Friday, February 04, 2005

Mumbo-jumbo’s survival instinct

Colin MacCabe

In his recent book scholar-journalist Francis Wheen hilariously exposes the madness and irrationality of today's world and asks: whatever happened to the Enlightenment? But one of those he reproaches now says that Wheen himself has not gone far enough.

The paperback publication of Francis Wheen’s How Mumbo-Jumbo conquered the world allows the possibility of reflecting on one of the most amusing and informative of recent books. Wheen is that very unusual thing, a journalist who is also a real scholar, and a writer who is not afraid to think. His biography of Karl Marx combined wide-reaching scholarship with faultless prose to provide an enduring portrait of the author of Das Kapital. Mumbo-Jumbo, which aspires to analyse the intellectual Zeitgeist of the last generation – from self-help to modern management, from post-structuralism to the weightless economy – gives him a large canvas on which to execute some savage portraits.

The very best part of the book is an account of the speculative bubble of the late 1990s where the positive thinking of the self-help books, the meretricious inanities of modern management and the wishful thinking of those trying to get rich quick came together in an orgy of stupidity which Wheen savours expertly.

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