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alain de botton strikes back!

with 26 comments

I’m wondering what the beatdown that IT gave Alain de Botton has to do with this little piece of befuddlement, reported today by Robert McCrum in the Observer:

I hear that Alain de Botton is about to start work at Heathrow airport’s Terminal 5, for a new book, you understand. Apparently, the author of The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work will serve behind the check-in desk for a whole week and deliver an account of the ordeal to his publisher, Profile, in time for publication in September. In keeping with the elevated tone of de Botton’s literary endeavours, he will be known as “writer in residence”. Let’s hope he finds the encounter with the travelling masses less irritating than his well-publicised feud with the blogosphere.

Kind of hilarious to think about the scenario that engendered this project. AdB stalking the better bits of London, absolutely infuriated that fucking bloggers have impugned his ability to understand and thus to describe work just because he’s never had to do a day of paid labour in his life. I mean, doesn’t a childhood of interacting with the help count for anything anymore? Stomp, stomp, stomp. Fuck it…. I’ll show them. I’ll sign on for a whole week and then they’ll know that I. mean. business.

You know – they should be thinking bigger with this. How about a whole series in which, for instance, AdB gets poverty by spending half-an-hour at a welfare benefits office. Or becomes a woman by sitting in a gynaecologist’s waiting room. He could tell us what illiteracy is like by wearing an eyepatch and trying to read. Or what it’s like be have AIDS in Africa by going to Boots without his Boots Advantage Card. Really no end to the possibilities here: homeless by sitting out in his garden past 10 PM. Falsely imprisoned by having his housekeeper lock him in his conservatory for fifteen minutes with the lights turned off.

Written by adswithoutproducts

August 17, 2009 at 12:03 am

26 Responses

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  1. Oh, you’re just hoping he will buy a coffee, aren’t you?


    August 17, 2009 at 3:30 am

  2. Hahaha! I think it’s safe to say he’s not going to be coming round blogland anymore….


    August 17, 2009 at 7:57 am

  3. I love the idea of someone being a ‘writer-in-residence’ at Heathrow airport! Airports are the great focal points of the modern world, so full of weird and wonderful details. They screw up the planet and at the same time, help us to get to know it. I read somewhere that de Botton likes to go to Heathrow just to have a look around. I’ve done that sometimes too. Don’t get me wrong, I’m hardly a plane spotter. It’s not the planes I care about. It’s the unusual atmosphere. You get to see people that you know are going to be on the other side of the earth in 12 hours. It somehow breaks the mundanity of daily life. I can’t wait to see what de Botton makes of it, I loved the bits in his book The Art of Travel where he looks around Heathrow.

    Clare Mehulla

    August 17, 2009 at 9:14 am

  4. Careful, if he ends up in rehab or worse it will be because of posts like this.

    And isn’t he living proof that attacking individual members of the dominant classes is completely pointless? They just end up feeling hurt and bewildered.

    And he has been completely successful in doing what you, IT and a lot of other bloggers are trying to do – publish books about ideas which get a wide readership. He sort of single-handedly introduced a readable pop philosophy+literature genre, he may even have turned a lot of people onto Proust or philosophy. And he did this by being inventive in his approach. Probably 99% of people buy his books having no idea about his background. So you envy his talent (and some luck, of course) in being able to do this.

    So maybe you should put a picture of him on your desktop to motivate you when you are working on your book.


    August 17, 2009 at 9:38 am

  5. Too right Gabe, IT and co are hilariously obsessed by de B – and, despite all their lip-service to psychoanalysis, unaware that their extraordinary hatred is really a version of envy, and so a kind of admiration for doing what they can’t do successfully. de B’s background is a hindrance he’s overcome, not an advantage anyway. Possibly the worst thing you want your father to be if you want to be a writer nowadays is a banker, it’s akin to coming from a line of criminals – and a lot less glamorous!

    Clare Mehulla

    August 17, 2009 at 10:24 am

  6. “Possibly the worst thing you want your father to be if you want to be a writer nowadays is a banker, it’s akin to coming from a line of criminals”

    How do you mean, akin to?


    August 17, 2009 at 10:27 am

  7. Ha ha. Glad the hard left is still in such good shape.

    Clare Mehulla

    August 17, 2009 at 10:29 am

  8. You and IT do realize that you come across in the eact same way as AdB in posts like this? The faux concern for the working class, the subtle hints that you were not middle class (you sure are now brother!), and the downright obviousness that your ideas will never be read by the people you seek approval from. Leave him alone. You look better when you do. Oh and say hello to the help for me.

    Dr X

    August 17, 2009 at 10:51 am

  9. ‘The help…’ my god, who has used that expression in a hundred years! Not even de B likely to use phrases like that.

    Clare Mehulla

    August 17, 2009 at 10:58 am

  10. Haaaang on. I think both IT and AwP are fairly well-versed in the concept of ressentiment.

    It’s absurd to pretend that having a colossal trust-fund is ‘a hindrance’, and the current anti-banker mood is irrelevant to A de B, who made his literary debut some 10 or 12 years ago. His career was established before the credit crunch.

    This hostility to A de B didn’t manifest itself a year ago did it? So what sparked it? His book about work, in which a *massively* privately wealthy individual strolls about play-acting at work and interviewing people who *have* to do it, before retiring to reflect at leisure on this curious activity, the essence of which he will never grasp. Even if you set the current recession aside, it’s an unpleasant prospect.


    August 17, 2009 at 11:06 am

  11. Hostility to de B has been around for ages. He’s been accused of ‘dumbing down’ the precious truths otherwise safely handled by IT and AwP since the start. The work book has driven the ITers crazy for another reason altogether; it’s really good. This is the first book of de B’s that is properly good. The others are light and fluffy. The Consolations of Philosophy is vulgar popularizing stuff, The Architecture of Happiness is a weird aesthetic treatise aimed for… it’s hard to tell. But this work book blew me away. I’m sure about 1% of commentators here has bothered to read it. Give it a whirl and let’s talk again. Otherwise, you guys are just basing your thoughts on hearsay and suspicion (of course the IDEA of the book is daft, but then the idea of many great books is).

    Clare Mehulla

    August 17, 2009 at 11:15 am

  12. Envy? Sure, I envy his ability to drop out of a couple of PhD programs and write popular works instead… Lots of us wish we could pull off something like that, but for one reason or another (erm, the mandate to work) can’t quite find our way through to unmediated time in our 20s to write as we’d like to write.


    de B’s background is a hindrance he’s overcome, not an advantage anyway. Possibly the worst thing you want your father to be if you want to be a writer nowadays is a banker, it’s akin to coming from a line of criminals – and a lot less glamorous!

    Clare! That’s insane talk! Should I be writing posts attacking all the incredibly lucky sons and daughters of cleaners and day labourers who fill the ranks of the literary intelligensia?

    The faux concern for the working class, the subtle hints that you were not middle class (you sure are now brother!), and the downright obviousness that your ideas will never be read by the people you seek approval from.

    I’ve never claimed or even hinted that I was “working class.” I wasn’t and I’m not now, no.


    August 17, 2009 at 11:18 am

  13. Clare is clearly AdB and I hereby claim five pounds.


    August 17, 2009 at 11:20 am

  14. Clare,

    Um, the profound effect that the work book had on you may bear some relation to the fact that you’re the sort of person who thinks that the children of bankers are unfairly discriminated against in the cultural marketplace. Just saying. Sounds like you might be the right demographic for the book, that’s all…


    August 17, 2009 at 11:22 am

  15. Gabe,

    You know – I just wrote a comment, then deleted it, that said for the first time in the history of my blog I smell a sock puppet rooting about in my boxes.


    August 17, 2009 at 11:23 am

    • Worked on me, I am now immensely envious of this de Botton chap and have developed a wish to be adopted by a passing banker. Preferably the solvent kind.


      August 17, 2009 at 11:27 am

  16. @clare: Infinite Thought used the phrase ‘the help’ in the original post.

    Dr X

    August 17, 2009 at 11:35 am

  17. “I am sorry, madam, I am Alain de Botton of Londonium and the check-in for this flight closed fifteen seconds ago. The captain will not let you on. This is the end of the line for you I am afraid. Even philosophy will not save you now, but if you like I can take your name down for an advanced copy of the book I am writing.”

    “Well that’s just not good enough is it! Get me on that plane! How much do they pay you to sit and speak that way to me?!”

    “Please don’t hurt me. Help me, please, someone. She’s getting angry. Does she have a gun?”


    August 17, 2009 at 12:10 pm

  18. Listen, if resentment (or its french cousin) is a sufficient condition for violent class rage on the part of proletarianized middle-class bloggers, I am all for it. M. de Botton would need to be a far better writer to deserve some sort of noble enmity, and meanwhile, the aristocrat-to-lamppost ratio (A/L, as we say in political economy) needs some fiddling.


    August 17, 2009 at 3:54 pm

  19. Couldn’t agree more with Jane. The world would be a finer place if de Botton were to be strung up from the nearest lamp-post. We wouldn’t have to suffer more of his imbecilic books and even worse television programmes.


    August 17, 2009 at 4:12 pm

  20. “faux concern for the working class”

    I love it when the right (or the bourgeoisie) attack someone for faking concern. Besides being a ridiculous argument, the irony is that they themselves can’t begin to imagine why anyone would give a shit for the help — so they assume you must be faking.

    David R

    August 18, 2009 at 6:00 am

  21. I’ll only envy AdB if they let him go around on the carousel at Heathrow, pretending to be a piece of luggage. That would be great.

    I’m glad that there is now a category of people called the ‘ITers’ now, though, they sound brilliant.

    infinite thought

    August 19, 2009 at 6:12 pm

  22. Yes, but are they it-getters?


    August 19, 2009 at 9:04 pm

  23. This post, and its associated comments, have brightened my day greatly. Huzzah!


    August 21, 2009 at 12:12 am

  24. I just did a search on Google News and the disappointing thing is that AdB didn’t actually do any check-in stuff or any other work to do with the operation of the airport. The stories say he was allowed to go anywhere he liked in the airport, then he would sit at a desk in the departure area and write about his observations. Though I did see this:

    At one point, an irate passenger who had missed her flight accosted him and banged on his writing desk.

    Just what I was hoping for.


    August 28, 2009 at 1:24 am

  25. Though apparently people did ask him for directions to the toilet a lot, so I suppose this does count as some kind of staff work.


    August 28, 2009 at 1:28 am

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