Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Alain de Botton lost it when lit crit Caleb Frain of The New York Times Book Review trashed The Pleasures and the Sorrows of Work earlier this year. The e-mail de Botton sent Frain ended with this,
"I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make.”
This might seem a bit much, coming from a man whose book on Proust is a literary romp filled with humorous insights. What are we to make of an author who talks of Proust, Epicurus, Montaigne and Schopenhauer, but seemsunable to apply their teachings to his own life? I think that it is safe to conclude that coming from a privileged Sephardic family, that having attended Harrow and Cambridge does not inoculate one from anger and disappointment. Brilliant essayist that he is, de Botton is not immune to righteous rage. Should he be? Should writers be judged by a standard other the the one used for non-writers? Why? Is writing work? Does it fit into the same category as, say, a wall built by a bricklayer. Why?
These are some the questions I have in mind for de Botton. I am not at all sure that his outburst was representative--he says that The New York Times has given him bad reviews six times in a row-of the way he deals with critics. Shortly after his blistering response to Frain, de Botton apologised and quoted Montaigne,
"To learn we have said a stupid thing is nothing: we must learn a more ample, important lesson: we are but blockheads."
Full disclosure, I love de Botton's essays on philosophy, his take on architecture and his ideas for a school for life. So the guy has the temper of an Iberian caballero. So what?

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