Joshua Cohen at The New York Times:
“Notes on the Death of Culture: Essays on Spectacle and Society” is a new nonfiction diatribe by Mario Vargas Llosa, or (should I say) by the Spanish-language Peruvian novelist, lapsed Catholic, last living public face of the Latin American “boom” and 2010 Nobel laureate in literature Mario Vargas Llosa, the author of over two dozen previous books. The subject of this one is “our” lack: of common culture, or common context, common sets of referents and allusions, and a common understanding of who or what that pronoun “our” might refer to anymore, now that even papers of record have capitulated to individually curated channels and algorithmicized feeds. “Notes” begins with a survey of the literature of cultural decline, focusing on Eliot’s “Notes Toward the Definition of Culture,” before degenerating into a series of squibs — on Islam, the Internet, the pre-eminence of sex over eroticism and the spread of the yellow press — most of which began as columns in the Spanish newspaper El País. All of which is to say that Vargas Llosa’s cranky, hasty manifesto is made of the very stuff it criticizes: journalism.
Vargas Llosa’s opening essay reduces its Eliotic ur-text to its crassest points, but my own version here must be crasser: After all, I have six browser tabs open, and my phone has been beeping all day. Eliot defines culture as existing in, and through, three different spheres: that of the individual, the group or class, and the entire rest of society.