Essay On Power

Apart from glimmerings in early forebears — Flaubert in , and most famously Zola — the informationization of literature became most clearly visible in what we’ve called “the research novel” of the 1980s and ’90s: the fact-flaunting of writers as diverse as Sebald, Tom Wolfe, and Don De Lillo, whose brilliant but failed gave us Eric Packer, a portrait of the artist as a hedge-fund tycoon and obsessive gatherer of facts.

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As for the inhabitants of the other universe — “the reality-based community” of old-fashioned skeptics and empiricists, frequenters of public and university libraries, readers of the Outside of a hedge fund or the CIA, there aren’t too many places where knowledge is power.

Much of the time, intellectually and politically, knowledge is powerlessness.

Although to be driven back upon oneself is an uneasy affair at best, rather like trying to cross a border with borrowed credentials, it seems to me now the one condition necessary to the beginnings of real self-respect.

Most of our platitudes notwithstanding, self-deception remains the most difficult deception.

Still, the research novel mostly subordinated its facts, even as these increased in density, to plot and character.

What we begin to glimpse in recent years, especially in “literary nonfiction,” is something different: the evolution of a style that resembles “information for information’s sake,” in something like the art for art’s sake of 19th-century French decadence.Once, in a dry season, I wrote in large letters across two pages of a notebook that innocence ends when one is stripped of the delusion that one likes oneself. This failure could scarcely have been more predictable or less ambiguous (I simply did not have the grades), but I was unnerved by it; I had somehow thought myself a kind of academic Raskolnikov, curiously exempt from the cause-effect relationships that hampered others.Although now, some years later, I marvel that a mind on the outs with itself should have nonetheless made painstaking record of its every tremor, I recall with embarrassing clarity the flavor of those particular ashes. Although the situation must have had even then the approximate tragic stature of Scott Fitzgerald's failure to become president of the Princeton Triangle Club, the day that I did not make Phi Beta Kappa nevertheless marked the end of something, and innocence may well be the word for it.inequality, it is also an age of great inequality of knowledge or, more exactly, factual information.For all its democratic potential, the fact-filled internet has only heightened the pre-Google asymmetry between those, on one side, loyal to Baconian methods of patient, inductive gathering of facts — the ways of the card catalog and the archive, of the analysis and evaluation of empirical data — and those, on the other side, who didn’t need to read Foucault or the Frankfurt School to nurture a suspicion that positivist orders of knowledge mask a hierarchy of power in which they are meant to occupy the lowest rungs.It’s the Republican Party’s deliberate disinformation strategy, more than any properties inherent in so-called information technologies, that has created these two parallel Americas.In one of them, weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, climate change is a patent hoax, and the Laffer curve is the most basic truth of economics.The division between empiricists and fantasists is clearest in politics. Dickens in made fun of Gradgrind — “Now, what I want is, Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life” — and there is a way in which, until recently, information and what used to be called “imaginative literature” were usually understood to be addressing themselves to the right and left hemispheres of the brain instead of the political spectrum.Lately, however, there has also come to be a literary expression or embodiment of liberal empiricism, an emergent literary Gradgrindism that deserves analysis.With that genius for accommodation more often seen in women than in men, Jordan took her own measure, made her own peace, avoided threats to that peace: "I hate careless people," she told Nick Carraway."It takes two to make an accident."Like Jordan Baker, people with self-respect have the courage of their mistakes. If they choose to commit adultery, they do not then go running, in an access of bad conscience, to receive absolution from the wronged parties; nor do they complain unduly of the unfairness, of being named corespondent.


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