Tuesday, October 6, 2015


Were the days before  went too sleep and woke up in an existence where everything had been made digital? Was the intangible essence we refer to as "reality" made even more undefinable when retail shopping was vanishing form city streets, movies could be watched on the internet and we no longer had to wait until we got home to find out who had been trying to call us? One of the qualities of living beyond the expected expiration date is that you have more first history to reflect upon. What was distant in your twenties and thirties become more vivid the closer you come to fewer days left on the planet. Morbid reflection arises, depression sets in, and certainly, life in this current week seems less significant and action packed than all those weeks you frolicked around in as a younger man, full of life and  verve and no plans.

 On a basic level I would agree  that experience was more nuanced and greater meaning in other years before technology encroached on that private psychic space we and made our pleasures less joyful, cheaper, less resonating, but that level would be emotional, not really sociological. History, in a very strong sense, has been technology and capitalism 's constant debasement and de-centering of the personal, the meaningful, the authentic; gadgets of all sorts, whether the printing press, radio, movies, television, public universities, have reduced previous centers of cosmology-cohering , rearranged social arrangements between classes and institutions and made everyone with half a wit rethink what they thought they knew and construct their own version of being thrown out of Eden. And the same nay sayers to progress--progress in this sense being neither positive nor negative but rather being inevitable, unavoidable despite the appearance of resistance-- that what was in place was better because things were slower, richer, more nuanced.

Yes, quantity changes quality, but Engels, credited with coining that pert phrase, neglected that the change needn't be for the worse; in many cases it can be argued that technology , with it's capacity to create new kinds of contexts in which experience is had, registered and expressed, has improved quality. More often than not, though, my guess is that what Engels and prematurely bleeding deacons like Jonathan Franzen miss is that things change because they have to--change is the only constant--and that however much we want to regard ourselves as a culture of educated , discerning individuals, we have a herd mentality; men and women are species being who behave as such. Our principle difference with other animals in regard to our basic responses and reactions are that we language skills that helps create the philosophy and art that helps us believe that we make everyone of our decisions through the choice use of free will. Some of us are smarter than others, though (yes, I believe that) and one is tasked with making the best choices about what to WITH the new technologies rather than grouse and complain that something need to be done ABOUT the new world that is constantly unfolding. Franzen, champion of  the perfect past where emotions were real and not push responses to media stimulation,  is not a moralist about good virtues and a better life that is now gone, he is an obsessive crybaby who trades in nostalgia as a means of making himself distinct from other literary sorts who want to be cultural critics . The word "trade in the previous sentence is used advisedly, as it seems to keep him in the news when he hasn't a new novel to sell. This is Jonathan Franzen making a living..His mourning over an idealized past isn't a moving paen at this point, it's schtick.

I mind because for me it's more than he's working a schtick instead of lodging a fresh complaint. Style is everything when it comes to getting your insights to a readership and, I think, style is a function of personality. Franzen's fussy, worrisome, dinner- table fidgeting gets in the way of his contrasts. The problem is largely is that every instance he has to luxuriate more in is discontent in the "public sphere" (such as it is), he takes as an opportunity to commit autobiography and that, I believe, is an inverse narcissism . I find it disconcerting that a man who talks about the good old days when people engaged each other in a better, mythic space cannot , himself, engage the world he finds himself in. It's about his own comfort, finally, and his regrets that the coffee does not taste quite as good as it did decades ago makes him an old maid, not a seer.

Millions, it seems,  protest, bemoan and berate what technology has brought us, namely a loss of intimacy and privacy , but this has been the complaint through history--technology upsets a generation's set of coping mechanisms they expected to be in place forever and convinced themselves that their inevitably short-lived equlibrium was a state given to them by God and intended to be permanent. There is a great literature about those who preferred the old days to the new--Pound, Eliot, Mailer, The Fugitive School --in which the bemoaning was merely a starting point for legitimate philosophical differences with the newer, trendier vocabularies. It should be noted that these writers generally avoided bringing their own lives into their screeds. Franzen is a hold over from Tom Wolfe's "Me Generation" in which everything that happens in the world is an event happening to him. His self-reference kills what insight he might have started with.
aking a living. His mourning over an idealized past isn't a moving paen at this point, it's schtick.

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