't bring itself to print the whole word.

Here's a delicious sample:
The opening paragraph of the 67-page essay is a model of reason and
composition, repeatedly disrupted by that single obscenity:

"One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so
much [bull]. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share. But we tend
to take the situation for granted. Most people are rather confident of their
ability to recognize [bull] and to avoid being taken in by it. So the phenomenon
has not aroused much deliberate concern, nor attracted much sustained

The essay goes on to lament that lack of inquiry, despite the
universality of the phenomenon. "Even the most basic and preliminary questions
about [bull] remain, after all," Mr. Frankfurt writes, "not only unanswered but

The balance of the work tries, with the help of Wittgenstein, Pound,
St. Augustine and the spy novelist Eric Ambler, among others, to ask some of the
preliminary questions - to define the nature of a thing recognized by all but
understood by none.

What is [bull], after all? Mr. Frankfurt points out it is neither fish nor
fowl. Those who produce it certainly aren't honest, but neither are they liars,
given that the liar and the honest man are linked in their common, if not
identical, regard for the truth.

"It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth,"
Mr. Frankfurt writes. "A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and
he is to that extent respectful of it."

The bull artist, on the other hand, cares nothing for truth or falsehood.
The only thing that matters to him is "getting away with what he says," Mr.
Frankfurt writes. An advertiser or a politician or talk show host given to
[bull] "does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose
himself to it," he writes. "He pays no attention to it at all."

And this makes him, Mr. Frankfurt says, potentially more harmful than any
liar, because any culture and he means this culture rife with [bull] is one in
danger of rejecting "the possibility of knowing how things truly are." It
follows that any form of political argument or intellectual analysis or
commercial appeal is only as legitimate, and true, as it is persuasive. There is
no other court of appeal.

Sounds like a lot of bullshit to me.

Thanks to Thus Blogged Anderson. Anderson has even better commentary on this, so go read or be ill informed.

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