Monday, August 28, 2006

Gentle Regrets

I have only just started reading Gentle Regrets: Thoughts from a Life, the English philosopher Roger Scruton’s recently published memoir, but even from the second paragraph of the “Preface” he seduces the thoughtful reader with his gift for aphorism, which is another way of saying life distilled into an elegant minimum of words:

“Wisdom is truth that consoles. There is truth without wisdom, as we know from the many mad scientists who are running loose in our world. And there is consolation without truth, as we know from the history of religion. Whatever its defects, my life has enabled me to find comfort in uncomfortable truths.”

That’s the voice of a trusted companion. How many contemporary philosophers dare to speak of “truth” and “wisdom?” These are realities scorned as oppressive fictions by trendy sophisticates, yet understood intuitively by the rest of us. You need not share Scruton’s political, cultural or philosophical convictions to enjoy this splendid book. He devotes upcoming chapters to subjects which interest me not all all – opera, horses, Iris Murdoch – yet I look forward to reading them, which is perhaps the highest praise you can render a writer. Here’s Scruton on one of the most pernicious of modern thinkers, a genuinely immoral man, who remains in vogue especially among academics and credulous graduate students:

“Foucault’s Les mots st les choses, the bible of the soixante-huitards, the text that seemed to justify every form of transgression, by showing that obedience is merely defeat. It is an artful book, composed with a satanic mendacity, selectively appropriating facts in order to show that culture and knowledge are nothing but the `discourses’ of power. The book is not a work of philosophy but an exercise in rhetoric. Its goal is subversion, not truth, and it is careful to argue – by the old nominalist sleight of hand that was surely invented by the Father of Lies – that `truth’ requires inverted commas, that it changes from epoch to epoch, and is tied to the form of consciousness, the epistme, imposed by the class that profits from its propagation. The revolutionary spirit. Which searched the world for things to hate, has found in Foucault a new literary formula.”

Scruton has his own generously stocked web site, and here’s a link to A.N. Wilson’s sympathetic review of Gentle Regrets in the Times Literary Supplement.

1 comment:

Amir Azizmohamadi said...

I am a huge believer in the argument that Foucault and the bulk of poststructural writers display what Scruton calls "an exercise in rhetoric." However, I can not see much beyond the same technique in these lines:

"Here’s Scruton on one of the most pernicious of modern thinkers, a genuinely immoral man, who remains in vogue especially among academics and credulous graduate students."

Similarly, Scruton only rhetorically—at least in this extract—talks about an artful "exercise in rhetoric."

Aren’t we all postmodern.