A guide for the rest of your life
By Andrei Codrescu
Here is a project: re-read everything youve 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, youd 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 thats only because you recommended them to somebody, and want to make sure that you remembered right. So, lets face it, youll never again read the books that formed your young intellect, youll 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 wont 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 youll actually read those hundred diaries and make it through them without throwing yourself off a cliff. Well, then, as your mad project progresses, youll 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 dont 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 its the middle or not. And then, when youre 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 wont 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, its 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 youre doing and run. But look, you cant get out of the frame, youre 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, didnt you?