Anything Goes

Remember that 1930's novel/ Broadway hit, and the title song: Good authors too who once knew better words, Now only use four-letter words, Writing prose, anything goes! I was thinking how apt that song is today, when genuine efforts to clarify communication through eloquence have been usurped by the smiley.
When I bring up this topic with people, they often take the line that things will naturally work themselves out: people naturally move towards resolution. I do not entirely disagree, especially if we are allowed to introduce a spiritual component. But I also feel that such an almost fatalist stand is no different than pasting words over with a smiley.
I think that when we are exhausted in life, or in the midst of the confusion of impulses, faith covers everything over with a smiley face - as hope for eventual salvation simplifies the landscape for us, so that we are not overwhelmed. Those are the eyes of faith, which children have when they run into traffic after their puppy.
But in those windows of time when we have taken care of ourselves, we might worry about those children. One may then imagine oneself to be a novelist, drinking up the zeitgeist, and may even size it up against ideals from the past. But then, one must decide who one's audience is. And in knowing one's audience, one is testing - to some extent - how many of the chords of the zeitgeist one has picked up. Bakhtin writes of polyphany: the many voices in a society. How receptive are we?
For example, in late 19th century America, we have rags-to-riches narratives (involving hard work, ethics), the narratives of the old families, slave narratives, preacher narratives, various immigrant narratives... with every narrative, we have a different set of dreams, expectations, life horizons. But these are all mixed up now, in a cacophonous Choose Your Own Adventure. As Gadamer writes, "Finding one's way around in this new atmosphere ... does not come easily." The fixed horizon is gone, and as some rejoice, those who learned to understand the blessing of restrictions are soberly counting their days.
The smiley-face approach is that of the cultural relativist (examples of people eating imported spiders vs. examples of rediscovering how to use offel, vs. examples of recent milk drinkers). The danger of cultural relativism is that it lets the bad come in freely with the good - and this allows the water temperature to become that ambiguous Lethe of the lukewarm.
The problem with today's world is that everyone is a quasi-specialist, without the necessary dose of skepticism that is learned (if too much) in academia. If everyone wants to be Levi-Strauss and classify all the things that make up their Anything that Goes, why do they not ask, like he does: "whether man's victory over his powerlessness... will not lead back to unreason".

No comments:

Post a Comment

Creative Commons License