Sunday, November 16, 2008

Hot, Flat, and Crowded: some preliminary comments


I feel the time has come to draw your attention to the latest offspring of Tom's ever-fertile imagination. The picture, you will note, is an obvious reference to Book IV of Paradise Lost, which is reflective of Tom's long-standing appreciation of Milton (he once wrote a treatise on outsourcing in Pushkin sonnets, but was unable to find a publisher bold enough to follow through) and the epic-theological leitmotif that runs through his work like a soaring tiger of insight. The sphere in the middle is representative of a bygone world, and the people on it (I think they're people) are the sorts of people who reject Tom's counter-intuitive yet deeply profound truths about the world 2.0 in which we habit so precariously on the edge of a green precipice with new horizons and interconnected bonds of informational speed and - sorry, carried away there.

As for the book:
In June 2004, I was visiting London with my daughter Orly, and one evening we went to see the play Billy Elliot at a theater near Victoria Station. During intermission, I was standing up, stretching my legs in the aisle next to my seat, when a stranger approached and asked me, "Are you Mr. Friedman?" When I nodded yes, he introduced himself: "My name is Emad Tinawi. I am a Syrian-American working for Booz Allen," the consulting firm. Tinawi said that while he disagreed with some of the columns I had written, particularly on the Middle East, there was one column he especially liked and still kept.
This is from the first page. Regular readers will note that this has many of the classic hallmarks of a Tom nugget of wisdom. The inclusion of seemingly irrelevant details, like the leg stretching in the plane (this is not, of course irrelevant: Tom;s adventures nearly always begin on aircraft, which is symbolic both of his prose and the image of Tom as a modern day Indiana Jones of political economy) and the name of the play. The properly high ratio of proper nouns to arguments. The fact that Tom's interlocutor specified the multinational for which he works, and the careful hyphenation of his ethnicity. The entire adventure, a delightful vignette of global intercultural dialogue, takes place in London; it is disappointing not to have a "metropolitan trio" in this story, of course - "Bethesda, Beijing, Bangok" or some such alliterative treat. But Tom cannot do everything at once. Please be reasonable. I must also add that there are no metaphors, mixed or otherwise, but I hasten to add that the book will not have a deficit of this trademark literary device. Most of all, though, the use of an anecdote to open the book is typical of Tom's incredible idiographic sensitivity to the particular, his grounding of the global in the local, and the way in which Tom - with such ease, such disdain - casts aside such minor hindrances as causal inference, falsifiable statements, deductive theories, or epistemological constraints like reasonableness; this is trule the audacity of flatness.

1 comment:

Adrian Russell-Falla said...

just stumbled here; love the site, and your commentary. started to work forward from the beginning.

noticed a bit of a [Friedmanesque?] howler on this piece, though: you appear to have misapprehended the locus of the MoU's opening anecdote. you quote his narrative as

"...one evening we went to see the play Billy Elliot at a theater near Victoria Station. During intermission, I was standing up, stretching my legs in the aisle next to my seat..."

I think you were seduced by the phrase "aisle next to my seat" into making an erroneous aircraft association -- quite understandably, given Mr. Friedman's preferred milieu of millennial mobility.