Sunday, January 13, 2013

A Commemoration of a Hidden Passage

Our society, and probably most societies that have ever existed, have assiduously marked "rites of passages."  Ceremonies follow accomplishments, certifications are issued, "milestone" birthdays are observed with much fanfare.  At the same time, we privilege youth and resist the commemoration of milestones that legitimately mark a passage of time.

For example, over the last several years, I've looked at opening day rosters of my favorite professional sports teams with keen interest, examining how many players are younger than me and how many are older.  The number of those older is dwindling dramatically, and it will not be too long before I am older than all of the players on my favorite teams.  And I will find such a moment significant, since for the first decade-plus of my fandom every single player was older than me.  I wasn't paying attention when it first happened that I was rooting for someone younger than me (in hindsight I would kind of like to know when that was; I suppose I could research it.  I'll put it on my bucket list to do that).

Because there is some continuity from childhood to adulthood, everyone can relate to some extent to this kind of phenomenon.  We used to observe others who were older than us, then we began to observe our contemporaries, and at some point we observe only those who are younger than us.  And this is particularly strange when all the while we have been observing the same essential activity.  But because the implications of the phenomenon can be terrifying (ultimately confronting us with our mortality), we steadfastly refuse to commemorate the transitions in any way.  Moments of realization are stifled.  We simply proceed in the new reality as if it has always been the case.

The impetus for me to make these observations this week was this article by a guy named Steven Hyden.  I first became of Hyden awhile back when he wrote a series of essays on 90s rock for the Onion AV Club.    This was far from the first I've read about 90s rock.  But the difference is that prior articles were written by people who had a frame of reference that predated mine.  Hyden is only a few months older than me, and he is a fellow Wisconsinite.  Reading his work has resulted in a jarring shock of recognition.  After a lifetime of consuming rock criticism, for the first time, I'm reading rock criticism written by a legitimate contemporary of mine.  And only since this has transpired have I become aware of the prior status quo even being a status quo.

I've come to recognize that from the time anyone starts to read and for a period of approximately two decades, everything that is read is from the perspective of a prior generation.  Everything is from the perspective of a prior generation's lived experience.  That is certainly not to say that some experiences don't transcend time and speak directly to realities that level chronological perspectives.  But it is worth noting that the reader is always forced to assimilate their experience to the specific generational experience of another.  Even if one is reading a new publication, it is informed by the author's having lived through a period of time that the reader did not experience.  This is the normative experience of reading.  Because the reader knows no other way of reading, the unconscious assumption is that this will always be the normative experience.  And then after a period of years, members of the reader's own generation attain enough cultural capital to contribute published works.  And the result, again, is jarring.  Or at least it was in my experience.  Of course, reading is a bit different than watching sports in that it is more asynchronous.  My contemporaries have arrived, but I can always go back and read my elders.

Yet if I live long enough, I will encounter something even more jarring them reading my contemporaries.  I will be reading the work of one whose life experiences begin after my life experiences.  This hasn't happened to me yet (at least to a noticeable degree), but I've already got an ingrained prejudice against the concept.  I don't even want to hear what these hypothetical whippersnappers have to say (but they probably won't use the term "whippersnapper" unironically).

But perhaps my prejudice will never actually manifest itself as resistance.  Perhaps I will assimilate to the new reality as unconsciously as I was interpolated into the prior realities.  After all, there will be no ceremony to mark the passage of time.


Blogger Mr. Twister said...

I have nothing per se to add to this article, merely to remark that looking at your blog - with black background and gray letters - and following the link in your blog to Hynden's article, caused a white-out effect not unlike the experience of staring at the Jesus image and closing your eyes. Your background is so black, and Hynden's article was so white, I was jarred. That is all.

11:02 PM  
Anonymous Don Cigelske said...

Your Dad says: I thought I'd offer a perspective from a little further down the "Time Passage" phenomona. That being from one who has passed from reading contemporaries, to those "whose life experiences began after my life experiences".

I've gotten in the habit of swiping a book from your church library to peruse during my time watching Kal in the playroom on Sunday mornings (It helps my reading habit a lot that Kal is so self-directed at play...An initial planning session with him allows me to get through several chapters on a Sunday morning with occaisional supportive forays to the toybox).

I take only a few minutes or less to pick a title, usually based on how the name strikes me. That is how I recently picked "Are There Horses In Heaven?", although I have never been a particular fan of the equine variety of horsepower. Except for an admiration of draft horses (or probably more the machines they were connected to), I've definitely prefered the version that runs on gasoline or diesel.

The storyline is basically an autobiography of a young girl growing up in rural Alabama, and her pre-teen and teen-age adventures (or more correctly misadventures)on a horsefarm with her friends. Each chapter chronicles a new brush with death or parental authority, but all meant in good clean fun. She does a good job of "setting the stage", and my "normative experience" that you cite, had placed this in a setting at least in the 1950's and 60's of my childhood, if not before. Having started with this presumption, I came across certain references that seemed out of place. Trying to get my mind wrapped around this story, I turned to the title page, looking for the birthdate of the author. No luck. I then spent way too much time flipping back and forth between chapters, comparing ages with historical events and other clues, and finally came to the JARRING conclusion that she is TEN YEARS younger than me!

So your ingrained prejudice against this concept is probably inherited, if not cultural, and no, you will not assimilate to the new reality as unconciously as you were interpolated into the prior realities.

Be ready to be jarred, and if needed, let's plan a ceremony.

12:49 AM  

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