The destruction of meaning? Book review


Simon Hardy’s recent essay the Destruction of Meaning is a great read, and I used a book review to critically engage with some of the wider problems of propaganda, power, and political possibilities. That review is now up at Review 31, and there’s an excerpt below:

‘Propaganda that looks like propaganda is third rate propaganda’: so said Lord Northcliffe, Director for Propaganda for the British Ministry of Information in 1918. Northcliffe possessed a unique monopoly on news production in the early 20th century, owning both the Daily Mail and The Times, and his work in producing effective anti-German material during the first World War has been credited as the first modern instance of effective mass propaganda. Whilst today we have our Rupert Murdochs and Richard Desmonds, and the increasingly-centralised ownership of media production to a few multinational giants, analysis of propaganda and its means of propagation still remains somehow lacking. An era of popular scepticism and cynicism about the integrity of politicians, police and bankers has yet to be coupled to a wider rejection of media and information production. Why is this, and what can be done?

Simon Hardy’s long essay Destruction of Meaning is a welcome contribution to a Marxist analysis of media and communication. Presented in engaging, accessible and enjoyable prose, Hardy’s argument rests on the Confucian claim that when language loses its meaning, people lose their freedom. This presents serious trouble for a critical public. On the one hand, as Hardy claims, it leads to a growing ‘irrationalism’ across the globe as ‘public opinion’ (itself a dubious construction) increasingly supports a right-wing agenda that would seemingly harm its own interests. On the other, it relies on a new neoliberal world-view that this is an age beyond ideology and politics, where in our economic meritocracies, politicians act in the interests of only the hard-working and deserving. In such a wilful irrationalism, welfare, immigration or labour rights are framed only in emotive terms of ‘toughness’ and ‘fairness’ – shifting the debate from causes, interests and the common good to more simply how voters should ‘feel’ and emotionally relate to certain, selective, heroes and villains. How can a serious understanding or discussion of political debates and events occur when there is, from the outset, a total falsification or distortion of their meanings by media outlets and political discourses? And moreover, how did this project – and Hardy considers it a project – come to pass? …

Click here to read the remainder of the review-essay.

I’ll also be talking tomorrow evening at Housmans with Mark Fisher about Negative Capitalism, all welcome.


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