Lee Siegel Ages Against the Machine
Lee Siegel is a writer with a thinking problem. As with many critics, he's really good at understanding that "the mob" is a tragic thing that rips apart the good as well as the bad in a Dionysian frenzy. The problem is that Lee Siegel isn't all that smart. He's been granted just enough insight to understand his own lack of intelligence, and just enough intelligence to offend people who are just a bit farther down the slippery slope of not being paid to type.
I'm not going to defend the trolling masses. But Lee Siegel is one of them. Believe in elitism? To the bottom of my silk undies yes. However, as I've heard it put, Siegel doesn't believe in elitism, but effetism. Effetism, to paraphrase former Texas Governor Ann Richards, is the club of people who are born on third base and talk about how to hit triples. Or rather, the club of people who are capable of feeding the beast, and complain about its taste in fingers.
It's easy to be restrained about Mr. Siegel's rather stand attempt at invective. It's easy to laugh at it, because in it all of the angst and terrors have merge together, and all that is left is a yawing consuming ego that has collapsed into a black hole. Nothing is worth anything except Lee Siegel.
Let's start with the obvious ineptitudes. Naming a book promoting some kind of gatekeeping and higher standard while taking a phrase used by this rock band is sort of a clear example of "don't get it." Why not Shakespeare? The Winter of Our Discontent? How about The Soulessness of the New Machine? If he had been clever he might have created a portmanteau such as Machanimashed: The Crushing of Grace in the age of Digital Mobs.
The other obvious ineptitude is his total lack of irony. Having risen by being a soulless personality who carried behind him sheep of no particular insight, he now bites the hands that once fed him. What idea has he ever had? I can't think of one.
I mean, some of his disdains, for Malcolm Gladwell's trivial intellect for example. However, sharing someone's disdains is not really much of a basis for buying his book. I mean, it is an old pick up strategy, to evince disdain for the popular, and hope to attract someone who is of the same persuasion, but, there are better ways to troll for groupies.
In fact, if Mr. Siegel had not descended into screaming rage himself, with a humorless nom de blare, we would not have this text at all, but more of his stream of columns about what wonderful taste he has.
Is the blogosphere a mire? Probably so, I can't disagree that it is horribly uncreative, even anti-creative. I can't disagree that it is horribly consumerist, even consumer-phile even as it is often phobic of the very things that produce the media and objects that its members like to consume. But rattling off symptoms isn't a diagnosis, a prognosis, or a course of treatment. And there I'm afraid that this book lets us down.
For elegant bile, I think that James Wolcott is far better as a stylist, as well as having the gift of being pretentious without the pretensions. There's nothing wrong with curling up with a nice steaming bowl of hot decadent rage against the crude and commercial and crass. But Lee Siegel is crude, and commercial, and crass, and merely angry that people have not fallen down to worship him.
It's true that less worthy souls have been worshiped, and will be worshiped. But far more worthy people remain obscure and even unpaid for their efforts, and have been treated far worse than Le Siegel has. he's not dead, in jail, or pressed out into virtual exile. So many of our best minds and pens are.
It's very hard to take someone with a direct channel to publishing his favorite bath time gurgles, to paraphrase a humorist whose merest operational parameters Lee Siegel isn't fit to calculate, as a serious martyr. Mobs are an ugly thing, but as ugly is someone who tried to be a demagogue and then curses the mob as they trundle him off to an electric guillotine. And that is what this book consists of, not a compendium of a better way of being, but a chronicle etched in acid of someone who tried to ride the tiger, and ended up disagreeing with something that ate him.