Popular contemporary philosopher responds to recent criticism
Alain de Botton has been at the receiving end of some rather scathing judgments lately. After reading a negative review of his new book written by Caleb Crain for the New York Times, de Botton wrote a personal attack on the reviewer's personal website. The message, intended as a private communication between de Botton and Crain, criticizes the reviewer for an unfair and 'manic desire to bad-mouth and perversely depreciate anything of value'. Alain de Botton summarizes by stating: 'I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make. I will be watching with interest and schadenfreude.'
It is interesting to note that since the comments de Botton were made publicly, he has to some extent regretted his rather aggressive outburst. But, nonetheless, de Botton maintains that the New York Times published an unfair and aggressively negative review of his recent work. The website Reluctant Habits is currently featuring an article in which de Botton constructively responds to his critics, which you can read by clicking here.
I'm not one to judge de Botton's aggression in this matter. I think it's ironic that a supposedly philosophical writer of self-help books could be quite so quick to lose his temper, but I can see his point. I also think that there is a tendency to judge de Botton's writing a little too hastily. It's not Plato, but as airline paperbacks go it's not a bad footnote. Toby Lichtig springs to his defence in today's Times Literary Supplement, and goes as far as to compare Alain de Botton's attitude to that of Samuel Beckett, a bold move indeed:
What de Botton’s critics tend to ignore is his literary brilliance. Label him a “social commentator” rather than a “philosopher” and the arguments against him start to fall away; relabel him a “writer” and they disintegrate entirely. With his stress on better living, he has been compared to Montaigne, but his elegant, tortuous sentences owe more to Marcel Proust, about whom de Botton wrote an early book. Philosophically, he is perhaps closer to Samuel Beckett, who also wrote a youthful monograph on Proust. De Botton is a connoisseur of bathos. Few contemporary cultural critics have such a keen eye for hubris, such a witty grasp of juxtaposition. His every observation is framed by an acute awareness of absurdity, offset by a tenderness for human folly. “The impulse to exaggerate the significance of what we are doing, far from being an intellectual error, is really life itself coursing through us”, he concludes at the end of The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, before triumphantly proclaiming: “Let death find us as we are building up our matchstick protests against its waves”.