Thursday, May 18, 2017

Things of This World

The world is so full of a number of things
I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings.
                                   Robert Louis Stevenson

     The greatest mass divestiture of material goods in history has begun, as the vast rich postwar generation tries, without success, to pass its vast riches on to its daughters and sons. For a variety of reasons the children of Boomers – called Millennials or Gen X or Gen Y or the Baby Boom echo or whatever – those born roughly between 1980 and 2000 – will not and cannot inherit their parents’ heritage or accept their inheritance. They reject our exotic dust-magnet tchotchkes, they have no use for our closets full of clothing groaning on the rack or our cupboards bulging with dishes and glasses and gadgets and gizmos, they won’t take our credenzas or escritoires or étagères or vanities or china cabinets or recliners or wedding silver or pianos, they don’t want our impressive lifelong collections or craft supplies or artwork or souvenirs or even family photos and home movies.

I will not come today.

“Cannot” is false, and that I dare not, falser.

I will not come today.
                                           from Julius Caesar

     The “will not” part has to do with the aesthetic of Less. The electronic reduction of films, music, photography and print to computer files, out of sight/out of mind, has played a huge role in the divestiture. Instead of lovingly preserving sensuous material objects, Boomers’ kids even tolerate the periodic loss of all their personal data in computer crashes. They seem to be less attached to “the things of this world” than we their parents could ever bring ourselves to be. Of course there is a positive aspect to this attitude. Possessions can tie one down and hold one back. Riches can be defined in many ways, both material and spiritual. It appears the postwar generation overbought. ...

     The “cannot” part has to do with the high cost of living which limits the housing size, storage space, cash flow and savings of this younger generation. The Boomers did very well for themselves even working parttime; now two fulltime earners are required to live the good life. And if you live in any American city, you don't want a car, not even a free one.

… The things I brought with me from far away,
compared with theirs, look strangely not the same:
in their great country they were living things,
but here they hold their breath, as if for shame.
              from “The Solitary,” Rainer Maria Rilke

     Possessing no current intentions of having their own progeny, the Boomers’ kids also turn their noses up at all the boxes of adorable infant and child toys and onesies and bibs and impossibly tiny t-shirts that read “Mama’s Angel Baby” and the darling children’s books with their gentle truths and beautiful illustrations. Indeed one of the saddest desertions, one of the most shocking betrayals, is the rejection of the Book itself.

     Boomers have already bravely faced up to the bitter downfall of their beloved LPs – record albums – vinyl … But books? Who doesn’t want books? Everybody, it turns out. You can’t give the things away; in fact you must pay to have them removed from your premises and dumped into (ironically) unmarked graves.

     Boomers’ kids do read, of course, but prefer Kindle-type interfaces. At least they do now: there is growing evidence that, like vinyl, material books are starting to make a comeback. There’s nothing like the feel of a vintage volume in the hand, the antique fragrance, the impression of the engraver’s plate on the bond paper …

     Such a typical Boomer utterance, that. We sure did love our “stuff.” We still do. It makes us feel secure, successful, complicated. The immense material edifice we have constructed will never be reconstructed. Its loss will impoverish future society and wipe out a great deal of social memory. Of more serious concern is the potential for the Internet alteration, “scrubbing” or "disappearing" of knowledge and history. How can biographies be recollected with no letters or pictures or tangible objects to refer to?

      The twilight years of these Things will pass silently, locked inside the thousands of square miles of storage units crowding the land. But much more will be carted off en masse to China or snapped up by immigrants at yard sales. Never to return.

Love Calls Us to the Things of This World
                                               Richard Wilbur

The eyes open to a cry of pulleys,

And spirited from sleep, the astounded soul   

Hangs for a moment bodiless and simple   

As false dawn.

                     Outside the open window   

The morning air is all awash with angels.

    Some are in bed-sheets, some are in blouses,   

Some are in smocks: but truly there they are.   

Now they are rising together in calm swells   

Of halcyon feeling, filling whatever they wear   

With the deep joy of their impersonal breathing;

    Now they are flying in place, conveying

The terrible speed of their omnipresence, moving   

And staying like white water; and now of a sudden   

They swoon down into so rapt a quiet

That nobody seems to be there.

                                             The soul shrinks

    From all that it is about to remember,

From the punctual rape of every blessèd day,

And cries,

               “Oh, let there be nothing on earth but laundry,   

Nothing but rosy hands in the rising steam

And clear dances done in the sight of heaven.”

    Yet, as the sun acknowledges

With a warm look the world’s hunks and colors,   

The soul descends once more in bitter love   

To accept the waking body, saying now

In a changed voice as the man yawns and rises,   

    “Bring them down from their ruddy gallows;

Let there be clean linen for the backs of thieves;   

Let lovers go fresh and sweet to be undone,   

And the heaviest nuns walk in a pure floating   

Of dark habits,

                      keeping their difficult balance."

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