Thursday, March 13, 2008


If you have spent an appreciable amount of your life acting in opposition to a prevailing set of mores, you will eventually come to appreciate the importance of those mores as a point of reference. Gradually, it will occur to you that in addition to opposing that way of life, you require its presence, in various subtle ways, and not simply for the friction. Around the time you realize this, however, you will also realize the fragility of your nemesis. You once had the luxury of thinking of it as a monolithic force; it stood for a political position, an ethics, an aesthetics--and now it will turn out to be made up entirely of people. You will only be fully aware of this when those people have died out.

The bad politics, the questionable ethics, the offensive aesthetics are still all around you, only now they belong to your contemporaries and juniors. What is missing are grownups. You yourself may pay taxes, raise children, hold a job--you will still never quite embody the definition of "grownup" to yourself, because for you that idea is inextricably associated with the style of one group of people, your elders. And their style, in turn, was a complicated mass of elements arising from and contingent upon their specific time in history, its culture and technology. And try as you might, you will never be able to replicate this style, even if you decide to take it upon yourself to inhabit it in all sincerity. In your hands it will never be anything but ironic.

And anyway, you don't really understand it. You may have immersed yourself in the period--have read the books and listened to the music and watched the movies. Still, the culture of the grownups will always remain alien to you in fundamental ways. Look at the pictures above. What is afoot is not just a matter of sharkskin suits and cocktails and Mantovani records and idiot party games. Their idea of conviviality has a core that you simply cannot penetrate. In part that is because it is a dilution of earlier notions and wishes held by them, and you are not privy to the bargaining and substitutions that led them to this pass. In part, too, it is because their culture was formed in opposition to an earlier monolith--the world of their own parents--and you have even less insight into that. It may seem that nothing in the world is ever upright. It is either leaning forward, or leaning back.