Monday, December 5, 2016

Ironic Advent 2016 Meditation #9: Millenial Advent Musings

Ironic Advent 2016 Meditation #9: 
Millennial Advent Musings

            If I've said it once, I've said it . . . a really big number of times, Advent is about waiting. At its best, that comes wrapped in concepts like expectation and hope. On the other hand, doubt and sometimes even despair, or near-despair anyway, are part of our subjective experience. Whether we are really part of an Advent-mindful community, or, at best (or worst), we are subjected to Ben Camino’s Ironic Advent Meditations (ooh, capitalized), we can’t help but notice the glitter and sentiment of Xmas all around us. Sometimes, even the most cynical of us, hopes or dreams or just wishes that some of it was true. True, that is, something more than just more manufactured “holiday cheer,” etc.

            I really wanted to have a full-fledged “millennial ironic advent meditation” this year, maybe more than one if I can people who will write the for the right price (not, it turns out a really big number). But there is something about the millennial malaise that reminds me a lot of Ben Camino’s ironic and sometimes agnostic and sometimes really really sad and lonely Adventish thoughts and feelings. I’m hoping some of you liked that phrase “millennial malaise” and wonder where you can read more about it. Well, the truth is, as far as I know, I just made it up. And you can read about it here. Donations are always accepted. And if you should accidentally happen to use the phrase without express written permission of Ben Camino International, Ltd., my lawyers will sue the pants off of you.

            Oops. I just discovered that the term millennial malaise has been popular since 2013 and used regularly in crap publications like the New Yorker and the New York Times. Those New Yorkers are so annoying. 

            Promised everything, including protection and fullness. Waiting for it. Still waiting for it. OK, still waiting over here. NO seriously, I really really want all that. That love and fullness and sense of meaning. Bring it on. Soon.

            That was my really really bad summary of that in-between weird older-than-adolescence but not really sure about the next thing. Call it “adulting” (can I copyright that?) Call it “full-fledged member of the human race.”

            So there’s this song and I’m not sure it’s really finished and I’m sure it doesn’t have a title yet. And I’m not entirely sure I have the permission of the author to use it. But I don’t think I can be sued for using the little chorus line (not to be confused with the Broadway musical of the same name). And it’s really little. But beautiful when performed.

We’re alone together

We’re alone together

We’re alone together

            I knew I’d heard that phrase before, although I doubted whether the author was a plagiarizing sinner of such heinous proportions. Could she/ would she have lifted this phrase from Tzvetan Todorov’s landmark essay in New Literary History (1996), “Living Alone Together.” Possibly. But I doubt it. Turns out, since I read that essay when it first appeared (and have returned to it many times over the years) quite a literature has grown up, without citation or credit to Todorov of course, applying the term itself to hipster/millennial ways of living together. Alone.

            That’s interesting. I’m not sure they all tie it back to Descartes, Adam Smith, Hume, and Rousseau, not to mention Todorov, but, if they do, I’ll give them credit. For the present, I intend to spend some time thinking about the millennial malaise, the longing for everything and inability to believe in it or see it or find it (whichever happens to be the case) within the larger phenomenon traced by Todorov. Or, as the songwriter writes, “They say it's the best years of our lives/ But to whom do we belong: the earth, the sea, or sky?” Any songwriter with the guts to write “to whom” has . . . some guts. Another line that hits me is this: “The limbo of letting go/ Of losing touch, of wanting too much.” Another line I really like speaks of “trying to find a place to live in the in between.”*

            To be very unfair and very reductive, Todorov observes (and, sounding as objective as possible, complains about) the entire philosophical project in the Western world which has tended to define humanity and the human in individualistic terms. Of course, the main culprit is Descartes, but he starts with the Greeks (giving Aristotle some good marks for seeing “man” as a social creature). As he traces the more modern attempts to talk about the relationship of “being human” to sociality, he notes that thinker after thinker (except to some degree Rousseau) imagines this (for that is what all myths of origin do) as competition, as a struggle for power. Instead, in a wonderful and surprising conclusion, Todorov asks us to consider the real origin of every human life. The loving relationship (often if not always, of course) of two human beings, two parents (from the Latin word parere--"to bring forth, to give birth to"). And after our animal birth, as part of the loving relationship (often if not always, of course)of a human mother and a becoming human child.

            This experience, in most cases, could only be called a war or a competition by someone with a predetermined (and warped) vision of things. The human child learns to be human within a few weeks of its birth by seeking not only nourishment but “the infant solicits the mother’s gaze. Not only to have the mother feed and comfort him [sic], but because this gaze in itself brings him an indispensable compliment. The gaze confirms him in his existence.” In other words, my words, we are because we are loved.

            Obviously, not only this mythic mother/child relatedness but this revisionist account (revising individualistic definitions of the human) of our real “human” origin (not just our biological animal birth, but our earliest experiences which, Todorov claims, "bring forth" our humanity), resonate with Ben Camino. Especially as they bump against the the question of whether love, comfort, and, finally, attention paid to us (my point a few nights ago about Hamlet and Lear) are legitimate aspects of human experience or are pretty lies which we grow out of as we become “adult” and “realistic.” These are ideas that matter to me, that reverberate with my many thoughts (and words, yes, I know dear reader) about Advent. And, for me, they also inform any theorizing about the so-called millennial malaise and the experience of living together alone.

            Just one more bit of hypothetical musing before the midnight hour and my long day of catch-up writing is over. To whomever is listening. I’m not trying to bless all millennial angst, nor am I planning to sacramentalize any old thoughts they have, things they do, songs they write. But the powerful urge to be in love with everything (obviously fed, to some degree, by the ubiquity of everything, thanks to the internet and social media) and the desire to experience an impossible infinity of powerful experiences in a short life (and even shorter that that, in one brief time between 18-29, which is really more the idea, I think), is a burden to carry and a pain in the soul. 

            On the other hand, in a competitive society in which relationships are so often selfish and promiscuous and in which one’s human capacities are judged on some pretty sketchy bases, the goal of having LOTS of friends and holding on to them for as long as possible and grieving their departure, not to mention snuggling (as a general virtuous practice), may be important detour signs to a culture of hyper-individuals. The millennial longing for more human contact may be a symbol of something lost along the way. And worth reconsideration.

            Now, whether this is possible with I-phone in hand, I have my doubts. But first things first. You can quote me on that. With proper citation. 

*Song lyrics by Megan Adams. 


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