Volume 20 Issue 17 | September 7-13, 2007

The Penny Post

A guide for the rest of your life

By Andrei Codrescu

Here is a project: re-read everything you’ve ever read, look again at all the art works that once you had strong opinions about, listen again to the music that had such existential meaning back when all questions were grave and all answers were poetic, see again all the movies that once made an impression on you. Of course, you’d have to have another life just about the size of the one you already had, to do such thing. You barely have time to re-read a few snippets from books now and then, and that’s only because you recommended them to somebody, and want to make sure that you remembered right. So, let’s face it, you’ll never again read the books that formed your young intellect, you’ll never see again the art that was so important to you back when, the weight of the music you once worshipped has evaporated like an old perfume bottle, you won’t have time to review the movies that made you feel so smart, even if they do show up on the old movie channel. Besides, even if you set out to undertake such a project, another difficulty looms: you barely remember those books and their authors, those artists, those musicians, those actors and directors. But suppose that you were, like me, an inveterate list-maker and you have 100 diary books in which you recorded everything you read, saw, and heard, and what you thought about it. And suppose that you’ll actually read those hundred diaries and make it through them without throwing yourself off a cliff. Well, then, as your mad project progresses, you’ll need 100 new diary books to write down everything you read, see, and hear, in order to compare your maturity to your youth. And if you do use those old diaries as guides and actually embark on such a journey you would have to begin exactly in the middle of your middle-age, so that you can run again through your whole intellectual life (or all life, for that matter) to prove a point: did you know instinctively more when you were young than you know now? To answer this question you would in effect suspend your life in the middle and start from the beginning. Of course you don’t know when the middle of your middle-age is, nobody does, but you can look at yourself from the outside like an insurance company, and make a guess. You make a bet: it will cost you all the rest of your life anyway, whether it’s the middle or not. And then, when you’re finished with the 100 new diary books, you put them alongside the 100 old diary books, close your eyes and die. Somebody else will have to answer that question, because you won’t live long enough to compare the 100 diaries written by an adolescent and a youth with the 100 diaries written by an old fool to answer a question he cannot answer. As to what kind of thinking this is, it’s called a fugue. You run away as many times as you can from your themes until they bring you back up in stronger and stronger chains. The art of the fugue, once practiced by the baroque masters, is all the rage today in art, politics, style, films. Drop whatever you’re doing and run. But look, you can’t get out of the frame, you’re always inside a new world in your old mind. And then notice, please, that everything you thought you knew is wrong is wrong, but you already knew that, didn’t you?

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