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Mind

An Astonishingly Brilliant Epic Tour-De-Force

Neuroskeptic iconNeuroskepticBy NeuroskepticFebruary 27, 2011 4:30 AM

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So I was browsing my local bookshop yesterday.

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But what to buy? The back covers are not very helpful. Apparently, every novel published nowadays is, at the worse, a breathtaking masterpiece. Most are epoch-making, life-changing works of godlike genius.

OK, but which ones are actually good?

Why is this? Part of it, surely, is that literature is an incestuous world where the same authors who write the books are the first port of call when publishers want blurbs for everyone else's. Clearly you don't want to say anything bad about your peers lest you stop getting invites to dinner parties. Unless you're embroiled in a "bitter literary feud", but no-one has the energy to do that on a regular basis.

Because everyone is constantly complimenting each other in this way, praise inflation sets in and we soon reach the point where "This is a very good book" would be a serious insult.

There's also a theory, which has been around for a good few hundred years and maybe forever, that creative types are a breed apart from everyone else, possessed of divine powers and insight. Not just the really great artists, but any artist as a profession.

When Nietzsche wrote a book comparing himself favourably to Jesus, with chapters called "Why I Am So Clever" and "Why I Am A Destiny", people thought that was a bit much. (It didn't help that he went completely insane the next year.) You can't go on record and say that about yourself, but say it about your friends and get them to say it about you, and it seems to work quite nicely.

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