I read it yeah. Pretty strong.
Reading Illusions perdues now it is easy to see it simply as a cautionary tale of a writer trying to make it in the big city, or to defuse it in the way that contemporary critics did as “a satirical view of the Parisian book trade” — or, perhaps worst of all, to enervate it using the jargon of contemporary critical theory as a “reflexive novel” (26). I mean, it is all of these things, but the energy and relevance of the book resides in its violently offensive qualities and Balzac’s willingness to expose the vanities and delusions of his own world. This is fissile material because the rivalries and motivations and the conditions of writing and publishing that Balzac describes still exist, but with updated variations and innovations. Balzac’s social networking among the literary and aristocratic elites of Paris, the control he attempted to maintain over his own image, the money he spent on champagne, tailored clothes and elaborate canes “of gold or rhinoceros-horn gleaming with precious stones” (27) foreshadow the marketing demands made of writers today: the need to publicise yourself on social media, to develop and protect your brand on behalf of publishing agents, in order to secure future work. Meanwhile and miraculously writers remain infatuated with their own profile, a situation intensified and limited by the very social media platforms they depend upon for success. In the same way that Lucien discovers, too late, that he is not really free to write what he thinks, writers today find themselves captured by the social and rhetorical limits and expectations of their niche publics. They must be careful what they write or say on all occasions and across all platforms to avoid losing their constituency of readers and allies and, indeed, prospects of work. At the same time they also need to provide a consistent stream of topical commentary, however unnecessary or perfunctory, in order to maintain visibility; ideas and opinions, in this context, do not really exist for their own sake, but to advertise and protect the position of a writer within a social and professional network, just like Restoration Paris. Finally, payment remains precarious, with writers being exposed to similar exploitations and temptations as Lucien in 1821, and being forced to find income streams anywhere they can like Balzac throughout his own career. Over this whole pitiless landscape hovers the grey clouds of publishing schedules, portfolios and KPIs.
Fifth, stage-post your narrative. Stage-post like your fucking life depends on it. So many pieces descend into a swamp of impenetrable arguments and events. This is a betrayal of the valuable time you are being given by the reader.
They should know exactly where they are in the argument for every single second that they are reading it. They should know why what they’re reading is important, the point you are making, and why this current sentence contributes to it. Hold their hand. Guide them through. Look at each sentence and ask yourself why it’s pertinent. If you can’t answer that question, delete it.
Your readers are busy. Your job is to make the process of accumulating knowledge about the world easy. They should not struggle to understand you. You are not a poet, writing for people to appreciate your words through introspection in the moonlight. You are a hack, writing for busy people on a bus who are late for work. Your job is to deliver this information into their brain effortlessly.
In certain young people today like these two from my writing workshop, I notice what I find increasingly troubling: a cold-blooded grasping, a hunger to take and take and take, but never give; a massive sense of entitlement; an inability to show gratitude; an ease with dishonesty and pretension and selfishness that is couched in the language of self-care; an expectation always to be helped and rewarded no matter whether deserving or not; language that is slick and sleek but with little emotional intelligence; an astonishing level of self-absorption; an unrealistic expectation of puritanism from others; an over-inflated sense of ability, or of talent where there is any at all; an inability to apologize, truly and fully, without justifications; a passionate performance of virtue that is well executed in the public space of Twitter but not in the intimate space of friendship.
I find it obscene.
There are many social-media-savvy people who are choking on sanctimony and lacking in compassion, who can fluidly pontificate on Twitter about kindness but are unable to actually show kindness. People whose social media lives are case studies in emotional aridity. People for whom friendship, and its expectations of loyalty and compassion and support, no longer matter. People who claim to love literature – the messy stories of our humanity – but are also monomaniacally obsessed with whatever is the prevailing ideological orthodoxy. People who demand that you denounce your friends for flimsy reasons in order to remain a member of the chosen puritan class.
People who ask you to ‘educate’ yourself while not having actually read any books themselves, while not being able to intelligently defend their own ideological positions, because by ‘educate,’ they actually mean ‘parrot what I say, flatten all nuance, wish away complexity.’
People who do not recognize that what they call a sophisticated take is really a simplistic mix of abstraction and orthodoxy – sophistication in this case being a showing-off of how au fait they are on the current version of ideological orthodoxy.
People who wield the words ‘violence’ and ‘weaponize’ like tarnished pitchforks. People who depend on obfuscation, who have no compassion for anybody genuinely curious or confused. Ask them a question and you are told that the answer is to repeat a mantra. Ask again for clarity and be accused of violence. (How ironic, speaking of violence, that it is one of these two who encouraged Twitter followers to pick up machetes and attack me.)
And so we have a generation of young people on social media so terrified of having the wrong opinions that they have robbed themselves of the opportunity to think and to learn and to grow.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is an acclaimed Nigerian author. Her work has been translated into over thirty languages and has appeared in various publications, including The New Yorker, Granta, The O. Henry Prize Stories, the Financial Times, and Zoetrope.www.chimamanda.com
another way to think of this is how ever since the 19th century the idea of the philanthropic feminist lady harbouring moral concern for those below her in the class hierarchy has been valourised in especially British society - and thereby, its colonies. For this kind of person, pursuing anything for nothing but financial gain is generally abhorrent, simply because their world operates according to idealist principles. In this sense ivory tower is a much broader term to refer to a certain segment of society which flexes its progressive credentials.
insofar as the middleclass itself is an unstable formation, and can include everyone from heads of departments, supervisors, to the most highly payed workers, because its position is so unstable and modulated, it is the class which is most dependent upon having an ideological view of society. This is why it is a class with no future, not because it won't continue to exist (it will) but because it is inherently liminal and cannot constitute itself as anything else.
Neither does the stable/unstable dynamic involve a progressive/regressive judgment. The working class occupies an insecurely stable position, and its conditions are absolutely not preferable to the (fairly secure) instability of the m/c.
Whilst the lumpens are the refuse of society, the middle class are the necessary buffer zone, especially given that the classical artisanal middle class of medieval and embrionic capitalist times no longer exists.