Tuesday, 12 August 2008

The Faux Intellectual

An anguished wail went up in the Madeley household last night. It wasn’t a typical cry of pain or even the scream one would associate with an inquisitive man playing with Judy’s nail gun and putting a tack through his thumb. No, this was a howl of protest able to sear flesh over a quarter of a mile. This was a splintering of a soul; as though a shard of man’s being had been torn from his body and sent skidding across the room before disappearing up the chimney.

‘Richard? What’s wrong?’ asked Judy a moment or two later as she came hobbling to my office door.

‘Faux intellectual!’ I cried. ‘Faux intellectual! I’ve been called a faux intellectual!’

‘Ridiculous,’ said Judy coming into the room and perching herself on a chair next to my desk. ‘Who on earth would call you faux? There’s no man alive whose less faux than you.’

‘Some American,’ I said. ‘You know that post I wrote about coffee shops last week? It was the piece I wrote in an attempt to cheer myself after one of the most traumatic weeks of my life. Only, now some chap has read it and says “NOTHING however is more suburban, and faux intellectual, than clever prose construction, the substance of which is a mere complaint.”’ My brow creased an inch below my laughter lines. ‘I’ll show him,’ I said and hammered out a curt reply.

‘You’ll regret that in the morning,’ said Judy.

I didn’t care. I hit the publish button and then turned off my computer.

‘Blogging!’ I spat. ‘Sometimes I wonder why I even bother. I just don’t understand it, Judy. What possesses a person to leave an comment that will only hurt a stranger? Never in my life have I done that and I don’t intend to start now, even if this is the perfect opportunity. Why are some bloggers so rude? It can’t just be because they’re American can it?’

‘It’s because they are real people living in the real world,’ replied Judy, ‘and the real world is full of people who look to do more harm than good.’

Despite the wisdom of Judy’s words, I slept an uneasy sleep last night. Judy woke me around four to ask me to stop muttering ‘faux intellectual’ under my breath. I really only dozed after that and I dragged myself up at seven this morning to catch Fry before he began his morning yoga routine.

‘Ah, ’tis I Fry,’ said Stephen on the third thing. ‘I’m currently holding the pose known as the lotus of the dipping moon.’

‘And this is Dick Madeley,’ I said, leaning back in my office chair, ‘currently holding the pose known as the suburban faux intellectual.’ I then proceeded to tell him about my recent attempt to write myself out of a bad mood, my general thoughts about blogging, and then about this most recent comment which had created such a deep fracture in my normally impenetrable confidence.

‘Oh dear,’ said Stephen. ‘There really is nothing so condescending than being called a faux intellectual by an American. And for a man with your background there can be nothing as galling. It is a shame that more people haven’t read your quite breathtaking metrical analysis of Shakespeare’s sonnets.’

‘You know me, Stephen. I don’t like to boast about the mere idle puff I write in my spare time. When I’m done putting the finishing touches to my collection of essays about Nabokov, let’s see what they say then.’

‘Indeed,’ replied Fry. ‘But I’m afraid that this is another example of that constant battle we men of wit must wage with those of sullen demeanours. Any fool can write a miserable little story about metaphysical angst but it takes a man of real character to mine the veins to those deep places where humour is to be found. You have to remember, Dick, that the pose of intelligence is really quite different to the genuine article.’

I understood what he was saying. I’ve come across many fine intellects in my time but the finest have always understood that true intelligence resides in something more than convoluted prose, tortured angst, and an obsessive pursuit of difficulty. God knows that the world is a troubled place, full of petty egos squabbling over petty disputes. The last thing it needs is another intellectual.

‘I think you’re right, Stephen,’ I said, feeling the irritation of the night before finally slip from my body. ‘I’m quite happy to be called a faux intellectual if it means that my writing gives a few people a little pleasure in their lives.’

‘It’s your moral calling,’ said Stephen before he gave a wince. ‘Now, if you don’t mind Dick, I’m going to hang up. The lotus of the dipping moon has just become the lotus of the inflamed sciatica. Heavens, shudder, and marmalade!’

And with that the phone went dead. I hung up the phone and immediately switched on the PC. I had a long day of being a faux intellectual ahead of me and I was relishing the prospect.


Richard Havers said...

“NOTHING however is more suburban, and faux intellectual, than clever prose construction, the substance of which is a mere complaint.”’

That's why I've always considered, 'that's bollocks' to be perfectly sufficient. It's more urban than suburban, far from intellectual, requires very little construction and is complaint, but not of the 'mere' kind.

Dick Madeley said...

You have me laughing much too hard, Richard. It's not good for me in my current state. However, I shall now adopt that phrase as though it's my own.

Lloyd Mintern said...

It is really the "clever prose construction" that I was calling out, that is what I really find intolerable. I didn't think you be so upset about being called a "faux intellectual", since that is so obvious one of your stock-in-trades. I mean you have it down to a well developed set of mannerisms--admirable, really. I understand you are an entertainer, and I was only trying to get in on the game. Sorry to give you a sleepless night (though perhaps that is only another routine?). I guess my crime is being an American. God, you Brits really are children! Why are you always GRINNING?

Dick Madeley said...

Lloyd, we're always grinning because we have such good teeth.

My night wasn’t really that sleepless. Believe me when I say I have bigger things than this to worry about at the moment. However, it does surprise me when people go out of their way to be ungracious about another person's efforts. By nature, I try to be polite. I wouldn't leave comments on a stranger's blog meant to offend that person, so it surprises me when people try to upset me.

As to 'clever prose construction': what's wrong with that? You would prefer it if I had bad prose construction? I really don't see the problem. You say 'intolerable' but why intolerable? What is the alternative? Can you look at your own prose and say it’s any better? If so, please explain to me what I’m doing wrong. I’m interested in writing, writers, literature and good prose and I’m happy to be shown the error of my ways.

Richard Havers said...

Now Mr Mintern really! Your paranoia is touching but then you go and spoil it all by saying something stupid like, "God, you Brits really are children."

Frankly, that's bollocks!


Dick Madeley said...

Richard, I knew there was something I'd forgotten to add.

Lloyd Mintern said...

Are you really such a simple fellow, and so easily offended? Your whole I am-the-greatest routine is bound to be highly controversial, if not annoying, to alot of people. Though I am NOT one of them. I give you the benefit of the doubt--that your ingratiating personality is a strategy to draw other people out. It drew me out, for instance, and I repeat, I was not trying to be offensive; combative, sure, but that is certainly allowable, I think, as long as one can keep a ... return serve.

As to what is wrong with "clever prose construction", that is a major subject with me; several pieces on my blog deal with it. (#63 NARRATOR, #34 CADENCE, #8 CATAPULT). I fear that easy wit and charm foreclose many mysteries, put up gates thwarting further expression. Writing which is kept on the edge, even on the edge of awkwardness, is open to depths in language. And, like Hamlet said, "one may smile and smile and be a villian". (Can Americans quote Shakespeare?) Certain literary personalities are a cover-up, and yet betray bad faith, which is infectious and turns readers into the same kind of snobs as the authors.

The writing and humor on your blog is obviously not so devious, but there is in your voice a kind of savage mockery, like you are laughing at everything and everybody. Yet, this is not original to you, but the same kind of cleverness I find uncomfortable in many comedians. And writers like, say, Dave Barry, who are always merely funny. I think it is the "always" that terrifies me, not the fact that they can be funny. The piece on my blog right now, "POPCORN" I consider to be funny, but framed in such a way as to call itself into question; that extra bit of self-consciousness is seeking a higher plane.

Thanks for staying with this. I haven't read enough of your work to really be making what sound like such final judgments. So I am going to give you a further chance, Dick (hoping you see the humor there).

Anonymous said...

Oh, it's just Mintern. He's a troll, Madeley. He and his Canadian pal Derek Catermole/Toast like to leave hurtful comments on other people's blogs.

You may be greatly amused to know he did it first with Andrew, who writes like him.

Then he did it with me. And now it's your turn, lucky you.

In his defence - and maybe it's an American thing, i don't know - i don't think he actually means it to be hurtful, i think he's like my friend the Viking who says things like "that shirt looks shit" and "you look old and ugly" and is then genuinely surprised that you're offended.

Barbara said...

Uh, no, it is not an American thing to be unknowingly rude. That's bullocks. ; )
Your new friend seems to be suffering from the false belief that it is his job to tell everyone around him "what their problem is", as if no one could possibly go on without him telling them what they are doing wrong. Also bullocks.

Dick Madeley said...

Elberry, now I understand. I will give the comments the attention they deserve.

Barbara, you're so right. I wouldn't want to suggest that all Americans are this rude.

Lola said...

I'm not an American. I can be quite rude. Look: bottom! fart! pants!

Sorry for lowering the tone. Not really.

Dick Madeley said...

So right, Lola, but you can be so very polite about it.

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