Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Pile them all together, and call them destiny

Here's one of those times when everything seems so serendipitous.

The other day, my Animus brought up the topic of wartime letter-writing. "Can you imagine," he asked, "how much more strain there must have been, for those on the front and those at home, whose only opportunity to communicate was by the snail mail?" How long would it take back in the day for individuals to feel stress over their letters? Would they count the days until the letter arrived, and then the days until a hypothetical letter returned? How many days would they give their correspondent to reply before they started that return count? Would they take excuses of letters lost in the postal service at face value?

Next level: The History Department reads a "book in common" every year; this year's text was This Republic of Suffering, which touches on (among other things) the breakdown of the postal service in the Confederacy. All the postmasters had gone to fight. Families hoping for news from their sons-brothers-fathers on the front had no idea in what state their boy might be, and cases of mistaken deaths, in addition to being greatly exaggerated, were multiple.

Next level: I feel a low-level of anxiety any time I write someone a text or email without receiving a response in X amount of time. Is it narcissism? Is it the need for instantaneous gratification? I recently found myself apologizing to an individual because I'd left his email marked "unread" for a couple days, reminding myself that I needed to reply to it, finally receiving a "hey, are things cool?" message from him before I opened up an email and wrote back.

The pinnacle: Ishtar recently wrote an interesting post in which she queried why we trivialize the stories we narrate. To rephrase it, twice: Why do we make important stories sound as if, or present our important stories so they seem to be, less important than they really are? Why do we hesitate to tell stories simply because we can't see their immediate relevance? (That is - why do we alter the communication of either extreme. I presume there's a middling level of story that one is typically capable of telling without worry.)

As I've progressed up the ladder of this phenomenologized synchronicity, I've made an attempt to make the emotional tie-in clearer: one feels anxiety during the course of a conversation, of an interaction. One feels nervous at one's presentation, at one's audience's perception, at one's remembrance of self-perception, self-reflection.

Is it because of a metahistorical sense that we might find our own words used or quoted against us? Do we mean to save ourselves from "the condescension of history," to quote EP Thompson?

Is it because of a more immediate fear of failure, not even of a communications breakdown, but for fear that some revelation may prove not to revelatory? Some revolution, indeed, quite reactionary? Aren't there those ones in front of whom our tongues are stilled, not out of fear, but out of the desire to please, to present only the best and brightest of our ideas and conceptions?


Justin said...

Here's another point. Though probably it is trivial and/or beneath the scope of the topic (and of course, I am perhaps not the best person to comment; being so consistently upfront with my words, never hedging, always proud) (oh, and I am rambling):

Perhaps there is a fear of being (and the desire to communicate that you are not) 'that guy'. That guy who tells every story secure in the knowledge that it is the most exciting fucking thing the listener has heard that day. That guy who makes the important and the trivial seem interesting, if only for the time the story is being told. Because, let's be honest, that guy is a dick. And presenting even your important stories without a bit of hedging just screams "Hey! Hey, I'm more important than you!"

Ironically, it also makes the story seem more interesting, so.

Michael Reid said...

Does that make anyone that writes a blog 'a dick'?
I'm confused...

Andrew said...

Justin had someone particular in mind when he wrote that, someone of the "blowhard" category of life, someone who tells stories regardless the pragmatics of social interactions.

I think what Miriam - and I know what I - had more in mind were questions regarding the balance between self-reflection and self-denigration.

Thanks for your comment!