Within the Context of No Context

I first read this as an essay in the New Yorker in 1980, then read the book. I’m not at all sure that I have absorbed the wisdom. From the first page: “The most powerful men were those who most effectively used the power of adult competence to enforce childish agreements.”

That is a really creepy observation from 37 years ago when applied to Donald Trump in 2017.

The New Yorker has the first page of the original essay on their website. Check it out: “Within the Context of No Context“.

This book might not be for you. It is written in a strange, oracular style. But for “television” read “the Internet” and you see this.

[The Internet] is the force of no-history, and it holds the archives of the history of no-history. […] The trivial is raised up to the place where this scale has its home; the powerful is lowered there. In the place where this scale has its home, childish agreements can be arrived at and enforced effectively—childish agreements, and agreements wearing the mask of childhood.

If that doesn’t work for you, then you can skip the book. But if it makes you want to read one more paragraph, then go for it. And dang it, it makes me want to read the whole crazy thing again.

His critique of celebrity is unsurpassed. He contrasts the various “grids” (I would say “networks”) of social connections, with gradation from close friends to people you read about in the news. Only celebrities exist in the smallest and largest grids. We make celebrities part of our close friend groups, whether they be Oprah, Ellen, Beyonce, or Tomi Lahren.

The middle distance fell away…Two grids remained. The grid of two hundred million and the grid of intimacy.

The book has been described as “Baffling, cranky, elusive, brilliant.” Not sure I could be more precise than that.

Start with Goodreads and you can get to Amazon or libraries to find Within the Context of No Context.

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