Like personal histories. Not like the big long boring kind. Although they might still be boring, who knows?
“Those were some interesting insights. I’m not sure how much this relates, but sometimes I find that I actually avoid taking windows of opportunity out of a fear of blowing that opportunity and letting others and myself down. I can say that it’s not the best way to be, because you look back on situations that could’ve led to a lot of great stuff, and realize that you had no reason not to at least give it a shot. Some people as a policy refuse to ‘regret’ any decision they ever make, but I’ve found that is idealistic. Sometimes, we MUST look back and realize that we should’ve done things differently. Luckily, I don’t have TOO many such situations, but there are some, and I wish that I was one of those people that really took advantage of opportunities when they arose. I think I can become more like that.”
– A comment by Andres on my 11/29/03 entry.
I don’t really remember if this was relevant to my initial entry, but it’s good stuff nonetheless. So thanks Andy!
I really don’t like to generalize about the way people’s minds work, because if I’ve discovered anything over the last several years, it’s that you can’t do it. The only mind I can really generalize about is my own, and even that’s difficult at times. Certainly what applies to me doesn’t necessarily apply to anyone else, such I have gleaned from various misunderstandings and misjudgments over the years.
To me regret seems like a natural enough emotion. Customarily things will happen over the course of a lifetime that you are not proud of, and things won’t happen that perhaps could have steered your life in a new, better direction. To me, the people who choose not to experience regret about their decisions may be the same people who chose to live without a history, who live life day by day, minute by minute and don’t take time to reflect on their past and learn about themselves.
These people are not wrong necessarily in living this way; overall they’re probably a much happier people than I am. It’s just that I tend to live so closely in tune with my own personal history that I can’t really understand how people would live like that. In my life, regret means that I’ve made a mistake, and done something that is inconsistent with the way I’ve chosen to live my own life, and it is by understanding such mistakes that I can try to free myself from the impending curse of repeating them. So perhaps it is a healthy thing after all to look upon certain stages of your past with a degree of regret, so long as it is regret with the intent to rectify, rather than of the hopeless variety.
Anyway, I was just thinking about personal history because I just came across one of my old essays from almost exactly three years ago, on George W.S. Trow’s essay “Within the Context of No Context.” Unfortunately I can’t point you to a version of Trow on the internet because I can’t find one, but it’s an interesting read if you can find a print version at the library or something.
It’s fascinating to see how my focus has shifted in three years’ time. But in the words of Walter Pater, “[T]hose impressions of the individual mind to which, for each one of us, experience dwindles down, are in perpetual flight; . . . each of them is limited by time, and . . . as time is infinitely divisible, each of them is infinitely divisible also; all that is actual in it being a single moment, gone while we try to apprehend it, of which it may ever be more truly said that it has ceased to be than that it is.”
Well, here’s my old analysis if anyone’s interested.
On "Within the Context of No Context" by George W.S. Trow
30 January, 2001
I finally got my copy of the essay "Within the Context of No Context" in the mail from Amazon.com yesterday, and upon bringing it in off the stoop and freeing it of its box I proceeded to read the whole essay - all 70-odd pages of it - in one sitting. I did this not because I had to, however; I did it because I found it enthralling, and I am glad to still have a chance to react to it. No man could ever profess to be capable of outlining the course of our country's social history over the last century, in an indisputable fashion, in an essay of 70-odd pages. Nevertheless, in this essay, Trow has accomplished the remarkable feat of establishing his ideas, which chronicle and analyze the part of this social history which makes existence within our modern culture unfavorable for a man like Trow. I think what interested me the most about this is that I felt like I was reading my own thoughts after another ten, perhaps fifteen years of maturity.
It seems that Trow is still rather young in this essay, not to say young in age necessarily, but that however thoroughly he has mapped out his argument, it is not completely thorough. He is still confused. The point of this essay is not to provide answers, but to ask questions, increase awareness, and promote thinking and judgment of our culture by his readers. In the essay, he points out many blemishes of American society, but he does little to explain why it has progressed in this manner, or what we as individuals can do to save ourselves. He sarcastically says that we should simply accept all of societies follies, and seek comfort in them. Perhaps he is actually saying, one can be aware, or one can be comfortable, but not both.
Some of Trow's points really hit home for me, for various reasons. Some, not as much, for other reasons. Rather than repeat them, I'd like to extrapolate on them a bit. Trow seems to think that history is inherently good. I particularly liked his example with magazines, where he says that a magazine and a person that form a mutually beneficial relationship, develop a history. Drawing on this definition of history, we find that there is history to be seen in everything: states, communities, neighborhoods, and even interpersonal relationships. There are histories on every scale. And good things come out of these histories, for instance trust, memory, and love, among others. However, there are certain values that define America, and in turn a good American, including independence, and a certain degree of nomadism. Americans are expected to be self-sufficient, and to change, move, and adapt. However, in essence, to be independent is to be lonely, to prefer no-history to history, and to prefer false forms of intimacy to real intimacy. Independence breeds distrust, greed, selfishness, and envy. I do not mean to imply that independence and change are wrong for every person; I simply contest that if a man like Trow chooses to value his histories, then anyone who tells him he is a fool is a fool themselves.
Indeed I was quite astonished to discover how similar Trow is to myself. We are both from printing families; he the fifth generation of his and I the fifth of mine. His writing style was eerily familiar; one much like one I have experimented with several times in the past, although much more refined of course. His ideas reminded me of my own, although again, more refined. He has clearly lain awake many nights trying to piece his experiences together and make sense of it all. One day I hope my experiences will lead me to some conclusions. In any case, the fact that we are similar led me to be reassured a bit by this piece of writing. "Within the Context of No Context" has told me that perhaps I am not wrong to feel the way I do. Perhaps I was just unfortunate to find myself in a society with different morals and values than I. Perhaps the morals of this society do not satisfy a man like Trow or me. Perhaps the only way for us to attain happiness is to stick to our beliefs; to prefer history over no-history; to prefer intimacy over false intimacy; to prefer context over no-context. And yet, in fighting for these things in a contrary society, we run a very real risk of suffering from the greatest loneliness of all.
The essay "Within the Context of No Context" by George W.S. Trow made a great deal of sense to me. I think it's because it was written by a man only some fifteen years older than myself. A man whose situation bears many similarities to my own, and who has had these extra years to experience and to formulate and develop his ideas about the culture of which he is a part. I read the introduction, "Collapsing Dominant," which was written some fifteen years later. It was written by a different man. A wiser man. A man less desperate, less angry, but worn down by the mounting despair he had experienced his whole life. And I'm afraid the points in those essays did not make as much sense to me. You can bet I will be sure, in fifteen, perhaps twenty more years, to read that introduction and see if it makes a little more sense.
By the way, if I had to disagree with Trow on one point, it would be this: the old Richard Dawson Family Feud, in all its empty factlessness and inanity, was a great show.