I learned a good word today: moast, a mix of a moan and a boast. Apparently, the word was born from the age of twitter, as tweeting is a good venue for moasts: short complaint that are veiled ways of showing off. A prototypical moast: “I’ve got to give a stupid speech at the event tonight.”
I learned this word in Dwight Garner’s review of Public Enemies: Dueling Writers Take on Each Other and the World—a book which is a series of letters between two of France's celebrity writers, philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy (Barbarism with a Human Face) and novelist Michel Houellebecq (The Elementary Particles ). Those public enemies began a private correspondence about life’s big topics and let their discourse balloon into a book, covering things ranging from Celine, to Spinoza, to Judaism, postcommunist Russia, and, most prominently, how much the press hounds them both.
A famous French philosopher moat might be something like this: “The press won’t get out from inside my a**.”
Though I haven’t yet read the book, I am excited by this economical word; and from the excerpts I’ve seen from Public Enemies, I feel like an instant expert in some cartology of the land of moasts.
1. E.g. some moasts are a way of saying “I have balls and others don’t”:
Example from the book: Houellebecq writes that the spending long hours constructing his novels leaves him in “a state of nervous exhaustion that requires several bottles of alcohol to get out of.”
We’d like to drink with him but might not be robust enough.
2. Some moasts show that you are sensitive enough to see what others don’t:
Houellebecq writes about kids: “Few adults, very few, are aware [how] vibrant [a child’s] intelligence is in the years leading up to the disaster of puberty, how quick to summarize, to draw broad conclusions. Very few adults realize that every child, naturally, instinctively, is a philosopher.”
But Houellebecq knows it, and it is exhausting when the world can’t keep up.
3. A moast that shows you’re smarter than people:
Houellebecq complains about how bad biographies are: Usually, “only the most obvious schemes and motives are explored, [like] the sort of novel where you can work out whodunit in the first 20 pages. To put it another way, I have never been able to imagine a biography that is exempt from a certain vulgarity.”
It’s sad when the only things worth reading are your own books.
4. A moast to show you know you’re moasting:
Lévy says about his critics, “They have no effect on my narcissism. In the face of assaults, my ego is fireproof, shatterproof.”
That’s a “come get me moast.” You can’t attack. I’ve got that covered myself.
If only for a course in ballsy self-promotion, I want to read the book. Do you?
For a moment of non-veiled self-promotion, I want to invite anyone in the New York area to an art opening tonight. I curated a neat art show--and there will be naked girls drawing! Wild girls chewing crayons! Good art! Wine and food! Come!
Ilana Simons is a therapist, literature professor, and author of A Life of One's Own: A Guide to Better Living through the Work and Wisdom of Virginia Woolf. Visit her website here.