I haven’t found a grab of those posts of Colin McGinn’s but he didn’t take all the posts down, and there is plenty of intolerable smugness and self-admiration still on display.
(Honestly – I’ve read other people who write this way – this horribly arch, self-conscious, pseudo-Wildean, labored, unamusing way – can’t they see how awful it is? Clearly not, but then – why not?)
The real biscuit-taker among the surviving posts is perhaps the one titled “Epater les bourgeios” [yes, sic]. You know what it’s going to be before you read more – he’s a flouter of convention, a wit, a challenger of pieties, and all these peasants have misunderstood. Yawwwwwwwwwwwn – never heard that one before.
My cultural heroes are: Oscar Wilde, Bertrand Russell, Vladimir Nabokov, Jean-Paul Sartre, Philip Larkin, Kingsley and Martin Amis, Peter Cook, John Lennon, and Larry David (among many others).
Cringe cringe cringe cringe. I can hardly bear it.
I like some of the writing (and in the case of Peter Cook performing) of some of those guys too, but I wouldn’t dream of calling any of them a “cultural hero”…or of making a hero out of any of them even without saying so. I think I stopped doing that once I was out of my teens, and even if I hadn’t, I would have chosen more carefully.
What they all have in common is the quality captured by the French phrase “epater les bourgeois”, which the OED defines as “shock people regarded as conventional or complacent”. We might paraphrase this in a number of ways: taunt the prudish and prim, ridicule the conventional and boring, outrage the pious and conformist. The cultural tradition that falls under this description sees itself as in favor of art, freedom, creativity, spontaneity, playfulness, life, and experience; it casts itself as standing against stifling social norms and dull conformity. It is given to provocation, controversy, and shock tactics. Accordingly, it is often pilloried and persecuted, and of course misunderstood. It does not see itself as against morality as such, but it does view conventional pieties with a beady and skeptical eye. It is on the lookout for hypocrisy, dogma, intolerance, suppression, and sheer dullness of spirit. These to me are admirable values that I try to bring into my own life. I am particularly fond of provocative irony, which has got me into trouble on more than one occasion (especially in irony-deficient America). I am often amazed that people fail to see the irony in this or that utterance of mine.
I trust readers will see the relevance of these remarks to current events.
He sounds like a teenager. Literally. I remember thinking like that, I remember fancying myself in almost that way…when I was fifteen. Then I got over it. I learned not to betray that much vanity with that much reckless abandon. I even learned not to think of myself that way – I learned not to flatter myself in that unabashed way even inside my own head. That’s why that shite makes me cringe so hard – it’s so shamelessly self-flattering and complacent.
And the guy’s a philosopher. Lordy.
Maybe the University of Miami made him resign not so much because of the gross-out emails but because he writes like that.