I am not a digital native. I’ve come from the world of books. Charles Dickens. William Faulkner. You know what I mean.
There it is: the “you”.Who are you? Almost 50 years ago, I began writing in a diary. I didn’t call it that. It sounded too girlish, which was intolerable for a l6-year-old boy then — and, I suspect, now. The 3×4 pad on which I began writing was something I called a journal.
On April 17, 1961 I wrote my first entry. I remember that date for no other reason than that it marked the beginning of a new relationship I was undertaking with myself — what communication theorists call “intrapersonal communication.” In graduate school I wrote a paper about the way in which Saul Bellow’s character Herzog, in the eponymous novel, was actually engaging in a self-to-self conversation when he wrote letters to Nietzsche, God and other correspondents who couldn’t or didn’t and weren’t expected to reply.
This is how I live my life: engaged in wondering about such oddly framed esoterica, and this is why I have always been drawn to writers who think in this way, if not about the same things I think about. For example, Erving Goffman’s “microsociological” observations about the marvelous strategies we have for acting in such a way as to protect our “face,” our identity, from perceived and real threats. Another example: Roland Barthes concise and imaginative analyses of the cultural, unconscious, hidden meanings of things and people and events — Marlon Brando, butter, and so forth. Freud’s fabulously imaginative interpretations of human behavior — dreams, slips of the tongue. I love this stuff.
I have a friend I see only on special occasions such as the birthday of a mutual friend. At a recent birthday dinner, this fellow launched into a familiar rant of his about how psychoanalysis isn’t science because it isn’t testable. It’s witch doctoring, astrology — unlike cognitive therapy, which is actually “scientific.” Another rant of his is that rock and pop and country and all other forms of music except classical, opera and jazz aren’t music at all. (Reason: His ear hears that the so-called musicians arew out of tune(!).
I know. This is one very rigid guy, at least when it comes to opinions. If you looked up “opinionated” in the dictionary, you’d find this man’s name. It also so happens that when it comes to his opinions about how people do or should behave, he appears to be tolerant — I say “appears” because he claims to accept a very wide range of behavior. But that’s another post. My point — and I actually have one — is that this fellow’s rigidity of taste and opinions comes across to me as a kind of poverty of imagination.
This is not the sort of individual you’d seek out if you wanted to have a conversation because sooner or later the conversation would be bound to veer into an area of his opinionated intolerance. In other words, his rigidity disables him socially because it makes him unable to hold a civil conversation. The social rules for conversation, which prevent discourse from going off the rails into the unpleasantness of unwanted argument, advocacy and debate, include the practice of conversational compromise — the building on another’s observation, opinion or idea, rather than the destruction of it or the deconstruction of it or the holding it up to ridicule. Almost no one finds that sort of behavior desirable or even tolerable.
But I digress — which is the beauty of a blog. I have no editor but myself, and unlike my friend, Mr. Rigid, I am tolerant of my digressions and opinions and feel free to change my mind halfway through an argument with myself. I wonder whether Herzog does the same — but although I haven’t read the novel in decades I suspect that Herzog doesn’t switch opinions in mid-letter because he’s just too animated, too obsessed, too focused on articulating, venting to God and Nietzsche and any other person, living or dead, whose name he can affix to his sub-self, his othered self.
But as I began this post, I am a person of the book — not a digital native. Video streaming and attaching and disseminating links and YouTubes are not activities that come naturally to me — or even that enthuse me. I like words. I’m a wordsmith and have made my living that way, one way or another. Other than my ability to make people laugh, writing is my only more or less marketable skill. I say more or less because my income comes from teaching, not writing — although I made a living ghostwriting, which isn’t writing in its purest sense. I also write poems, which of course are hardly marketable except to earn a reputation and a sinecure such as a teaching post or a grant.
When Holden Caulfield digressed during one of his English teacher, Mr. Antonelli’s public speaking classes, his classmates were encouraged to call out, “Digression!” This was one of J.D. Salinger’s ways of making a point about the evils of coercion and conformity and cowardice. The point has not been lost on me all these long years since I read Cather in the Rye when I was in junior high. I, too, digress. But when I have to, I can command the strike zone.