Adventures in Cultural Consumption

Bull Durham: I believe that there are people out there who never change their minds. At whatever young age, they determine their opinions on politics, religion, and art; from that point on, they only admit as useful or good those things which correspond with greater or lesser accuracy to the received opinion. Vita brevis ars longa: there's a lot out there to encounter, knowing all of it is impossible, and we all make do or satisfice from time to time. If you've hit on a vein of books or movies that provide some measure of contemplation and prefer them to the exclusion of others, it's not the worst cultural vice one might have.

Over the last few years, it's become obvious to me that there are some discontinuities in my thoughts and tastes: I think differently about a large number of topics. Sometimes those thoughts are in continuity with the previous ones, but sometimes they are the arrival of the new and unexpected. There has been no sharp turn in my reading habits comparable to being handed 2666 by my mother when I complained of having nothing that seemed worth reading. It wasn't just a different part of world literature that opened up--it was a different attitude to literature in general, what was worth reading and why. So also the reduction of T.S. Eliot--the poems that opened up possibilities when I was 16 now read mawkish and incomprehensible, with a few good lines.

As someone whose writing tends towards the pessimistic disapprobation of things I don't particularly like, but who recognizes this capacity to react to things differently, I try to make a point of periodically re-trying things I haven't liked in the past. Joseph Conrad is a novelist people seem to think highly of, though he's never done much for me. I can see and understand why he is respected, even if it doesn't speak to me. Every five years or so I make a point to read one of his novels, to see whether I've come around. What's a week every five years? Similarly, I have begun to think it's time to approach Tolstoy again, after 2002's War and Peace disaster: maybe Anna Karenina is as great as everyone says, and I've just been pigheaded. (I am convinced that the reason I didn't like Middlemarch is that I read it too young.)

There are cultural objects that are blocked off to the young, which is the sort of thing young people hate to hear. It's hard to imagine what being 30 is like when one is still a teenager, and by the time 30 comes around one judges failures quite differently. It happened with The Big Chill, which at 21 looked like a bunch of hippies being terrible people, and at 28 looked a lot like people trying to grapple in a rare moment of reflection over what their lives had become when they weren't paying much attention.

It happened also with Bull Durham: when I first saw it, there was the loose, meandering plot, the periodic attempts at humor, and the profanity and vulgarity that attempted to cover up the first two. Now, there's a really sad movie about the end of youth, learning to compromise on one's dreams, and the weariness of chasing something that's as much burden as dream. Nuke LaLoosh is a MacGuffin who gradually slides out of the movie's focus, leaving two characters who have to figure out how old they really are. One has to respect a movie that ends with a monologue about being tired.

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