...and the incomprehension of the old
Whenever I see that you’ve made a new post, I get that giddy, anticipatory feeling of having a treat to look forward to .... !
Have you ever heard of the Red Scare Podcast? I don’t listen to it but the subreddit loosely “dedicated” to it (r/redscarepod) is a place where you’ll find a lot of pretty contrarian young people posting who’re all very against the corrective apparatus that you describe. Some posts are good & make good points, but many are... malicious, reactionary, and mean (often disguised as irony or sarcasm). A lot of shitposting too, of course..
I dunno, I find it an occasionally interesting little nook of the internet. People think of the youth today as being so overly concerned with identity politics and political correctness etc., but there’s also a good chunk of young ppl reacting against it (and quite violently, too, esp in online spaces). That subreddit offers a tiny glimpse into that mindset. There’s probably a good portion of incels on there, but also women too (in some cases, self-described femcels -- ironically or not, it’s hard to tell).
I’m just a few years away from 30, but I’m already finding that “the youth” today confuses me. I think many of them are confused, too. A lot going on, so much to make sense of.... I love reading your attempts to do just that. Ty for your wonderful mind <3
I love that you freely raise the issue of rape being about both sex and power. I have always been puzzled by the notion that it's purely a "crime of power," but cautious in who I express that to. Victim and perpetrator may have 2 entirely different experiences. A victim may experience degradation and helplessness in the face of power. For the perpetrator, I'm not so sure -- he is, after all, successfully satisfying a drive for sexual sensation and satisfaction, in the context of exerting power over another, and perhaps intentionally degrading her.
To complicate it further, In my experience, being touched or violated ( as I once was on a subway) at the nerve-rich center of one's female and erotic life force can arouse physical sensations that in another context would be pleasurable, which can make the violation even more disturbing as it wires together pleasure and violation.
I love your work and am reading my way through everything I've missed stimulated by the New Yorker rewrite of "Secretary."
i still haven't been able to stop thinking about your other story, the despair end of it. i'm glad you wrote this, because the good news is true, too.
i just turned 40. so i am not exactly the generation you are writing about, but i'm definitely not *not* them, either. in some ways i feel my era is the beginning of this despair-generation. and i think you depicted or captured something in the other piece that i have personally felt over the last 20 years, and you did it in a way i've never seen anyone say it before. you said it with a clarity that i've never seen anywhere else.
This is where . . . (throat clearing) . . . I find some of the pessimistic thinkers have something to offer we aren't listening to. Slavoj Zizek has this great concept in his body of work called, THE COURAGE OF HOPELESSNESS. Embracing that there are so (I meant, no, ha) solutions to something so massively fucked up, I don't know what we call it. I love this new piece of academia called something like, Monstrology. It sounds incredibly silly. But we are SILLY CREATURES. We can be terribly silly during moments of supreme irony. Heidegger, for instance, talked a lot about 'concealment'. Without sublimating these terrors into something we can think about, we can't conquer it.
In Mark Z's latest book which he classifies as being a children's book for adults, that even the grumpiest adult can enjoy. THE LITTLE BLUE KITE. There is something that separates Kai (the title character) & his kite, called The Immense Monster Too Immense For Any One Name & Hungrier Than All The Empty Space That Haunts The Distance Between The Stars.
We are actually haunted by our progress on occasion. We don't even notice we are in the middle of the moment. For instance.
Whether rape is about power or sex or both can only be gleaned from interviews of rapists. The majority said it was about power so that's why that narrative stuck.
"what might’ve happened if instead I’d opened up the idea for general discussion in the class under the subject heading, what should be allowed, why and why not? Even that could, I guess, have upset some people, but it could also have been extremely interesting. If they voted on whether or not such a story was acceptable to workshop I’m guessing it would’ve been a no with dissent—but at least they would’ve had the chance to think it out rather than having me decide for them. As I said at the end of my original post, I am not at all confident that I know the way to give students “something better.” But I think more open conversation in general would be part of it."
When people have no culture of mind, that is discipline of mind, then anything goes as a topic for literature, art, comedy, pop culture, etc. Some years ago I would have said "the west" has no culture of mind but the east still does, with its traditions of meditation, philosophy, etc, but now the entire world is "the west" - electronically connected as we all are, so mental discipline is gone in "the east" as well.
Extreme portrayals of violence are an immature attempt at being "edgy" which is supposed to be... cool, or, er, somthing.
You are lucky to have been alive during the '60s in "the west". I wasn't and have always romanticized the era. Don't know why anyone would have had a problem with young people back then. The impression I get is that they were working for positive change.
This was great. Loved the other side of the mirror take; or at least the complimentary vector.
Something I forgot to note in my comment to your prior post, is that I recall in high school English always writing short stories that focused on some dark element in life. I think the very first thing I composed was a fatal car wreck story.
This might be a preparatory sort of ritual—common for young people as it helps them edge their toe into the more complex and sometimes dark side of life—outside the protection of their nuclear family.
Although I’ll also add nothing changed much for me as a writer over the years—I mean, my new novel is on Jeffrey Dahmer!
Thanks Mary. You always get the hamster wheel in my brain spinning.
I appreciated both this and your previous post. I have a teenaged son who is about to apply to college in the US (we live in France). I both worry about him and have a fundamental sense that he will be OK. He does spend more time in front of screens and on social media than I would like, but since he also has a lot of friends out in the real world (and a sense of social responsibility that I didn’t have at all, at his age) I do not worry (too much) about his losing touch with this world. It also strikes me that he has a really different relation to social media than I do, and that it is more sort of pragmatic and light. The few times that I have tried Facebook and Twitter, it has given me a kind of false, weightless feeling (even or especially when my exchanges on these platforms have been affirming and positive) that has bled over into my real life. It has made me feel a little like a ghost. I don’t get the feeling that my son sees or uses social media this way - as a substitute for reality. It is more just like an extra appendage he has or something. This is not to say that I am happy about how dependent he is on his phone, and don’t worry about what it has done to his attention span and wish that he would read more books, etc. But I also recognize that there are things about him (and maybe his generation generally) that I just don’t understand - what seem to be almost molecular differences. And I have so much faith in his resilience and buoyancy and just human capacity to surprise me, which I think is something no amount of artificial intelligence is ever going to be able to duplicate - that human unpredictability- and it’s one reason why I get tired of all of the hand wringing about AI. (I was recently surprised by my son reading The Master and Margarita- during a vacation when we did not have access to WiFi, much handwringing all around about that! - which he now says is his favorite book.)
I also do remember a lot of judgment about my own generation when I was in my twenties - how apathetic, lost, cynical etc we all supposedly were - and feeling both really affected by this judgment and really bewildered by it. It didn’t exactly correspond to what I was feeling and experiencing (for one thing I didn’t even watch much television growing up, let alone MTV) but also I was susceptible and young enough that I thought older people always knew best and I took their often glib and superficial judgments for reality. (On the one hand, we were supposed to be checked out and apathetic, on the other hand we were supposed to be caught up in this dire political correctness.) So I think these kinds of generational generalizations can be pretty destructive, as you say, and young people have enough to deal with right now, as you also say. We shouldn’t conflate our anxiety about the world they are inheriting with a lack of faith in them.
I loved the HIlton Al's article and it makes me want to read O'Connor. But I was taken aback by this:
"there is no Faulknerian Snopes in O’Connor’s fiction. What she describes is far more evil: the nice lady on the bus who calls you “nigger” by offering your child a penny; or the old woman who loves to regale her grandchildren with stories about the “pickaninnies” of her antebellum youth."
How is it that we have been convinced language that names is a major evil? Set along side economic fraud and theft or manipulation and denial or physical violence, the direct emotional violence of naming language is possible to identify and reject and using it labels the person who uses it. Perhaps our era is obsessed with this because economically secure people, including the young, won't vote (allegedly) for anyone who will actually permit economic justice or stop making war?
Als goes on, O’Connor "had difficulty assimilating the push toward integration ...she was sometimes clumsy at conveying real life among blacks beyond her own circles—their class distinctions, their communication with one another apart from whites." This is what bothers me. As writers are we supposed to stick to our lasts, whites write about whites and blacks about blacks etc? How do we write about real lives in which integration is partial, it's almost impossible to avoid falling over consoling myths about indigenous and white people and those are the stories that makes up lives? Maybe this is a perennial problem. There's examples of Victorian writers trying and failing to write about class and failing, maybe there's even earlier ones. Thanks for the reference MG.
FWIW: 'misogyny', while originally meaning 'hatred of women' ('miso'-, the usual root for 'bad', + '-gyny', of or relating to women), has been extended to mean 'believes in traditional roles' or 'supporting the patriarchy', so it's not surprising your student used it that way. I agree you may not want to be pedestalized, but I doubt your classic 'white knight' who rushes to the defense of any imperiled woman and opens all the doors *hates* women per se, as opposed to, say, an angry incel (as opposed to non-angry incel) of the type you were describing a while ago. I've seen the term 'benevolent sexism' for someone who holds all the classic pedestalizing views, as opposed to 'hostile sexism' (women take advantage of men, etc.) for the standard angry incel-type. This dichotomy might be useful if you have to discuss this sort of thing again in progressive contexts.
Thanks as always Mary
Nice follow up. Thanks!
Life expectancy in the US is *declining*, which puts it in the same class as Somalia and Afghanistan. Most of the decrease is from overdose and gun violence in the Trump belt among people under 40. People are F-ed enough to destroy themselves, and enough of them are F-ed to offset ever-increasing prosperity. Around the deaths of despair will be a large circle of people who are miserable, but not miserable enough to die and be counted in statistics. I would prefer a conversation that acknowledges the problem and leads to action, rather than one saying the situation is fine and no action is needed.
Looking back at the 60s with hindsight doesn't do it justice, because we know all the outcomes: we know the Soviet Union collapses and people will go around saying that communism doesn't work, that the civil rights act will pass but the Black Nationalist movement will fail to establish a separate state for African Americans, that the Vietnam war will be pointless, and that the rebellious youth will join the middle class as long as they can wear Che Guevara Tshirts. But people then didn't know what was going to happen. It wasn't guaranteed to come out all right. And maybe it wouldn't have come out all right if people had sat on their hands.
Part of your appeal Mary, is your ability to reach back. But without the ability in that present to perceive, there would of course be no reaching back. Well, there would be no value in the reach-back. I can't speak for men in general, but with myself, with the hormone levels of that age, I was lucky to be able to think technically, but really, I'm not sure I have sensitivity in a humanistic way even today. So a general thank you.
I really enjoyed both posts and found the first very painful to read. I feel it is rare to see the depth of how anti-social technology has made many of us articulated in a not cliched way. I agree also that it is seemingly easier to control certain social contracts than to scale these other overwhelming crises and would guess that being inside on our phones for 2 years made this worse. I like this video on the subject -
For all the emphasis on empathizing with people of a different social class, race, gender, sexual orientation, etc., from one's own, there is not a lot of emphasis on empathy between generations, which is weird because despite the unique issues of each age group's time, age is the only thing we all (if we live long enough) will have experienced from "all sides"...Maybe since age isn't a vector of oppression (or rather, ageism can go both ways), it doesn't seem urgent to have more understanding or consideration. It's not like fighting ageism is its own social movement, even though this lack of consideration is linked to many issues, the climate crisis being the most pressing, which is why trite sentiments like "young people will save the world" (in response to Greta Thunberg etc) feel so inane and way too easy. But maybe schools have more of this going on than I realize. Zadie Smith's essay on Tar was about this too.
My dad is a high school English teacher who taught Secretary this year and was mad at himself for forgetting to issue a trigger warning for the first class, which he did for the second and third ones. He said the second and third classes were way more able to talk about the story because, he presumed, they'd been prepared, whereas the first class kind of couldn't get past the shock of that scene and they had to spend more time talking about the event itself than the writing. I admit I expected the inverse: that the classes who'd gotten trigger warnings had been told to feel anxiety and therefore would fixate on the event, and the class who just read the story without any disclaimer would move right along and maybe find the scene more ambiguous. I was wrong! I'd like to think they would get more out of it by knowing less--I like to know as little as possible going into any story or movie, etc., as though this enables me to have a more "pure" experience. But if one is sensitive to certain sensations then they (I) might just become hyper vigilant when they're evoked and then the whole reading is clouded, particularly if there isn't enough of a baseline of trust with, in this case, a 72 year old man who only teaches one quarter a year.
I didn't go to college but as an actor in rehearsals or on sets with varying levels of newfound sensitivity, the thing that gets me is when someone discusses a topic they haven't experienced as though it must also be abstract for everyone else in the room. It just feels alienating especially when your job requires being vulnerable. But there often isn't time to establish the kind of trust that would make this a simple misunderstanding or a productive conflict.
Here's how "okay" some of the young are:
our world would be better for young and old to share more in multiple dimensions- thanks for your insights and hopefulness and love light on