Tuesday, January 08, 2019

'Springtails or Tumblebugs'

Am I wrong in detecting among my fellow citizens an accelerated rate of homogenization? It’s a wearying phenomenon, when you ask a question or make a comment for reasons of polite sociability and know in advance roughly how the other person will respond. I detect a genuine and growing fear of independence, forthrightness, novelty and humor. When I was younger, we had the opposite problem. People went out of their way to be “original,” and usually ended up as parodies of someone they hoped to emulate.

The problem is most apparent when it comes to politics, a subject I acknowledge only with dread. Increasingly I hear genuinely unsavory thoughts expressed on the right and left (there seems to be no middle), and often expressed at great length. For some, it’s the only subject. What an appalling thought. But even such seemingly safe subjects as music, movies and food elicit sermons or tirades, and you might as well forget about books. A seemingly rational person recently buttonholed me to extol the cinema of Michael Moore.

The English once had a patent on eccentricity, though we Americans evolved our own homegrown strain. The identifying mark of an eccentric is blissful indifference to the tyranny of opinion, an enviable state. Quoting Nabokov’s poem “To My Soul” (now translated as “In Paradise”), an interviewer in 1965 asks him, “Do you feel that you are ‘an eccentric lost in paradise’?” Nabokov replies:

“An eccentric is a person whose mind and senses are excited by things that the average citizen does not even notice. And, per contra, the average eccentric--for there are many of us, of different waters and magnitudes--is utterly baffled and bored by the adjacent tourist who boasts of his business connections. In that sense, I often feel lost; but then, other people feel lost in my presence too. And I also know, as a good eccentric should, that the dreary old fellow who has been telling me all about the rise of mortgage interest rates may suddenly turn out to be the greatest living authority on springtails or tumblebugs.”

No comments: