The Paris End of Collins Street, or Why Gaston Bachelard–Oops, Jean Baudrillard–is a Nitwit.
An edgy essay by U
Sorry about that. I don’t have anything against Gaston Bachelard. Really. He looks like a kindly old gent, if a bit scruffy. There could be an I-told-you-so twinkle in his eye, but it might have just been the light. All things considered, he’s OK. You’ve got to admire a bloke who started off as a Postmaster, studied physics and engineering, then took up the first chair in history and philosophy of the sciences at the Sorbonne.
The problem is this isn’t actually about Gaston Bachelard. It’s about Jean Baudrillard. The Gaston Bachelard thing was just a mistake. So I’m human. I was thinking about the nitwit thing and the name Gaston Bachelard came into my head. Then I looked him up and found he wasn’t who I was thinking of at all. Oops. Let’s start this again.
* * *
I met Jean Baudrillard once, on a Melbourne tram. He was in Melbourne to give a talk, essentially about the untrustworthiness of ordinary reality. I hung around after the talk chatting with a few friends then walked to the nearest tram stop to catch a tram. There was one other person on the tram and it was Baudrillard. You would have thought he would be swept away by the French embassy or something, but here he was on a Melbourne tram looking a bit like the lost treasure of the Mayan Snake Kings. Or just lost. In this situation, you have to front the guy or it’s embarrassing. I said hello and told him I had been at his talk. He was appreciative, if that’s a word. It’s probably a word in French. Anyway, he made the appropriate hand gestures and facial expressions. The conversation went a bit dead after that, and just for something to say, I said, “They call this the Paris end of Collins Street.”
I thought he might find that amusing, or interesting, or ironic, or something, but he didn’t find it any of those things. Or anything else, as far as I could tell. I had the distinct feeling I was getting the fuck-off-I-want-to-be-alone vibe. Fair enough. He seemed a nice enough bloke. Maybe a little shy, but nice. He had a nice smile. Kinda sad, but nice.
I really didn’t want to just go sit in another seat up the other end of the tram, and I didn’t want to get off before Spencer Street, so I smiled, a bit like a meat axe, I guess, and said, “If reality isn’t to be trusted what do you do when you need a bottle of milk?”
He looked at me as if I was some kind of idiot and said, “You walk down to the shop and buy it.”
That kind of ended the conversation. Well, what do you say after that? There’s nowhere to go, really. So I got off at the next stop and left him on the tram and it was really sad seeing this famous French philosopher on a tram all on his own, heading down Collins Street, to who-the-fuck-knows where.
Sure enough, Jean Baudrillard is (or was) a nitwit. Ignoring the being-dead thing, which would render him definitely past it, let’s just stay with the present tense for the moment to maintain that frisson of “Je vous dis, merde” where you actually have something or someone you ethically ought to care about and not just some dead French guy.
Baudrillard could in fact be an exemplary nitwit, in the broad sense, because, let’s face it, all continental philosophy is nitwittery. But that would deprive him of the special claim to nitwittery as an individual, which is much more appealing and easier to understand than a sweeping, but forgiveable prejudice. Just one guy is juicier, if that’s a word. I think it is.
Not that being a nitwit is entirely a bad thing.
A nitwit, by definition and herewith by decree, is a harmless nutter. And therefore, not really a problem. Think of the alternatives! Mendacity, hubris, narcissism, private industry and the public service just to name a few. These are all forms of stupidity far worse than a bit of nitwittery, even nitwittery in a bath late at night after too many drinks.
Let’s face it, there are plenty of harmful nutters we should indeed be worried about. I’m sure you could think of a few from history who have fucked things up considerably and even some you have met. We’re not talking about them. This is just about the mildly annoying tendency of some really very nice people to get caught up in a whole lifetime of being a nong. That might seem a bit harsh but as as the old saying goes, fair cop, guv, but society is to blame. If you can make a living talking drivel, not just ordinary run-of-the-mill drivel mind you, but high-quality postgraduate degree drivel, why the fuck not?
Not all nitwittery is equal, if I may labour a point. (I just wrote that, but I have no idea what it means. It is itself an example of nitwittery. It’s so easy to get infected. It’s a case of “if you like playing with dung, you’re going to get some poo on your shoe.”)
* * *
I put that section break thing above because this is where you’re allowed to switch off, put on another load of washing, or cut off your ears with a rusty pull saw. Because this is where it gets serious and where you can actually learn something useful. I won’t tell you what it is, because it’s better if you think of it yourself. I’ll just push you down that rabbit hole and you can work it out. If fact you’ll have to work it out. I’m going to fill in the rabbit hole behind you.
* * *
OK here it is. The best way to make sure nitwits don’t annoy you and waste your precious spare time which could have otherwise been usefully spent on ear surgery is simply to avoid them. Don’t go out with them, don’t invite them home, don’t read their books, run screaming if you hear their names… You get the picture?
Nitwits are not like tinnitus, which is an irritating noise in your ears. You can listen away tinnitus. Try it. Everybody has tinnitus, it’s an ear thing. People who suffer from tinnitus are people who are annoyed by it and can’t stop hearing it. So far, tinnitus and the nitwit problem are about the same. But here’s where it’s different. If you try to avoid hearing tinnitus, it just annoys you more. You can’t turn it off. You can’t just say I’m not listening to you any more, tinnitus! It doesn’t work. You won’t believe this until you try it, but you can actually get rid of tinnitus by listening to it really, really closely. If you get interested in the sound and try to figure out what it is exactly, by listening really hard, the little whistling fucker gets embarrassed and goes off to sulk. Really!
Does this work with nitwits? No. People have thought, “this shit doesn’t make any sense but all the groovy people in the life-drawing class seem to talk about it so I need to understand it”. Wrong. You can’t listen away a nitwit. The nitwit isn’t happening inside you, he’s a goofball continental philosopher trying to make a living on the lecture circuit talking about how you can’t trust reality because it doesn’t exist. If you think you can get a handle on this goofball, another goofball comes along and says exactly the opposite. If you play with dung, you’ll get poo on your shoe.
History is to blame. It all starts innocently enough. Shit happens and some of it some people notice and write it down. The overwhelming compulsion humans have to make sense of their written records turns them into stories then you get a whole world of noise in the form of eulogists, apologists, revisionists, rigatoni-lovers, disbelievers and deniers. Some of these have vested interests, or own television stations.
“What’s wrong with that?” I hear you ask. “Everything, and history,” I answer. What was written down and beaten up is not really the shit that happened, just as a carrot is not a three-headed chimaeric Greek myth, but, if you believe the sack cloth, as a result of all this internecine opposition, pedagoguery and puffery, you get some kind of map of what happened. Which is bollocks. What you get is an unspoken collusion in the fucked belief system of whoever you are reading or talking to. They don’t tell you this is really what is going on. Which is why it’s unspoken, of course.
* * *
You can take a break and catch your breath here. I wouldn’t want you to hyperventilate. You with me? Right then, on with the show. Just so you don’t think I’m banging on about people making stuff up out of thin air and tricking us, let me propose, as many others have before me, that there is such a thing as evidence. Science is supposed use evidence in order to add some verification loops to the mappy thing, so that it evolves gradually to more and more represent the territory. Yes, well that’s the point.
However if you actually do any science and get to know any scientists and then peel away the sermons about impartiality, skepticism and critical thinking, you’ll find science, despite its high moral ground posturing, is pretty ad hoc and subject, like every other human endeavour, to distortion by a whole heap of things not the least of which is what you can do which will get you that sabbatical in Andorra. Think about how the scientists you know bang on about impartiality, skepticism and critical thinking just so you will trust them and believe their shit.
* * *
I’m feeling really bad about poor old Bachelard. Even though continental philosophy is by definition nitwittery (unsubtantiated and quite luducrous assertions you are supposed to take on faith and build your fairy castles around and if you don’t you must be a fascist) now that I think of it, Gaston Bachelard probably wasn’t actually a nitwit. At least not a fully-fledged one. Admittedly, he was certifiably goofball at the end, especially with the romantic claptrap about poetics of space (which was really just sneaky superstition in philosophical clothing or bad Buddhism). No, Bachelard might have been, mostly, one of the good guys (and they were nearly all guys) who were trying to understand and explain what shit is, how and why shit happens, where shit happened and who it happened to, in other words who was doing the shitting and who was being shat upon.
Unfortunately, at some point along the way after Bachelard (and plenty of times before him) continental philosophers ran out of shit-that-happened to bang on about, and started banging on about shit-that-hadn’t-happened. In other words, they made shit up. Yes, I admit it, I am banging on about people making stuff up out of thin air and tricking us. In itself, doing this isn’t so bad because often it’s funny shit. Who doesn’t like a good epistemological chuckle? Unfortunately, it soon became competitive and serious, and instead of just making shit up they made up their own version of the whole basis of shit and claimed it for themselves. In other words, a crock of shit to call their own. In the arms race that followed it was just a matter of assertion. My crock is bigger than your crock.
Jean Baudrillard had a very big crock and waved it about all over the place, hence the world tours. He wasn’t as big a palooka back home in France as he was overseas, but he did OK.
So what? Are we going to kick a man when he’s dead?
The problem is that he’s not funny. Even tragedies have a few jokes. What’s the point of banging on about your crock of shit if it’s just going to make you sad.
Jean Baudrillard basically said (and here’s where I get poo on my shoe) is there is no more territory, there is only a map, or a multitude of maps, and these are all so manipulated by evil bastards (or well-intentioned morons) they no longer have any connection to the long-vanished “territory”. We used to call it reality. In other words: “Watch out! You’re going to lose your grip on reality! Really!”
Not only is this not funny, depressing and deeply paternalistic, it is simply bollocks.
This is why Jean Baudrillard is a nitwit. Ergo cum laude, or as we say in English, you don’t have to be the smartest kid to come top of the class if you’ve got photos of the teacher’s transgressions with a vacuum cleaner.
Moreover (don’t you just love that word, so mellifluous we just have to say it again) moreover, he’s not the only one. They think they are so smart it’s almost a certain bet they are as dumb as a box of hammers. It’s the Dunning Kruger affect. And if you think they are smarter than you, that’s the opposite of the Dunning Kruger affect and that means you probably are smarter than them! If you can figure out what’s going on without getting too much poo on your shoe, you certainly are smarter than them.
So, who are the nitwits to avoid?
Here’s a clue. If they are boring as batshit, not in the least bit funny, and start off with an unsubstantiated premise as if it were true, like: “Reality doesn’t exist anymore,” it’s coming from a nitwit who thinks he’s a five-star genius whose duty it is to warn all you poor stupid people the sky is falling. Run screaming, with your fingers jammed in your ears. You’ll be so glad you did.
AGAINST PROFESSIONAL PHILOSOPHY REDUX 152
Mr Nemo, X, Y, & Z, Monday 16 July 2018
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