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Too much peace and goodwill? Too much wine and good food? You're probably in the mood for some scorn. There's nothing like a bit of swingeing invective to cleanse the palate and get the blood circulating. Here's Anthony Daniels, AKA Theodore Dalrymple. It's bracing:
Among my mother’s books was a copy of The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. I remember still the cream color of the cover, adorned with a soft-focus drawing of a young man with a thin moustache staring, Svengali-like, into some kind of philosophical infinity. Although—or was it because?—The Prophet was so popular at the time, selling by the million worldwide, I resisted reading it. I suspected that its profundity, or rather its straining after profundity, was bogus, and I was right. It is precisely in its ersatz quality that its popularity resides.
It is no coincidence, I think, that in Sand and Foam, subtitled A Book of Aphorisms, in which appear large numbers of propositions that are short without being aphoristic, we should find the following: “A work of art is a mist carved into an image.” In Gibran’s case, the reverse would probably be nearer the truth; at any rate, he certainly mastered the difficult art of writing entirely in clichés without saying much that is true. He is so greatly loved because he never forces us to think.
Admittedly, he is a feeler rather than a thinker, though even his feelings end up being bogus precisely because of his refusal to discipline them by anything resembling thought.
One looks in vain in these many pages for an arresting or poetic metaphor. I quote at random:
Dip your oar, my beloved,
And let me touch my strings.
It is impossible to plumb the shallows of this.
Does it matter if substantial numbers of people find consolation in Gibran’s vapidity and excruciating bad taste? It boils down to the question of whether kitsch matters. I feel instinctively that it does, though I do not find it altogether easy to explain why.
Let me leave you with a typical Gibran aphorism:
The flowers of spring are winter’s dreams related at the breakfast table of the angels.
If that doesn’t nauseate you, you must subsist on a diet of marrons glacés: though there is, in fact, a big difference between Kahlil Gibran and marrons glacés. It is that the first mouthful of marrons glacés is delicious.
This is Dalrymple with his dander up, and his displeasure is our pleasure. It is just as well that the world is not to Dalrymple's liking, because if it were, his writing would be nothing like so entertaining. When it comes to good writing, goodness has nothing to do with it. Paradise Regained isn't a patch on Paradise Lost, and Dante's Paradiso (probably) can't hold a candle to his Inferno. Not that I've read Paradiso - who has? - but Heaven can't be as entertaining as Hell.
Coming back to scorn, generally I can't get enough of it. Click here and here for some scorn. I can be scornful too, at times. When I wrote my December article, The Islamist, I was in full nostril-flaring, lip-curling scorn mode, and it showed. But now I'm feeling content and mellow. It is not good for me. I need to get cross.