Maud here. I’m away for a week or two, and Andy is stepping in. I’ve pre-posted some quotations to appear while I’m gone.
From “Come Back, Cynics, All is Forgiven,” which appears in Dubravka Ugresic’s Thank You for Not Reading:
In his book Cynicism and Postmodernity, Timothy Bewes maintains that the phenomenon of sincerity is one of the cultural obsessions of our time. At the beginning of the 1990s, the media, measuring the pulse of the market and picking up a longing for semantic transparency, repackaged the postmodern zeitgeist as the age of honesty. Thus, concludes Bewes, “sincerity has replaced wit and subtlety as the mark of commercial credibility.”….
As an occasional literature professor, I was at first touched by the naive concern of my students to know whether what was described in some work of literature really happened or whether it was just invented. Among many of them I detected a lack of understanding of the fundamental assumptions of a literary text, an inability to differentiate literary strategies and narrative masks, and a deafness to irony — either they did not understand it, or they considered it morally, politically, fundamentally unacceptable. Then I noticed a reaction which Bewes defines as “a gastric aversion to the cultural products of postmodernism,” even a basic aversion to texts which demand effort in their reading and which are, therefore, not “sincere.”
Now, some years later, if I look around me, I see that I am buried under cultural products which represent the same values that my students advocated. My surroundings are dominated by the culture of public confession, where the television has taken over the role of the church, and the role of church confessors is played by popular TV presenters. Memoirs are no longer reserved for those who have climbed the Himalayas or swum the Atlantic. On the contrary, what is valued are the ordinary accounts of ordinary people about ordinary things. The market is swamped with products which claim reality — from soap operas, which people believe more than life itself, to real-life stories, which people believe as much as soap operas. In the culture of public confession, everyone has acquired the right to his personal fifteen minutes, just as Andy Warhol predicted. The only thing that puzzles me, in this ardent return to reality, is reality itself.
That is, the reality so aggressively offered to me as authentic is in fact soapified reality, a kind of “life for beginners”….