catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

De Botton hits the bottom

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Is it just me or have the works of Alain de Botton gotten progressively worse as he’s become more famous? No, I haven’t read his latest tome (I don’t claim to be fair) but I did read an extract from it in the Good Weekend a while ago-it was some tripe about what horrible places for the soul fast food restaurants are and it sounded like a slightly more intelligent version of Hugh Mackay (which isn’t saying much). He now seems to be catering to the same kind of soft-left-pseud who’s into the slow food movement, deriving ‘lessons for life’ from the Great Philosophers and ranting against reductionism (the most powerful intellectual tool devised by man).

Here is a nice takedown of his latest book from the left-leaning New Statesman:

This is the nub of de Botton’s peculiar genius. Great thoughts, expressed in suitably elevated language, can strike him at any moment – on seeing a cow, a train or a carton of French fries in Westminster McDonald’s. On the M4, he falls into a potentially life-threatening reverie, musing that “in homage to Vitruvius, we might pass the time on car journeys aligning the pillars of motorway bridges to appropriate bipedal counterparts”. On a second reading, this grand statement turns out to mean only that he pretends the bridges are a series of women, which include, for no discernable reason, “a punctilious, nervous accountant with an authoritarian air”.

The Architecture of Happiness is rather like a rubbery Starbucks cappuccino: it is 65 per cent shattering banality presented in a froth of Latinate polysyllables. Once you factor in the (pretty, but largely redundant) illustrations and all that tasteful white space, the philosopher-prince is left with little room in which to be sensible. Over 280 pages, the effect is one of rubbernecking at a literary car-crash. De Botton’s periodic losses of mental traction – he describes the Sage Gateshead as “a warmer hedgehog-related creature” – are as guiltily mesmerising as his tone of solemn wonder, which effortlessly negotiates hurdles (“its harmony with our own prized internal song”; “like a smile breaking over a child’s face”) that weaker-stomached writers might baulk at …

The heritage materials, the traditional stylings, the reactionary distaste for “villas in the wealthy suburbs of Riyadh” – this all sounds strangely familiar. The genius loci of The Architecture of Happiness is Prince Charles, a fact that emerges in a misty-eyed denouement, “The Promise of a Field”, which argues that new buildings should be worthy of the undeveloped ground they replace. Surprisingly, we learn that not only all right-thinking people, but all right-thinking birds and mammals, share his taste in architecture:


Written by Admin

May 15, 2006 at 5:22 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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