Thursday, May 17, 2007

Lileks Watch

...because Leonard can’t be the only one, can he?

The thing about James Lileks is that he reveals more of himself than he means to. He puts his neuroses and self-image out on display, and his lack of self-awareness can really be heartbreaking sometimes. That’s part of why I still feel for the guy, despite our differences in political temperament. As the caregiver dad of two kids, for instance, I feel a resonance with his parenting stories, which are undergirded with the nagging fear and doubt that every parent worth hir salt must feel.

I even have sympathy for his recent job-related travails, having been on the other side of underemployment myself, even if I didn’t have a small cigar habit and a Water Feature to support. As others have noted, Lileks need not go down the ship as the Strib cuts costs—he could grab a lucrative columnist job with one of the thinktank-funded Wingnut Weeklies, penning regular 7,000-word jeremiads on Why The Dusky Mussulman Cannot Be Trusted. But he’s got a lot invested in his conception of himself as a folksy hometown centrist, and to take such a gig would be to admit that self-image is false.

There are times, though, when Lileks goes from a fascinating case study to an enraging bonehead, and they come most often in his social-observation pieces (his worldview lacks the internal coherence to qualify him as a true Social Critic¹, so he ends up as the watered-down American version, the Funny Old World writer). Case in point: his recent Disney World travel diary.

It’s not the concept itself—I mean, I did something similar myself when I visited, years ago: Disney World is an overwhelming experience, and it inspires long ruminations in a certain kind of writer. It’s the stuff that filters in when he’s doing throwaway lines; that’s where the Id shines through.

I’d been reading in a haze of goodwill, comparing and contrasting his experiences at Disney with my own. The revelation (to me, anyway) of Lileks’s long struggle with panic attacks and agoraphobia was helping me place his weird politics in some kind of sympathetic context. Then comes this little nugget (emphasis in the original):

I had no initial interest in Adventureland, because Africa annoys me. Get it together, people.
The rest of the paragraph is just as bad, but that snarky little aside—and yeah, in context he’s being sarcastic, but not ironic, exactly, not in any way that could redeem the sentiment—moved me from a wellspring of fellow-feeling to an urge to knock skulls.

¹Mostly because he lacks the intellectual honesty to follow any train of thought past the point where he starts to feel uncomfortable.

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