Monday, May 3, 2010

Slightly Shallow and Pedantic: The Art of the Pelomic

Paul Berman is a modern-day philosopher of sorts, mostly focusing on conflict, and most recently the Middle East and the motives behind terrorism. His most recent book, The Flight of the Intellectuals introduced me to the pelomic: "a strong verbal or written attack on someone or something" (according to my Macbook's dictionary).

Berman harangues Tariq Ramadan, another philosophical scholar, who emphasizes the importance of the Islamic culture to Western culture and advocates Islamic contributions to the world overall. Naturally, both men have faced criticism--Berman for appearing insular and Ramadan for appearing too forgiving especially in the wakes of the terrorist attacks of the past decade.

This made me remember the polarizing opinions and views that emerged after the 9/11 attacks. Ramadan appears must more rationalizing and accepting to the Middle East, but is that what a country wants to hear when they are vulnerable to attacks? Berman does not speak much of the country's sentiments after the attacks, but rather speaks ill of those who show sympathy for the Middle East.

"Finally, Mr. Berman believes in straight talk and insists that we use words like “fascist” to describe some Islamist ideas rather than “totalitarian.” Why? “It is because totalitarian, being abstract, is odorless."

He sounds like such a pundit, it almost shocks me that he is able to share his strong, provincial, radical opinion to the masses. It's almost reminiscent of Glenn Beck. Yet, I'm thankful for people that remind me to keep an open mind.

"As a writer he’s alternately emotive and pedantic, an emo-wonk. He’s self-congratulatory about his coups of reading and synthesis, his turning up of important details in other people’s footnotes. Yet his own book has no foot- or endnotes at all."

This portion of the article criticized Berman's literary style--his complacency and his overloading of obscure references without explanation to the readers. It reminded me of W.E.B. Du Bois's writings and how he included abstruse allusions as a pretentious way to prove he was educated, except Du Bois actually included footnotes. I wonder how a layperson would follow The Flight of the Intellectuals or if Berman is even trying to communicate to the general public or is just feeding his ego.

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