Old Times New Times—Reawakening
I could have sunk into a time warp (where time would pass but without any value) but by grace the bull detector went off. Oddly enough this got me out of another sort of time warp—one that’s had a good part of me stuck in the late '90s. The prelude was ATT offering to lower my total bill if I added their version of a Netflix type website. But that’s just a fact; I’m not going for irony here. For old times’ sake I started watching an episode of Seinfeld. Jerry’s dad had been impeached as president of his Florida condo community. Disgraced, he feels he has to move out. Meanwhile, Jerry’s uncle has a girlfriend who he moves in with, leaving his NY apartment vacant. So, Jerry’s parents move to NY “temporarily.” But Jerry doesn’t like his parents being so close. He wants his 1200 mile buffer zone. The Seinfeld signature is placed on the show when Jerry then meets his uncle at the usual restaurant. Uncle Leo says they should meet every week. Jerry cringes. He’s only there to sow discord in Leo’s relationship so that it will fail and Leo will move back into his apartment, thus sending his parents back to Florida, restoring the buffer zone. That’s when the bull detector went off.
And light shown. Via YouTube! It was the moment David Foster Wallace’s voice really entered my mind, perhaps even my heart. Late can be right on time. Personally, I value postmodernism and more recent absurdities for the way they destroy illusions used not to edify but for ulterior motives. In my view, if there had been sincerity in popular media at some point, then long ago there was a shift toward employing merely the shadows of morals, values, principles, and sentiments against audiences. In that absence of self-reproach, then, satire, ridicule, and even shock seem appropriate. I like how postmodernism or newer but related trappings baffle the arrogant and self-assured. Not everyone agrees they do that, though, and in this video Will Schoder professionally interweaves his own commentary with comments Wallace made in a 1997 interview with Charlie Rose, the gist being quite critical of postmodernism. For someone who reveled in anything that would blow up a false prophet or break the illusions of manipulative storytelling, it was at least humbling, if not humiliating, to be smacked in the face with something so obvious: Merely pointing out hypocrisy won’t fix anything. When do the solutions come? And what do we spend our time thinking about? And where is the inspiration? What about health and happiness? The video linked above discusses that matter as it occurs in popular media, Shoder pointing out recent shows that balance irony and cynicism with attempts at human connection and hope, perhaps the value of at least the attempt to solve problems (Community, Parks and Recreation, The Office and other stuff I have, personally, totally avoided and still will). But, in ways even I can understand, Wallace connects similar ideas to daily life in this 2005 commencement speech.
Do I think just like David Foster Wallace now? Well, no, of course not. Yet to a great extent I already did think like that, and it’s at the foundation of my own religion and personal worldview. It was just the refreshment I needed. Quite likely you already knew as well. Life and thought isn’t all one or the other—it’s about balance. The news and just knowing what’s happening and feeling that . . . I’m being vague on purpose because I don’t even want to mention it at all . . . I had become imbalanced. Glad to share a simple, old reminder with you in these cynical times (i.e., watch/listen to the links if you needed them as badly as I did).