And that workshop built by idle hands, since our sole sense of ethics is increasingly appended to work? Trigger alert: aviator sunglasses. Because nothing else even remotely signals a self-satisfied, entitled shitpot quite like them.
Apologies to Lee Camp.
Nel mezzo del cammin del nostra vita, mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,
ché la diritta via era smarrita… .
Concerts are strange affairs. From the Great Oaf Convention of a Phil & Friends Show to the tinfoil-hat and red beret followers of parody pop, people put a lot on display. It is a celebration, a loosening of stays, where there is ambition and relief without the usual sublimation of our less often expressed selves. Shared outstanding features can become very, very concentrated and these scenes can be a little awkward to navigate if you aren’t entirely immersed in that revelry, where how we respond reveals rather a lot, as well. A friend said he’d missed his opportunity to run off our commemorative cards when he saw, as we were parking, a skinny teen with a buzz cut in an over-sized sweatshirt whose place of pride was reserved for a large Confederate flag patch. “A hoodie no less,” alluding to absurd arguments against Trevon Martin and all that black people can’t do without being in the wrong, rather than mocking whether or not this scrawny and anemic Übermensch before us was a skin. Because whether the kid in question identifies is a degree of specialisation within the established — i.e. what it’s perfectly ok to say, that’s been said, on the news, to a court, to our children.
You know, our everyday cultural context.
I was glad we didn’t have to document the evening’s cliches — not that I’d be spared. So much I’d dismissed, before, as cynical would become, simply and repeatedly, commonplace. Unquestionably acceptable. Ubiquitous. Normal. As the night wore on.
I waited for my friends to hint at any similar misgivings, which didn’t take long. “I don’t usually feel like someone who might be accused of being an ivory tower academic. Until I leave Columbia.” “Then don’t look now, because we’re also the only ones wearing dark colors, head to toe, outside of any army surplus staples, city mouse.”
Io non so ben ridir com’i’ v’intrai, tant’era pien di sonno
a quel punto che la verace via abbandonai.
Much of what I see, from the supposedly basic to the various schemes upon schemes that we’re caught up in, that comprise our social fabric, suggests far more than most snark manages to address, or imply. I’m not free of resentment, but I tend to reserve that for sources, not effects, and scorn suppliers rather than those shaped by them. (Snark, in particular, chafes because even at its most immediate, voicing the edicts of some self-appointed better-than, it abuses a presumed authority, for the sake of a shared self-satisfaction. Yay.) I don’t elevate individuals from their contexts, nor condemn them — particularly not without regard for their circumstances, though our culture encourages one to. Snark, like so much else, is a by-product, and praise is practically marketing. From so many ready-made means of “personalising” our consumer crap to blaming people without means for what they cannot achieve, or supplying them with supposedly self-made or self-determined examples, I don’t buy into it.
So, if this entry… is meant to argue for anything, it’s, above all, to balance an allowance for the unexpected and exceptional within an otherwise skeptical approach, against precluding dismissals and quick fixes.
Yesterday some friends and I left town to catch a musician who must be among the most easy-going, affable people to have yet gently tread the earth, tour bus excepted. We’ve seen him play, before, but. Last night’s fans. Folks were having a good time and I’m not such an embittered bastard I can begrudge anyone their joy. Not yet, anyway. Yet in their letting go there was much I found myself at odds with, things that reminded me of what I’d been at the mercy of growing up, and much that I was thankful to find I could simply avoid later on, outside the hamlet. That I have too long avoided and forgotten, perhaps, but that, today, leave me that much more ill at ease. With what lies beneath.
These are people, not monsters, I know. But that I preferred the dark wood to the confines of home should tell you something about my idea of horror. (Do read that charming article on two girls’ misadventures in the wonderful world of event planning; the Bro.s Grimm would envy its example.) As an adolescent I had to learn — when it was a bit of a struggle to accept — that we, whether strangers or friends, can passionately adore a thing, the very same thing, for rather irreconcilable reasons, and that was a very long time ago. Which is to say I’ve had some time to reflect and add to that knowledge. Even so, I wasn’t prepared for the amount of alienation I felt, against many conscientious sympathies and, well, a healthy dose of my favorite natural antitussive.
Where to begin? It was as if I looked into so many faces and saw too much of how people lived; through the good times to anger, routine, rancor, abuse, ill-informed decisions, unavoided disappointments, and into habits of mind that would undermine the health of even the most robust and hardened youths within a few years, or months; over the soon to be reached (or already long lost) plateaus that surround a great groaning chasm of ongoing lows; past momentary pleasures that entail life-long obligations, and into the poorly understood familiar dreams that conventional cliches provide a shoddy but ready frame for interpreting.
And so, too, how some of them were at a loss as to where to place me.
Which’s easier to countenance. Four years spent in that cramped holding pen too many romanticise in retrospect left me better able to appreciate that space I can claim for myself in public. Aesthetics are wonderfully useful means — from refined anti-social affectations to hardened elegance — of directing attention and distancing oneself, and I make the distinction between the misanthropic and severely stylized without that dimension because I seem more unapproachable than I am. I don’t dislike people so much as being taken for granted, so I stand out, by design (i.e. it isn’t the crowd I want to avoid, it’s the crowding.) Others resort to status, but ‘superficial’ style is a way to bypass even that, while status has its own pitfalls (like exclusivity and rank) that depend on things I’d rather not. Those who know me best have no problem reconciling my apparent materialism and pervading socio-economic preoccupations, but at first pass, it’s no easy prospect.
I did enjoy watching two pre-pubescent girls un-self-consciously wiggle along to the music, even while their carefree goofiness was overshadowed by the male gazes that followed their movements, as well as ample example of women who were, once, in their shoes; some of whom, now, looked out at their antics from the far side of envy and regret. The most enthusiastic of the two had legs like noodles and kept up an endlessly repetitive series of motions that were a cross between the Cat Daddy, Hokey Pokey, and horseback riding (at a trot). It was hypnotic, and I was charmed. On another landing there was a wonderfully mis-matched couple: a large and well-meaning, cumbersome fellow paired with a small yet every-ready jitterbug of a girl he’d often throw his arms around trying to keep still, but as he was always willing to give-it-a-go when she inevitably worked herself loose, I found them entirely endearing, too. As I did the grandma a row in front of us who was tickled to recognise the smoke from someone’s something and kept exclaiming “I smell pot! I smell pot!” like a very eager child or a very territorial but small bird. In a word: cute.
When I enter a scene, however off to the side I may be, it enters me, thoroughly, and remains. Burned into memory, recalled freely or unexpectedly. Originally, I think, I expected most people experienced life the same way, awash in their impressions. I don’t know when I realised otherwise, or that it requires real effort not to allow myself to dwell on details that are at most passingly relevant for anyone else where they don’t go unnoticed. I can adopt a studied cool, but otherwise take a lot in — good, bad, and indifferent. Casually. Anytime.
All the damn time.
Which only seems benign, as with the “Suck it, Trebec” sticker I spotted at a light on our way in. A lone addition — and still fresh — to a shiny and otherwise inconspicuous late model suburban. “Really?” And I am still puzzling over the baffling incongruity of a dated and never entirely relevant irreverence that someone had to order then decide where to put on their spiffy new car; that it was not the drunk tattoo equivalent of questionable taste, but something worth effort and wait? From the deliriousness of first discovery through the lingering delights of anticipation, to the ecstatic joy of acquisition and then: where this wonderful thing would be best shown to its advantage, for our sake? Because, wonder of wonders, where for some it is, like those who would make America great again, “the getting not the having” that interests, this, this is different.
Which it is, if for rather different reasons.
Such is life?
And if the past day has hinted at anything, is it that I credit others with a level of agency or intent they seldom realise; that I confer it, rather that see it just isn’t worth to them what it is to me, not by any stretch of the imagination? Or that my capacity for naivete might be similarly without limit, if, instead, “Ha. Want.” can and should suffice? The path of least explanation, Nature’s inherent elegance, etc. All such dumbly adopted commonplace quips meant to trump wonder and any question, and which sound clever enough, but simplify so much at the expense of what should be more readily observed: our variegated experiences.
Lex parsimoniae, particularly, goads as the product of a medieval Franciscan friar cum modern-day weapon of choice for cantankerous pissants who mistake conviction and browbeating for sound analysis and rhetorically deft delivery. That such people can resort to a guiding scholastic principle from the Middle Ages to stifle what exists all around them while invoking reason, objectivity, or independent thought? What the actual ironic hell, as in one wherein only undeserving witnesses suffer, bravo!
So, too, the idea I set out determined to have a bad time, that ‘like attracts like’ and a negative outlook manifests so many negative events in our lives.
Hey, asshole; fuck you, too.
That this same fallacy travels the spectrum, from those who pride their supposedly objective ratiocination to those who’d rather rely on enlightened “new thought” or intuition, and gets wholly obscured by superficial difference, often loudly exaggerated, in their expression, their common ground lost beneath a sprawling canopy of leaves upon leaves?
Or where sensitivity to one’s environment served the species very well, well before we were civilised, and Science, that once blessedly self-correcting field of knowledge, has, in its origins, relied on no less?
Than our native observation skills.
Of interest, then, from What is Libertarianism? – a critic’s view,
The Fallacious Proof: * Step 1: Let a=b. * Step 2: Then a^2 = ab, * Step 3: a^2 + a^2 = a^2 + ab, * Step 4: 2 a^2 = a^2 + ab, * Step 5: 2 a^2 - 2 ab = a^2 + ab - 2 ab, * Step 6: and 2 a^2 - 2 ab = a^2 - ab. * Step 7: This can be written as 2 (a^2 - a b) = 1 (a^2 - a b), * Step 8: and cancelling the (a^2 - ab) from both sides gives 1=2.
What we, each, come into this world with, and nothing else.
So it’s a bizarre view we’re confronted with, culturally, that sheds no little light on our other dilemmas; that we hold the person who sees and can convey some unpleasantness to blame, not understanding they’ve shown us some way out, but rather, like the person who resents you for catching them in a lie, we’re offended. Shaken, and angered. Likewise that pat, seemingly apt explanations are too often just bunk, which may be a long-observed cliche, but worse: the unwavering popularity of such suggests an unwillingness to observe and reflect, or an inherent discomfort, at least, with that prospect. And this, despite an ongoing willingness to argue particulars at length once provided any readily recollected frame. Without much discussion of forms or effect and vested interests. (As one who likes forms, I’d wouldn’t adhere to any one anymore than I would listen to only one song. For more than a few days.)
A lot of people really do not like uncertainty. Or complexity. I know.
Even where they are fine with doubt, uncertainty and ambiguity are taboo, unbearable.
Similarly that our institutions have become so refined in their exchanges, while we still rely on old models to talk about them, referring to fixed things when we should talk about dynamics, reach, and influence. We use ideas that were never meant to serve us. We rely on them. The Establishment has long been fluid. Electric and liquid. Where we talk of Institutions using out-dated concepts to convey contemporary problems.
My main point, however: it takes real effort for me to not see, and I’ve noticed much effort has been invested in frames, existing narratives, diversions, etc. Most people are terrifically uncomfortable with uncertainty. To such degree they prefer to be told, guided. They look to others. This is not inherently evil, but unexamined, it leads to serious problems; problems certain interests, not just cynically, bank on, and have for quite a while. That existing frames are still taken up by the woke few similarly needs to change, when ongoing conversations should foremost reflect what we can most readily observe, rather than what has come before.
To return to my opener about the indignant application of a work ethic and, by extension, the idea that the rich deserve free tributes and benefits, having earned such, supposedly, where those who noticeably struggle without similar advantages, sympathies, and safety nets are to blame for their shortcomings, or freeloaders if they accept gifts and aid? With their hands out. Fuck it. “Who is going to look for work if they’re getting a hand out?” “Yes, it’s true doctors get incentives to over-prescribe. That’s just how it is.” But underprivileged, under-educated, and underpaid people who disproportionately get profiled and penalized in situations where others are given a pass? Who have to learn to navigate this mess of vested interest without precedent or any men on the inside? They can fuck off because the powers that be can point to Welfare Queens their system creates, or are willing to scapegoat the very migrant workers their companies depend on?
In conversation with a state Pro Bono Program paralegal, when I’d asked for information about qualification guidelines, I was told “Just because you have a right to something doesn’t mean you’re entitled to it.” Which does beg whether a right you have no means to is any right at all. It’s an odd pronouncement, especially where I wasn’t making any demand, but, as with my opener, it furnishes a fine if defensive example of our modern-day obsession against discouraging the expectations of the have-nots.
Ours is a time of unusual indignations and striking denials.
At every turn, for some time now, prices for services have risen, and prices for goods increased, because people deserve to get paid. Sounds reasonable, yes? That paralegal told me attorneys’ time is valuable, and they don’t work for free. As if I wasn’t of that impression already? Yet NEVER is that same argument applied to a Worker in the United States. Because Capitalism, job creators, the free market, etc. Workers wages have not simply stagnated, they’ve not budged despite continued inflation, which means that earning power has decreased. Grown backwards. Workers, unlike specialists or managers, don’t “deserve” to get paid for their time and effort. So they can’t still afford the things they could afford 40, 20, 15 years ago, in exchange for the same levels of productivity, despite so much economic growth, and so many sweeping improvements? No? But those people, when confronted with rising costs of living, are told they should be thankful they even have a job while others have to get paid.
I was also, and this without solicitation, treated to how this election season “is so important.” I should have asked about that, but between being dumbstruck by earlier statements and feeling the current political season is already a bit of a wash, couldn’t stomach it.
How we consistently make sympathetic excuses for what we aspire to, without knowing where we are in the real scheme of things? We pick apart content, immediate particulars, without regard for function, or source. Lost in the leaves without regard for the health of the tree or its role within a broader ecosystem. Fuck that big time. Even beyond the metaphor, actually. From Eric G. Wilson’s Against Happiness, “This wooded region is not a robust ecosystem, a living organism in which parts nourish the whole and the whole fosters the parts. On the contrary, this forest is to the American entrepreneur (or, I’ll interject: a multinational conglomerate ) a reservoir of resources, a space containing materials just waiting to be bought and sold.”
But more on that in a bit. We have that glut of cultural detritus to get back to.
To be fair, another possibility, re: my persistent memory of a bumper sticker, emerges: that in this unprecedented era of instant gratification and poor impulse control, an errant, even perverse exercise of choice and delayed gratification is unbroken ground, or vestigial yearning, pointed rebellion… Perhaps that? Or am I just grasping at straws at this point? Because what do you think when you spot this stuff? “Dumb bumper sticker”?
Then to hell with parsimony, and the law of attraction, alike.
We, however, turned the corner to see a group of men immediately, if unfairly, dubbed “Duck Dynasty”. Unfairly, since we know the fellows behind that enterprise were, well, posers, and there’s no way of knowing whether the guys we saw were imitating the imitation or that guise’s target audience. The parts that nourish the whole and the whole that fosters the parts. We choose our narratives, but from a known supply… Who is at fault?
Because free market of ideas. (“Recrudescence” makes it sound so much better than it is, and “spookacracy” is a nice addition to the roll call of “zombie ideas”. “As the much more noxious example of Scientology also demonstrates, it is all too tempting to take science fiction for truth – because narratives always make more sense than reality.” ) Yes, that does sound right. Sigh.
(Also: Beck, why? How? What am I not seeing?)
And one morning, while in the woods I stumbled suddenly
upon the thing,
Stumbled upon it in a grassy clearing guarded by scaly oaks
And the sooty details of the scene rose, thrusting themselves
between the world and me….
— Richard Wright
But back to our show!
Later, inside, in the no longer rapt dark, where the once poetic gesture of a small, almost fragile flame held aloft had fallen to the numb and blanket glow of those who have paid to see an artist artlessly posting to social media, bathing us, all, in a constant cold wash of some sterile and indeterminate, forgetful color — both artificial Lethe and prosthetic recording angel — alongside those who neither know nor care that an intense flash from several yards, let alone a hundred yards, away only serves to distract, I wondered what the people on stage saw, and whether they were over-exposed and no longer cared, before losing myself to the massive clip-art finger-wag of “I am the Great and Powerful Progress, who brought you out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt hold no example before ours, nor possess any likeness of our Creation unless expressly permitted by our laws. Do not honor thy neighbor’s establishments, but do covet their goods, and, even if it means you enrich the moneylenders in thine fine pursuit of happiness, or work… about a hundred hours at minimum wage for the honor of owning the next apple product, do this in my name.“
I looked around and wondered who these people were going to vote for, and how sure they were that between two evils, theirs was the better pick.
Also note, this was actually begun before the advent of Pokemon Go, which made experiencing the world through our phones ok again! Whatever it takes to get people to “connect” with one another — outside, inside, whatever.
I wondered at the hands that assembled this sea of devices, and about Afghanistan’s mineral deposits. I wondered at how technology functions as a marker of status, but, when technology is ubiquitous and the market saturated, it has to expand forward, and constantly suggest change where it fails to actually develop. That, and how, all things being equal, new is better than existing tech. Always. And how those who once relished the incoming notifications of their apple watches, looking at each with an exaggerated flourish, now ignore them. I wondered at the strange geometry of our virtual spaces, and the real world wealth that comes from tapping into them, the control of continents no longer sufficing, the glut of things consumers possess no longer sufficient. Virtual realms. Intermediaries. Share holdings.
Pokemon Go broke whatever exists beyond the 4th wall, that thin membrane that separates our off and online experiences, I guess, but drove home the “pain point” of our new pay-to-play way of life.
And I considered my role as the bad apple. The fruit of the tree. That spoils the bunch. My being neurotic, my simple machines spinning, my backwards and, obviously technophobic grasp of things. My dully persistent reference to history. Sure.
When this was to be my good time, too; and so we arrive at the crux. Because I’m a fairly hedonistic person who relishes avoidance, and I’ve preferred to live in the margins for most of my life. Basically so long as I could exist as an alternative to all I didn’t like, and live, not lavishly but smartly within my means, independently; fine. Doowutchulike!
On this particular night, I also happened to be on feral pig lulling levels of pleasure center augmenting stuff. So. Rationally speaking. Realistically. That means that when it’s getting to me, given my proclivities, it isn’t because my natural tendency is to see everything at its worst or piss on whatever, and it is definitely not because I am determined to have a bad time; it’s because the cumulative effects of decades of bad policy have bled into the outer reaches, where I had hitherto made a modest place for myself, and I am, not willing to accept the current self-destructive terms or popular illusions, left without alternative.
the sooty details of the scene…
In our culture, the suggestion of self-blame is ever present; whether by guilt or defect, the burden is ours. In this case: Perpetually drug myself. Everywhere I turn, that reliance is perfectly acceptable, even encouraged — not to speak of it, except to your doctor or a shrink (#Imnotashamed being a necessary response, because if we cannot or don’t reach out to those closest to us, we are alone). The filthy, measured occasional respite in which I indulge, not so much, but bludgeoning my neurochemistry like I’m some kind of recalcitrant vending machine withholding the happiness I have paid for — that’s all right! Against Happiness gets this, so if you need affirmation, ask your local librarian if lending privileges are right for you. (Hit up the ref desk for an ILL request if they don’t have it. Or buy it then donate it to them.)
When Welcome to Me was released, I had high hopes, having heard about how “brave” it was, before I understood “brave” is a word that people reflexively say, like “respect” applied to housewives, when anyone brings up mental health. But. Other than depicting the sad squalid habits of a disordered individual, it served up heaps of the same old fluff and judgement. I wasn’t expecting a Cinderella story. Some of us know money amplifies our worst qualities, but in the “brave” depiction of its central character, the film didn’t dwell on what elements of her life contributed to her depression, reinforcing it, or her inability to self-regulate — which is a skill to be learned, and practiced. Conditions were alluded to, but the movie was largely premised on escape, and her becoming increasingly unhinged without the usual checks on her behavior, and her clear need for therapy. Mixed up in wish-fulfillment and guilty pleasure. It was a spinelessly skeletal treatment.
Afterwards I realised I’d been expecting Secretary — a wonderful movie — but got neither catharsis nor comedy. So. So much for that. But it comes to bear, in this context, when we are more often considered malfunctioning biomechanical things maladapted to our unquestionably sound environments, where the contributing conditions that surround us are seldom considered a factor. Given how widespread depression and anxiety diagnosis have become, I think a conditional interpretation is in order. There is something about how we live that doesn’t meet our most basic emotional needs, and leaves too many of us estranged, unable to even talk to those who care most about us. And more on that in a moment!
For me, the crowds, close quarters, intrusive indifference and hum-drum routines that most pass in-and-out of as a matter of course are a kind of nightmarish gauntlet, a real horror. Because our lives have gotten harder, but most of us, in an age of constant connectivity, have become coarser, more insistent and less self-possessed. So, since the cumulative effect doesn’t lessen with exposure, there is no “going through the motions.” The polite inquisitions, where “fine” is fine, but “ok” is an infraction? Spare me.
I see people every day whose actions indicate they largely regard one another as obstacles, if at all.
Am I supposed to keep my head down?
When I can arrange things as I like, avoid what I wish, place myself in a good environment, where people reflect or reinforce the things I like best about me, or them, or where I must think on my feet, my attentiveness is amazing; an advantage. In most “normal” day-to-day exchanges, not so much.
Which suggests rather more about our social values than what a drag I am as a human being. I am not buying the turning inward, the self-blame, or constant re-adaptation in our deny-the-inevitable take on things.
More-often: our culture regularly, daily, rubs my nose in how little it cares for distinction, nuance, irony, reflection, silence, or even a few seconds of due diligence. Essentially things I’ve actively cultivated an appreciation for, once I became aware I must actively cultivate something to satisfy the needs of my attention rather than endure boredom, drug dependency, sublimation, retail therapy, sadism, or name your pet undesirable state within the petulant entropy of perpetual dissatisfaction.
That our culture hardly equips us with the words necessary to convey what ranges from general disquiet to acute frustration, anhedonia, malaise, profound disappointment, and can be either conditional or native, except to say “intrusive” and “imbalance”, “depressed”, “anxious”, and above all: “unhappy” — as if the opposite of this, continuous and indefinite, were a natural state or reasonable expectation? Before writing a script that involves some trial-and-error with your neuro-chemistry?
This, like my unhappiness, has been something I have struggled with throughout my life.
And I’m about to invoke my “glory days” again. For a third time. Like some kind of charm.
As a teen, the pressure was to anesthetize or chemically disable/enhance myself, or oneself, for the sake of getting on and others’ convenience; today, the imperative seems to be, well, vested interest. If you build it, they will come? From fat lashes to the temporary relief of unsightly rashes, binge eating disorder, and asthma inhalers that just might kill you, they will come. That “side-effects may include blindness and sudden death” is made no less creepy by the hushed, rushed and reassuringly understated tone the necessary disclaimers like to employ. Progress! Over the side-effects worse than the original problem, or side-effects that can include everything, often listed in opposing pairs?
Then as now: I would, frankly, rather kill myself.
Did I break the spell? No?
Even within its upper registers, from our high-end plasticinated “statement” bags to the reclamation of subsistence foods, subsistence structures, even unto the Randian wet dream of celebrity speaking fees for, oh, for instance someone’s latest take on how to couch private interests in terms of social change and opportunity for the underprivileged! Our culture has a misplaced sense of irony.
Or a ton of missed opportunity. Wrong or overlooked.
However superficial the details, this isn’t a superficial complaint. Our culture is sick, high and low, and that, I’m pleased to see, is increasingly being discussed at least with regard to rape, racism, homophobia, and islamaphobia. But that also needs to be extended to the regular everyday stuff of our shared fates.
We have more than a few systemic problems to address. That affect us, broad-spectrum. We should not overlook common problems, and yet we do. As individuals, consumers, and workers, we’ve succumb to chronic lowered expectation. Our personal rights, the quality of our environment, food and appliances, our opportunities, wages and benefits, all of that has eroded. Whatever your background or bent, unless you’re earning a certain amount. If you can pay to sue, you’re safe, for now. If not? Then you have rights you’re not entitled to. That interest groups have worked hard to lobby against and defund.
Respice post te; hominem te esse memento; memento mori.
The western tradition, despite the merits of its Grecian foundation, has always been a little sick. Greedy, with some rather remarkably unhealthy tastes. Not that the east isn’t fraught with equally jawdropping lessons of history we somehow refuse to recall. Just that the west — and America doesn’t get to exclude itself given it was founded by European zealots and idealists, then merchantilists who knew how to leverage its assets and monetise its resources back overseas — has a consistently remarkably compromised narrative.
On its face. In the… let’s call it the traditionally celebrated settling of America’s already settled land, some indigenous people helped the new arrivals weather the harsh winters and map the terrain; how do we honor them? By fetishizing their sustainable cultures after cheating them, driving them from their homes, and rendering several tribes extinct. You can lift the rug of British, French, Roman, or Dutch conquests if my point isn’t sufficiently clear.
There’s been a lot of fine talk, both academic and popular, over the years about our country’s anti-intellectual traditions, but something that commonly gets overlooked is the conflation of observation with judgement. The rise of snark hasn’t pulled the wool over my eyes, and is not the same, because, while that gets a pass — as an outlet — it is frequently off the mark and kind of inferior, or at least tends to lack real (read any) analysis.
It’s remarkably smug judgement, and, usually, red herring.
To put it differently: derision, mimicry, parody, satire… are to mockery as Muslims, Christians, Turks, Jews and Rastas are to monotheism. I am being deliberate in my comparison, with a nod to our media’s ongoing fear of refugees, and widespread historical disputes like the Reformation and Crusades. They are of a kind, but with pronounced differences between, and again, some of us are attuned to those differences. Our choices as individuals and what these reveal.
Nothing I saw at the concert made me feel smugly self-satisfied or appalled because I considered myself better than it. No one questions tone where stemming the torrent of sub-par commentary might be concerned, but when the observation hits too close to home? Or admits a thing we’d clearly rather not call by name, because we’re all of it? Not immune.
And I am of these people. I grew up among them, where I was regularly mocked for my difference. And forced to decide for myself whether it was worth preserving or not. The fact that society has encouraged me (and others) to consider myself the guilty (or better) party — a snob — at first pass is ass backwards, and works to reinforce the same flawed perspective that ensues the divisions, the class, the places and predictable ambitions that grease the cultural cogs so many have a vested interest in, and determines the turn of events.
This isn’t conspiratorial. People invest in things. Things have consequences. We can understand and anticipate them. We’re conditioned to be aware of the individual effects of decisions rather than also understand the net, collective / cumulative effects of these. Systems analysis, dynamics, call it what you will. Any intelligent person can trace connections, unless overwhelmed or distracted. That we exist in a narrative of acceptable and anticipated overwhelment is hard to not find suspect, but that can be explained by marketing. That we lack the words to better, or even adequately describe those feelings OUTSIDE of the marketing is what’s truly suspect. But our wheels are kept turning, there, too. And that we are discouraged from speaking about something so widespread is damnable.
I have struck so many lines from this where they appeal to values that are grossly opposed to those generally recognised that I’m compelled to include Harold Hecuba’s (courtesy of David Foster Wallace) “Nobody ever goes broke overestimating the rage and misogyny of the average American male.”
And finally, for those who like to savor things that aren’t expressly stated, because my perspective was informed by a few things I’ve been mulling over. First, Kierkegaard’s uncharacteristically agreeable (for me), “Goethe’s Faust is a genuinely classical production, but the idea is a historical idea, and hence every notable historical era will have its own Faust. Faust has language as its medium, and since this is a much more concrete medium, for that reason, too, many works of the same kind are conceivable.” For weeks now. So, too, Schopenhauer’s overwhelming and ineluctable flow, with Huysmans’s division of men into Christians, anarchists and pessimists. I’d been thinking, off and on, about these, and how or whether they relate to me, as I drifted in and out of some terrifically soporific states, lately, including on our way in to that Willie Nelson show.
This morning, someone who works at my favorite cafe told me that when she first saw me, she was so glad, even relieved, because she had lived in a handful of other countries before moving here, (where, and this is superficial but entirely indicative, Lilly Pulizer’s womenswear, from work to play, carries the day), and that, seeing me, I reminded her of friends, because I looked like them. This has stayed with me. I’ve been struggling with so much I want to articulate, that I have long observed, and also with my being “stuck” here, frustrated all kinds of ways by a small town that grows and grows and yet continues to repeat prior mistakes — many of which it can by no means be bothered to address except punitively; so what she said is the nicest thing anyone could have said. She doesn’t yet know me well enough to know my special blend of longstanding preoccupations, or appreciate how timely her kind words were. So that small confidence was, and is, a strange and especially welcome gift, that continues to unfold within me, despite so much else.
[Originally written July 2016.]