David Solway starts his beautifully crafted essay "Notes on Lucianic Satire" (Random Walks) with a statement that describes, with surprising aptness, a consummately attentive reader of this blog.
"1) Lucianic satire is the literary form of prophylaxis. It protects the self from the vices it attacks, such as pomposity, self-righteousness, or the sclerosis of absolute conviction, by undermining its own critique and calling its own authority into question. Thus, there is usually an element of self-parody to leaven the moralizing seriousness of its burden.
2) But is is also meant to protect the self from the inevitability of disappointment and therefore must inoculate its deposition with the serum of irony and self-mockery. It seeks at least a partial immunity against the crushing despair associated with the failure of its attempt to reform the world.
3) Consequently, Lucianic satire acknowledges both the fallibility of the self and the belligerence of the world, subjective weakness and objective barbarism. It knows both that the self can be infected by the disease it proposes to cure and that the disease will never be remedied. It must fight on two fronts at once, resisting contagion and holding off despair."
Lucian of Samosata, otherwise known as Lucian the Blasphemer, the Slanderer, the unleavened, believes that literature requires a qualified audience, an educated reception. Unlike the modern museum curator who supplies an exhibit with a lowbrow explanatory apparatus, Lucian insists that true viewing (like true listening) requires an education, a Ph.D in particular. In this he has the support of the cultural milieu of the second-century Roman Empire where a privileged model of paideia was fundamental to social and political success.
The cultivated viewer, the pepaideumenos theates, must be located in this context: he is challenged, by atticizing language for example, to demonstrate his Ph.Dness through cultural competence. Those who fail, as every unPh.ded shmuck inevitably must, should shut, says L, the fuck up.
Lucian can be keenly ironic in the deployment of his authorial voice and persona. While one can never be certain of having glimpsed the "real" Lucian, it is nevertheless instructive to study the reflexive aspects of his work. Doing so reveals an occasionally smiling mouth attached to a chronically bitter heart.
"An image," notes Diogenes, "is viewed in a totally different way by an artisan (tekhnites) and an ordinary man." Owing no doubt to his intimate acquaintance with the world of artisans (tekhnitai), Lucian is acutely aware of this "literacy gap." For personal and professional reasons he is eager to divorce the production of art from its cultured appreciation, that is, to disassociate tekhne from paideia. As we have seen in The Dream, a craftsman such as Lucian’s uncle would appear to belong to the class of uncultured, ordinary men (idiotai).
"It is highly disgraceful," Lucian says, "not to be a match for that which one sees."
The novelist sees evil and folly as social diseases, the Menippean satirist, sees them as diseases of the intellect. He is not only a sceptic, he is a scoffer and a downright unbeliever. He feels that men’s actions and conduct always fall far short of their professions and therefore concludes that the professions themselves are worthless, a mere guise to secure popularity or respect. Lucian believes himself to be exposing a sham whose zeal is not at all for truth but only for applause and renown. Aware of the incorrigibility of the lit blogosphere, unable to avoid or finally correct its defects, Lucian crusades on, ever the knight errant, the sad, pathetic clown.