Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Cat’s whiskers.

If you’re one of those who think “intellectuals” are cat’s whiskers, better stay away from Paul Johnson’s Intellectuals (Harper & Row, New York, 1988). My friend, Manohar Mason of Pentagon Communications is probably the most logical people I’ve met so far. Don’t believe me? Just read this: http://digbig.com/5bahag. He is also a huge fan of Bertrand Russell. Whenever we meet and end up talking about (Ahem!) intellectual and philosophical stuff, good ol’ Bertie pops in the conversation. If memory serves, Manohar told me more than once that he had read Bertie’s autobiography and spoke of it in glowing terms. I wonder if he would go into a Fahrenheit 451 mode were he to read Chapter 8 of Johnson’s tome. Johnson runs through the gamut of this brainy specie right from Rousseau, Shelley, Marx, Ibsen, Tolstoy, Hemingway, Brecht, Russell, Sartre, Wilson, Gollancz and Hellman – with a quick worm’s-eye view of fellow sinners like Connolly, Mailer, Tynan, Fassbinder and Baldwin. His main grouse is that these worthies do not practice personally what they preach publicly. They have clay feet, in other words, as well as being guilty of all the major sins not excluding greed, lust, envy, pride, mendacity and venality. He pitches at us shovelfuls of dirt on each and every one of them in an entertaining and highly readable romp. I rather enjoyed it but then I have always been a sucker for historical gossip. For example: http://digbig.com/5bahba and http://digbig.com/5bahbb. At times, though, Johnson sounds a wee bit waspish, condescending and holier-than-thou. To me, it’s a simple matter of so what. But for most of the time and most of the people, to err is human; to forgive, out of the question.