Monday, June 18, 2012
Monday Morning Brainstorms
Within a few minutes of waking up this morning, I happened to find myself reading newest post in the blog "Brainstorm" in The Chronicle, and it got my wheels turning, so I thought I'd open up my own post and start writing. I had to stop in the middle of writing, and finish it up and post it this afternoon, but I kind of liked the distinctive style the morning writing had yielded -- so here it is!
Writing when I first wake up is always an adventure in crossing over from the dreamy, abstract, fluid, intuitively profound recesses of my brain into the more concrete, sensory edges of my brain that meet the outside world with wary calculation and skepticism. So when, upon waking, I reached for my computer and began skimming through Facebook posts and mass emails that had transpired overnight, I somehow, by no conscious intention nor deliberation, ended up opening The Chronicle and being drawn to click on a link to a post entitled "A 'Tempest'-uous Reprieve for Western Civ." Perhaps the title, combined with the blog title "Brainstorm," appealed to my still-tempesting dreamy thought-trains, or perhaps it was a random series of clicks that brought me to it, but regardless, I was drawn into David Barash's post, and, as my mind awoke, I found myself beginning to process thoughts, and have the beginnings of something to say.
Although the tongue-in-cheek sentences about "the decline and imminent fall of Western Civilization" and Thomas Jefferson's quotation “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just” evoked some apocalyptic images in my sleepy mind, the phrase in Barash's post that struck me out of dreamland and into reality was the phrase "coarsening of our public discourse." The word "coarsening" had the effect of someone grating the interior of my mind, as if I was crossing from a silken landscape into a sandpaper world. The phrase "public discourse" jolted me from the world of fairydusted sunlight streaming into my window into the world of academia, as if a disembodied hand had thrust my academic hat upon my head before I could stave it off. It was too late -- I was yanked into the discussion.
As I made my coffee, I thought about this phrase -- "the coarsening of public discourse." Suddenly even the coffee grinds I was dumping into my Mr. Coffee pot seemed to scream the word "coarse" at me, as if each object my senses would encounter this morning would metonymically reverberate with the rough scratchiness of the world around me. What did the connotations of the word "coarseness" actually register about our Western world? Why did the author's phrase strike me in such a sharp way this morning? As we have gotten more technically savvy and slick and sophisticated as a culture, have we become roughened in another way -- less refined and propituous? Have we lost the ability to be gracious? Has our taste for the finer, subtle things been replaced with a gluttony for bigger, more, faster, flashier? I thought about my lazy reach for my Macbook as I woke up and my half-asleep stroll through Facebook and email subscriptions and wondered if the instant access to a virtual version of the social network was contributing to what Barash is sensing as an imminent vulgarizing of our cultural infrastructures.
As I sipped my coffee and sank back onto the plush brown couch where I do most of my writing, I began to think about what aspects of society have become coarsened. Overall, I agree with the author that there are indeed indelicacies about Western civilization’s trends in communication: I see crudeness in many elements of our society -- in our speaking, in our parenting and educating of our children, in our political campaigning and rhetoric, in our writing of movie screenplays and songs – in our relationships, in our self-awareness, in our definitions of success and self-worth. But as I drank my coffee, and my head began to clear away the dreamy cobwebs from the night's sleep, I started to fervently believe that maybe nostalgia was at work in Brainstorm's post -- were we really so much more refined and full of elegance and superior aesthetic taste in decades past, or was that image simply a romanticized, nostalgic version of the past that we like to conjure as a way to disengage ourselves from the crudity we feel and see around us?
At the end of the day, the author finds optimism in a performance by Christopher Plummer in the recent film adaptation of "The Tempest," which instilled hope in the author that there still exists some kind of high-brow artistic possibility in the Western world. I like that essay ends with optimism, but I still question the fundamental premise that popular culture is essentially a cess-pool save for a few diamonds in the rough.
Another day of teaching at my day-job and writing for the dissertation lay ahead. I know my thoughts today will be clouded by these diametric thoughts of coarseness and refinement -- but I hope that my brain can whip up a perfect storm so that I can somehow transcend the stereotypical conceptions of this binary. That is my thought of the day! I hope it helps stir up a brainstorm in you as you begin your week!