Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Book #14: Mediated by Thomas De Zengotita

De Zengotita, an anthropologist, has an interesting theory: people's perceptions about reality are changing from the constant representations of reality thrust at them by the various forms of media surrounding us all, usually such that it flatters individual egos. That is to say, people behave in certain ways and that they have learned from movies and tv to demonstrate that they are certain types of people. People buy certain things to express themselves is in a particularly capitalistic sense (ok, The Baffler got here first). People care and think about certain types of things because they have internalized the message that they are very special.

De Zengotita, who teaches philosophy at NYU, has a special affinity for ol' Ludwig Wittgenstein, but none of Lud's writing density. In fact, the book is written in an easy-breezy style seemingly to underscore De Zengotita's point about how self-centered expression has become. It's amusing, but it's also a bit annoying; seriously, De Z, you're a professor. How about one shred of hard evidence and a bit less of the "you know this X" school of proof. But ok, philosophy rarely dwells on hard evidence, and the book is fascinating and occasionally funny, so I'm going to knock it down from an A+ to an A, and we'll call it even, ok?

Anyway, I love the hell out of this book. It's been bugging me for years that although life is changing at an insanely rapidly rate, very few deep-thinkers have been putting in the hours at talking about the long view without filling it full of moral concern. De Zengotita has some moral qualms but is less concerned about his own worries than trying to paint an accurate picture of his theory, admittedly amorphous as it is. Some of his digressions are just as fun as his theory, although I'm always sorry when he tries to tie it together.

De Zengotita finishes the main part of the book by mentioning that people who hear his theory usually say either "is this a good or bad thing?" or "what do we do about this?". He has no answers to either question, and I admire him for that. His following digression into what Nietzsche would say about cloning is equally admirable. In fact, now that I think about it, I wish all philosophers would write as casually as De Zengotita. Because, of course, this review -- not to mention every book of philosophy -- is actually all about me.

David Smay points out that J.G. Ballard posited a similar theory in his 1972 introduction to the French translation of Crash. I don't doubt this at all, but I do doubt that Ballard was quite as loopily dead-on as De Zengotita. But I haven't read it; maybe he was. All this aside, the book is certainly worth a read by people with functioning brains. Focus on the Family adherents are therefore exempt.

Oh, I forgot, but I've linked to this before: an excellent Salon interview with De Zengotita. Worth clicking past the freakin' ads.


My photo
Cary, NC, United States
reachable at firstname lastname (all run together) at gmail dot com

About This Blog

From Here To Obscurity, founded ca. 2003, population 1. The management wishes to emphasize that no promises vis-a-vis your entertainment have been guaranteed and for all intents and purposes, intimations of enlightenment fall under the legal definition of entertainment. No refunds shall be given nor will requests be honored. Although some may ask, we have no intention of beginning again.

  © Blogger templates Brooklyn by 2008

Back to TOP