Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Dwelling in Possibilities

There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that I am becoming a curmudgeon. For example, most people have great music on their Ipods. I have sermons and lectures (not my own). Is that an stodgy old man thing to do or what?

The other night as I was out for my evening run, I was listening to a sermon by Tim Keller. He quoted an from an article by Mark Edmundson entitled "Dwelling in Possibilities." After hearing Keller quote it, I had to read the whole thing. The fact that I loved the article is further proof that I am, indeed, a curmudgeon because Dr. Edmundson clearly is one. He also is an English professor at the University of Virginia. He writes with great wit and insight. His major thesis is that young people today are so caught up in the possibilities that they never fully engage in the present. Here are a few quotes:

Ask an American college student what he's doing on Friday night. Ask him at 5:30 Friday afternoon. "I don't know" will likely be the first response. But then will come a list of possibilities to make the average Chinese menu look sullenly costive: the concert, the play, the movie, the party, the stay-at-home, chilling (or chillaxing), the monitoring of SportsCenter, the reading (fast, fast) of an assignment or two. University students now are virtual Hamlets of the virtual world, pondering possibility, faces pressed up against the sweet-shop window of their all-purpose desiring machines. To ticket or not to ticket, buy or not to, party or no: Or perhaps to simply stay in and to multiply options in numberless numbers, never to be closed down.

And once you do get somewhere, wherever it might be, you'll find that, as Gertrude Stein has it, there's "no there there." At a student party, about a fourth of the people have their cellphones locked to their ears. What are they doing? "They're talking to their friends." About? "About another party they might conceivably go to." And naturally the simulation party is better than the one that they're now at (and not at), though of course there will be people at that party on their cellphones, talking about other simulacrum gatherings, spiraling on into M.C. Escher infinity.

Here is another:

The idea is to keep moving, never to stop. It's now become so commonplace as to be beneath notice, but there was a time that every city block contiguous to a university did not contain a shop dispensing a speed-you-up drug and inviting people to sit down and enjoy it along with wireless computer access. Laptops seem to go with coffee and other stimulants, in much the way that blood-and-gold sunsets went with LSD and Oreo cookies with weed. (It's possible, I sometimes think, that fully half of the urban Starbucks in America are located in rental properties that, in an earlier incarnation, were head shops.) Nor were there always energy drinks: vile-tasting concoctions coming in cans costumed like superheroes, designed to make you run as fast and steady as your computer, your car, and — this is Darwinian capitalism after all — your colleagues. You've got to keep going. Almost all of my students have one book — an old book — that they've read and treasured, and read again. It's the American epic of free movement, On the Road, a half-century old last year, but to them one of the few things in the culture of my generation that's still youthful.

I would suggest that all young people read the whole thing. However, it may be too long to sustain their attention span. (Spoken like a true curmudgeon).