Let’s pause for a moment, in fact, to notice that this kind of story almost always imagines a future world that’s far simpler than the one we currently live in, one in which all the stuff and clutter of our lives – the screens, the gizmos, the cars, the noise – has evaporated. As David Mamet once put it, every fear hides a wish.
Focusing all experiences through the lens of the Internet is an example of not being able to see history through the eyes of others, to be so enamored of one’s present time that one cannot see that the world was once elsewise and was not about you.
Without the foil, we would have to face our own poverties, our own barbarism, our own shelteredness, our own actual lack of sophistication.
The problem with a stereotype is usually not that it is completely inaccurate, but that it identifies a feature as relevant or important for irrelevant reasons and, in so doing, makes it difficult for the person or entity to break out of the stereotype and beyond it in observers’ eyes, which makes an authentic relationship with the stereotyped person or entity impossible.
Great interview. I’ve been slowly working my way through The Histories lately, and this attitude reminded me of Herodotus:
If I were simply to present these people talking about the deep past at face value, an historian would almost immediately say, “Gourevitch was taken in by these guys and their spin on history.” But to me what’s interesting—and the way I’ll present it—is that this is how they are invoking and recounting their inheritance, which may or may not be historically accurate. […] It’s an identity story as much as an accurate history.
On memory and moving on:
There’s a kind of fetishization of memory in our culture. Some of it comes from the experience and the memorial culture of the Holocaust—the injunction to remember. And it also comes from the strange collision of Freud and human rights thinking—the belief that anything that is not exposed and addressed and dealt with is festering and going to come back to destroy you. This is obviously not true. Memory is not such a cure-all. On the contrary, many of the great political crimes of recent history were committed in large part in the name of memory. The difference between memory and grudge is not always clean. Memories can hold you back, they can be a terrible burden, even an illness. Yes, memory—hallowed memory—can be a kind of disease. That’s one of the reasons that in every culture we have memorial structures and memorial days, whether for personal grief or for collective historical traumas. Because you need to get on with life the rest of the time and not feel the past too badly. I’m not talking about letting memory go. The thing is to contain memory, and then, on those days, or in those places, you can turn on the tap and really touch and feel it. The idea is not oblivion or even denial of memory. It’s about not poisoning ourselves with memory.
And there’s this:
There’s no such thing as a story all by itself. Stories don’t exist in solitude—they exist in relation to other stories.
On Michael Mann, Terrence Malick, David Lynch, Wong Kar-wai and Hou Hsiao-hsien, etc.:
The sensualists are bored with dramatic housekeeping. They’re interested in sensations and emotions, occurrences and memories of occurrences. If their films could be said to have a literary voice, it would fall somewhere between third person and first — perhaps as close to first person as the film can get without having the camera directly represent what a character sees.
Yet at the same time sensualist directors have a respect for privacy and mystery. They are attuned to tiny fluctuations in mood (the character’s and the scene’s). But they’d rather drink lye than tell you what a character is thinking or feeling – or, God forbid, have a character tell you what he’s thinking or feeling. The point is to inspire associations, realizations, epiphanies — not in the character, although that sometimes happens, but in the moviegoer.
You can tell by watching the sensualists’ films, with their startling cuts, lyrical transitions, off-kilter compositions and judicious use of slow motion as emotional italics, that they believe we experience life not as dramatic arcs or plot points or in-the-moment revelations, but as moments that cohere and define themselves in hindsight — as markers that don’t seem like markers when they happen.
Harry Bertoia’s “My-self Rating Chart” school assignment. Harry Bertoia papers, 1917-1979.
Eero Saarinen’s list of Aline Bernstein’s good qualities, ca. 1954. Aline and Eero Saarinen papers, 1857-1972. Featured in What we can learn from lists. This reminds me of Charles Darwin trying to decide whether or not to marry Emma Wedgewood. Sounds like a cool list-focused exhibition at the Morgan Library & Museum.
“Want to hear a really good story? Turn off your TV and turn toward the nearest 4-year-old.”
“After Darwin, after Einstein—just as after Galileo and Copernicus—we can’t have the same theological ideas about God as we did before.” An interview with theologian John Haught on science, faith, and the troubles of the new atheism.