|Mario Vargas Llosa, Nobel Prize recipient, author of Notes on the Death of Culture|
"Vargas Llosa adopts a name for this age of ours coined by the French Marxist theorist Guy Debord. We live in the Society of the Spectacle. A name that recalls the bread and circuses offered to a debased populace in the declining Roman empire. Exploited by the blind forces of rampant consumerism, we are reduced to being spectators of our own lives rather than actors in them.
Our sensibilities, indeed our very humanity, is blunted by those who traditionally saw their role as the guardians of it.
The intellectuals, the supine media, the political class have abandoned substance and discrimination and with treacherous enthusiasm adopted the idea of the image as truth. The liberal revolution of the 1960s, especially the events of 1968 in France, and French theorists such as Michel Foucault and Jean Baudrillard come in for a lot of invective. They have turned culture into “an obscurantist game for self-regarding academics and intellectuals who have turned their backs on society”.
Meanwhile the masses exist, docile and passive, in a world of appearances, reduced to no more than the audience in a kind of tawdry theatre where scenes shift from violence to inanity before our bored and brutalised gaze. Rock stars are given more credence than politicians, comedians are the new philosophers. Lifestyle merchants such as cooks and gardeners are revered as writers once were. It’s a sad and hopeless devolution from what we used to have and used to be.
Vargas Llosa is pessimistic about the survival of literature, which is to say books that aren’t primarily entertainment or pragmatic. He’s pessimistic about how a society can live without coherent religious belief (although he himself can) and not fall into despair, about our abandonment of the concept of privacy. To put the inner self on public display in the way we’re expected to do is to revert to barbarism.
And the most cultured countries are the most guilty. We will decline – like many a civilization before us? – having squandered our inheritance, “this delicate substance” that has taken millennia to develop and imparted sense, content and order to our lives. The words “inanity”, “idiocy” and “banality” appear again and again in Vargas Llosa’s discourse. And when the extraordinary and wondrous resource of the internet is experienced by so many people only via the inanities of social media, who can argue with him?"