But Pessimism Is Just So Fun!
January 8, 2009
This post of Conor’s (“Is Western culture really in ruin? […] To say that we are in the ruin of Western culture implies an age in which things were better. Does that age exist?”) is well worth reading – as are the comments. I’m certainly not exempted from this habit of playing chicken-little; it’s been more or less constant to bemoan the decline of Western culture since its inception (date it when you will).
But I’m not sure that it always matters whether that foreboding of doom is accurate. My copy of Love in the Ruins isn’t on-hand for reference, but I remember beginning to wonder as I read it whether that corner of Louisiana existed in “dread latter days” of existence anywhere outside of Tom More’s mind. The scenario of psyche-altering doom he sees everywhere is so bizarre that it seems reasonable for no one to believe him, especially given his penchant for Early Times and technical status as an escaped ward of a mental institution. And from More’s perspective, the dangers he sees would prevent those affected from knowing what had happened. It’s never fully clarified, and his severe allergic reaction to multiple gin fizzes during the “present” of the novel doesn’t help matters.
Still, it doesn’t seem to matter whether More was seeing reality or imagining doom. What he learns from the experience of that half-week enables him to live more easily in the world – he’s not without discomfort in it, but he’s more alive than when things began. Maybe taking the idea of Percy’s “aestheticized religious mode” of bourbon-drinking works as an example: by the novel’s end, More isn’t drinking out of habit, physiological necessity, or to blot out the unpleasantries of modernity, but for the specific purpose of enhancing the religious experience of a Sunday afternoon.
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John gives an important addendum to the whole discussion of “Is the West in decline?” when he writes:
“[N]or is it helpful to refuse to acknowledge the ways in which the genuine gains that humankind has made have involved some significant losses, too.”
If we start reframing a lot of our discussion of “decline” (which can’t be going on all the time, obviously) in terms of “loss” just what it is that we’re missing – and how to repair this, if we can – becomes a little more clear.