The Reckless Folly of Youth
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
One of commentator Andrei Codrescu's readers recently told him that he wrote younger than he looked. He was taken aback.
When I was very young, I wrote much older. Some of the poetry I wrote at 19 could have been the work of an ancient Chinese sage. In any case, a writer's inner and outer images rarely correspond. Some writers, just like some people, are born old. I think that my reader may have meant something else, namely that I haven't become more conservative with age. If that's the case, my reader has something.
At some point, the delights of rebellion pale because the things that seemed boring, stupid or evil in youth--like old people, stodgy instruction and malevolent institutions--appear to have some comforting virtues. There is an age of conversion, when staying up all night takes too much energy and the glittery payoff of self-destructive joy becomes suddenly old hat. Dreaded middle age, settling down to the business of making a living, reproducing and upholding the values of society become all-absorbing, and one can hardly remember what was so great about talking till dawn with overstimulated strangers who grew black wings and moved about en pointe in crimson ballet shoes.
I was young in the 20th century, when youth meant having the energy for combat upon seeing major and blindingly obvious structural flaws in the societal machine. Giving up in middle age for my generation meant either not having energy to go on or, having won, going on to exercise power.
For all that natural-seeming evolution, I don't think that either the visions or the anger of my youth were wrong. What has changed is that in the 21st century, it is no longer necessary to be young or middle-aged or old or any age, for that matter. A person born in the US today can, by plugging in the appropriate attracts, be any age he or she wants. Someone immersed in the multimedia distractions of a blog, a car cum office, iPod, computer, video on demand, 24-hour news and credit card debt will hardly notice the irremediable passing of time, or the peasants stroking their pitchforks outside.
If I write younger than I look, it's because I still believe in life outside in the surround. Unfortunately, this sentiment may sound as old as it looks. The machine defends itself by devaluing analysis or prose, anyway.
BLOCK: Andrei Codrescu lives in New Orleans.
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