Friday, August 02, 2013

The Tyranny of Now

In a recent interview with LA Review of Books the novelist Martin Amis said that more than fiction he is more concerned about the imminent demise of poetry. “It’s very clear that what a poem does is stop the clock: we’re going to examine this moment; enter this epiphany and enjoy it with me. People say, ‘No, I haven’t got time,’” lamented the British man of letters.

If you’re the kind who swears by social media, you’ll probably wake and the first thing you do is retweet couple of intellectuals’ take on the morning’s news, share another couple of memes on Facebook, tweet your take on the news that is unfolding over the day and post links to two disparate news stories of the day. That definitely sounds a bit presumptuous but the point I’m trying to make is that the life of the mind is no longer dwelling at least a little in the past.

Just like the Twitter top trends are dictating what’s going on the newspaper’s page one the next day, slightly unbeknownst to us they’re also dictating our cultural consumption habits. If everyone on Twitter is tweeting about how good, bad, sublime or horrendous Man of Steel is, you wouldn’t want to be stuck in a Twitter echo chamber talking (nee tweeting) about Spring Breakers (by the way, it’s absolutely unmissable). Earlier this week my Twitter timeline had a sustained moment of internal combustion over the second season of Newsroom. Despite my pathological hatred for Aaron Sorkin (if most normal people talk like his characters I’m a retard’s retard) I was in half a mood to watch all of it just so that I can enjoy the tweets of critics and journalists I admire. Spoiler alert: people are hating it militantly. Twitter timeline is increasingly becoming the new watercooler talk and we might as well make peace with it. But we are better off without too much of it.

Jean Paul-Sartre, a philosopher, once said that ‘we are condemned to be free’. When a crime novel with a rigorously mundane title of Cuckoo’s Calling by someone by the name Robert Galbraith hit the book stores no one lost sleep. But when it was revealed that J K Rowling wrote the book under a pseudonym its sales rose a gobsmacking 150,000%. Everyone wanted a slice of the pie called ‘latest Rowling’. With a surfeit of old and not-so-old material available we still keep jonesing hard for the latest ones. We need to be told that it’s okay to listen to a meditative Tom Waits album even though the same amount of time can be allocated to the nouveau EDM scene.

This is why the Amis quote is an instructive sign on where the world is moving towards. A poem is supposed to make our worldview different at least for a fleeting while, even the pronouns and prepositions that we utter under the influence of reading a good poem gain a life of their own, it soothes our  frenetic nerves, it might not tell us that the Royal Baby’s name is George Alexander Louis but it will make us realise that a human mind is supposed to rise above this useless trivia. Why watch new-age cinema when you are yet to see a D W Griffith or Ernst Lubitsch?

Studies say that an average person in 21st century knows at least ten times more than what an average person did in the 20th century. However, whatever really important had been discovered in the 20th century. Thanks to web our brain is crammed with information that is a colossal slab and we are too busy to chisel at it to separate the wheat from the chaff.

This fad to be up to date with everything ridiculously new is spilling onto our social life too. It’s de facto human these days to be genuinely surprised that you didn’t know your school friend, who is on your Facebook list, bought a swanky apartment. The next moment of solitude will be expended to check out this apartment. That conversation ice-breaker between friends separated by distance or proximity ‘what’s up’ is now an open sore and almost rhetorical. Facebook tells you what exactly has been up with this person. I don’t mean that people should stay away from Facebook (you’ll find better luck asking for their right hand) but some sort of restraint is needed. How about treating yourself to binge Facebooking after bingereading Infinite Jest?