Decadent Connoisseurship

by Kiko Matsing

“People were constantly asking for my advice: ‘Tell me what five albums I should buy now,’ or ‘Tell me what are the five best heavy metal albums of all time,’ ” Mr. Scaruffi said. “Eventually you get tired of answering the same question, and you prepare a list. Then the list becomes many lists.”

…“Probably my biggest ambition would be to write a history of knowledge,” he said. “Something that packages all of my interests together: literature, science, philosophy, politics — whatever.” Music, he said, is just one part of a much larger puzzle.

(from NY Times, 15 Oct 2006)

Piero Scaruffi has the answers to everything. Science, music, cinema, travel, poetry, literature, politics, history, art. He has a comprehensive account of Life, Mind, and Matter–the big problematics in speculative philosophy–approached from perspectives as diverse as “Cognitive Science, Neurobiology, Linguistics, Philosophy of Mind, Artificial Intelligence, Quantum Physics, Relativity, Thermodynamics, Evolutionism, theories of dreams, theories of emotions and theories of consciousness.” (I get a nosebleed just naming all of them.) In short, he attempts to tackle the sum of human knowledge in his website. It is a one man juggling act–or what happens when someone with OCD has a lot of time in his hands.

Piero Scaruffi is also an omnivorous connoisseur. He has lists for the best music (rock, jazz, avant garde), movies, and books. It is a snooty canon. The Beatles don’t even make the cut. (“They wrote a bunch of catchy 3-minute ditties and they were photogenic.”)

He reminds me of Camille Paglia’s decadent connoisseurs: Huysman’s Jean Des Esseintes, Walter Pater, and Oscar Wilde’s Lord Henry Wotton. Some part of me envies this obsessive devotion (and perhaps my blog is turning into this.) Decadent aestheticism, however, is a “sophistication without humaneness or humanism,” Paglia warns. It is self-indulgent, “a disease of the eye” or in this case, the ear.