Michiko Kakutani

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Michiko Kakutani
Tribeca Disruptive Innovation award
May 2018

Michiko Kakutani (born January 9, 1955) is an American literary critic and former chief book critic for The New York Times. Her awards include a Pulitzer Prize for Criticism.

Quotes[edit]

The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump (2018)[edit]

  • Nationalism, tribalism, dislocation, fears of social change, and the hatred of outsiders are on the rise again as people, locked in their partisan silos and filter bubbles, are losing sense of shared reality and the ability to communicate across social and sectarian lines.
    • Introduction
  • This is not to draw a direct analogy [to] the overwhelming horrors of the World War II era but to look at some of the conditions and attitudes... that make a people susceptible to demagoguery and political manipulation, and nations easy prey for would-be autocrats. To examine how a disregard for facts, the displacement of reason by emotion, and the corrosion of language are diminishing the very value of truth, and what that means for America and the world.
    • Introduction
  • The Washington Post calculated that [Trump] made 2,140 false or misleading claims during the first year in office—an average of 5.9 a day. His lies... are only the brightest blinking light of many warnings of his assault on democratic institutions and norms. He routinely assails the press, the justice system, and the civil servants who make our government tick.
    • Introduction
  • If a novelist had concocted a villain like Trump—a larger-than-life, over-the-top avatar of narcissism, mendacity, ignorance, prejudice, boorishness, demagoguery, and tyrannical impulses... [one] would likely be accused of extreme contrivance and implausibility. ...less like a persuasive character than some manic cartoon artist's mashup... But the more clownish aspects of Trump ...should not blind us to the monumentally serious consequences of his assault on truth and the rule of law, and the vulnerabilities he has exposed in our institutions and digital communications.
    • Introduction
  • [I]n many aspects [Trump] is... an extreme, bizarro-world apotheosis of many of the broader, intertwined attitudes undermining truth today, from the merging of news and politics with entertainment, to the toxic polarization... to the growing populist contempt for expertise. ...creating the perfect ecosystem in which Veritas... could fall mortally ill.
    • Introduction
  • For decades now, objectivity—or even the idea that people can aspire toward ascertaining the best available truth—has been falling out of favor. ...This has been going on since a solar system of right-wing news sites orbiting around Fox News and Breitbart News consolidated its gravitational hold over the Republican base, and it's been exponentially accelerated by social media, which connects users with like-minded members and supplies them with customized news feeds that reinforce their preconceptions, allowing them to live in ever narrower, windowless silos.
    • Introduction
  • [R]elativism has been ascendant since the culture wars began in the 1960s. Back then, it was embraced by the New Left, eager to expose the biases of Western, bourgeois, male dominated thinking; and by academics promoting the gospel of postmodernism... Since then, relativistic arguments have been hijacked by the populist Right, including creationists and climate change deniers who insist that their views be taught alongside "science-based" theories.
    • Introduction
  • Truth is a cornerstone of our democracy. ...[T]ruth is one of the things that separates us from an autocracy....
    • Introduction
  • Alongside [the] optimistic vision of America as a nation that could become a shining "city upon a hill," there's also been a dark, irrational counter-theme in U.S. history, which has now reasserted itself with a vengeance—to the point where reason not only is being undermined but seems to have been tossed out of the window, along with facts, informed debate, and deliberative policy making. Science is under attack, and so is expertise of every sort—be it expertise in foreign policy, national security, economics, or education.
    • Ch. 1. The Decline and Fall of Reason
  • [T]hese were grievences exacerbated by changing demographics and changing social mores that had some members of the white working class feel increasingly marginalized; by growing income inequalities accelerated by the financial crisis of 2008; and by forces like globalization and technology that were stealing manufacturing jobs and injecting daily life with a new uncertainty and angst.
  • Trump and nationalist, anti-immigrant leaders on the right in Europe... would inflame... feelings of fear and anger and disenfranchisement, offering scapegoats instead of solutions...
    • Ch. 1. The Decline and Fall of Reason
  • The assault on truth and reason that reached fever pitch during the first year of the Trump presidency had been incubating for years on the fringe right. Clinton haters... and Tea Party paranoids who claimed that environmentalists wanted to control the temperature of your home and the color of your cars... hooked up, during the 2016 campaign, with Breitbart bloggers and alt-right trolls. And with Trump's winning of the Republican nomination and the presidency, the extremist views of his most radical supporters—their racial and religious intolerance, their detestation of the government, and their embrace of conspiracy thinking and misinformation—went mainstream.
    • Ch. 1. The Decline and Fall of Reason
  • Trump, who lauched his political career by shamelessly promoting birtherism and who has spoken approvingly of the conspiracy theorist and shock jock Alex Jones, presided over an administration that became, in its first year, the very embodiment of anti-Enlightenment principles, reputing the values of rationalism, tolerance, and empiricism in both its policies and its modus operandia reflection of the commander-in-chief's erratic, impulsive decision-making style based not on knowledge but upon instinct, whim, and preconceived (and often delusional) notions of how the world operates.
    • Ch. 1. The Decline and Fall of Reason
  • Trump made no effort to rectify his ignorance of domestic and foreign policy... His former chief strategist Stephen Bannon has said the Trump only "reads to reinforce"... [W]ritten versions of the president's daily brief... he reportedly rarely if ever reads. Instead, the president seems to prefer getting his information from Fox News—in particular, the sycophantic morning show Fox and Friends—and from sources like Breitbart News and the National Enquirer. He reportedly spends as much as eight hours a day watching television...
    • Ch. 1. The Decline and Fall of Reason
  • Some absurd details are unnerving rather than merely comical... Trump's proclivity for chaos has not been contained by those around him but has instead infected his entire administration. ...given his disdain for institutional knowledge he frequently ignores the advice of his cabinet members and agencies, when he isn't cutting them out of the loop entirely.
    • Ch. 1. The Decline and Fall of Reason
  • Combined with Trump's subversion of long-time alliances and trade accords and his steady undermining of democratic ideals, the carelessness with which his administration treated foreign policy led to world confidence in U.S. leadership plummeting in 2017 to a new low of 30 percent (below China and just above Russia) according to a Gallup pole.
    • Ch. 1. The Decline and Fall of Reason
  • The Trump White House's preference for loyalty and ideological lock-step over knowledge is on display throughout the administration. Unqualified judges and agency heads were appointed because of cronyism, political connections, or a determination to undercut agencies that stood in the way of Trump's massive deregulatory plans benefiting the fossil fuel industry and wealthy donors.
    • Ch. 1. The Decline and Fall of Reason

Quotes about Kakutani[edit]

  • Donald Trump has battled many a journalist, but he has not yet faced as eloquent and coruscating an authority as Michiko Kakutani, the fearless book critic of The New York Times for three and a half decades, who left the paper last year to write The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump.
  • Michiko Kakutani, the New York Times revered chief book critic, announced she was stepping down from her post... after 38 years, marking the end of a career that inspired both admiration and fear in the hearts of the writers whose books she reviewed.
    Kakutani was America’s most powerful literary critic, someone who... wielded immense influence over the careers of both budding and established novelists.
  • [T]he Times' chief daily book critic announced that she would be leaving her regular reviewing post after thirty-eight years at the paper, marking the end of a literary era. Her assessments of novels and memoirs, works of history, biography, politics, and poetry have guided generations of American readers, and the prospect of getting a Kakutani review has been the hope and fear of more writers than could possibly be counted... What made her scary to writers made her reliable to readers... Her name long ago entered the lexicon as a verb (“to be Kakutanied”), a signifier of the ultimate cultural prestige.

External links[edit]

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