The Passing Of A Generation

by lizard

With Gore Vidal passing so soon after Alexander Cockburn, I can’t help wonder about my generation and its capacity to produce comparable figures. Can we do it?

Not when boy geniuses like Jonah Lehrer receive a fawning incubation that then morphs into one of the most embarrassing crash and burns the New York literati crowd has ever seen (from Jezebel):

Journalists are conflicted about Jonah Lehrer, judging by the number of frantic Gchats and emails I received from my peers yesterday after Michael C. Moynihan broke the news in Tablet that the 31-year-old wunderkind science writer, already under fire for extensive “self-plagiarizing,” attributed numerous fake quotes to Bob Dylan in his most recent book, Imagine. (The media was so obsessed with the story that they actually managed to crash Tablet’s website for a bit after the piece went live.)

There’s shock: it’s unbelievable that such a highly regarded, well-paid New Yorker staff writer and author of three books is also equally prolific at making stuff up. (Lehrer resigned after the story broke, and his publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, is recalling print copies of Imagine.)


The truth: it’s impossible for my generation to produce comparable figures, and partly I think that’s because of the profound technological shift in how we process information. There are obviously other factors, but I think that’s a big one.

In judging the intellectual output of these two feisty contrarians, both have taken stances that probably shocked and angered many of their admirers. Cockburn questioned the scientific consensus regarding the human role in climate change, and Vidal speculated what leaders like Bush knew before the 9/11 attacks.

Does that negate the rest of their artistic and intellectual achievements? Hardly, but it’s interesting to consider both expressed their unpopular opinions near the end of their lives.

RIP, gentlemen.

  1. JC

    Well, one never really knows what accolades history will bestow upon the current generation of young writers. As to technological shift precluding the emergence of brilliant writers, I don’t really see it that way. The way in which people write, maybe. WIll the blogger kill the screenplay star? Will the long form essayist replace the novella writer? New standards of excellence will emerge.

    Took a quick gander at Wikipedia’s writeup on Vidal, and this dandy piece written in the 70s jumped out at me:

    “There is only one party in the United States, the Property Party … and it has two right wings: Republican and Democrat. Republicans are a bit stupider, more rigid, more doctrinaire in their laissez-faire capitalism than the Democrats, who are cuter, prettier, a bit more corrupt — until recently … and more willing than the Republicans to make small adjustments when the poor, the black, the anti-imperialists get out of hand. But, essentially, there is no difference between the two parties”

    As true then as it is today…

    • lizard19

      it will be awhile before the effects of the internet on our thinking is really understood, but there seems to have been a flurry of speculation about what the internet is doing. this, for example:

      Is the Internet making us shallow? That’s a question writer Nicholas Carr has thought about, well, in depth. It started with a provocative article for the Atlantic Monthly that asked, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” (Spoiler: “Yes.”) Carr then dove into the material, emerging with a best-selling book called The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.

      The idea that the Internet is changing the way we think got another boost this July when the New York Times reported on a study published in the prestigious journal Science (subscriber-access only). Researchers found that people don’t bother remembering facts they thought they could later look up. The scientists dubbed this phenomenon “the Google Effect.”

      So that proves the Internet is rotting our brains, right? Not so fast, says Wired magazine’s Jonah Lehrer. What we are actually doing is using the Internet as an information storage tool. Why bother remembering simple facts (and maybe getting them wrong) when you can look them up when needed? Lehrer suggests that Googling information rather than entrusting it to the fallible brain is a perfectly healthy impulse.

      and did you notice who is quoted in the article? the idiot who thought he could get away with making up Bob Dylan quotes.

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