Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Unter Der Ubercolumn

A female friend writes, "But what about your wife's next husband? Your last column was all about her picking a future mate for you, but it's far more likely you'll die before she will. Don't you have a preference concerning the next man in her bed and the next signature on your joint checking account?"

Well, when it came time for my wife to pick a possible successor to herself, she checked out her friends and quickly found several top candidates. But when I go through a similar exercise, I have to say the guys I know are pretty lame as basic human beings, much less as prospective mates for my grieving wife, and she will be grieving if one of these guys is the best I can do ....

Lies. Lies. Lies. Utter mechanical bullshit. Female friend made up. Crappy friends if not quite made up, their crappiness exaggerated. Three months into playing at being a columnist I am all at once in touch with my inner hack. That is to say, feeling an obligation to do a column today and having no idea in mind about which I care a great deal -- and that I can write about off the top of my head, without research -- I have pulled a cookie cutter out of the drawer, the Follow Up Column.

My wife's next husband: It's an obvious topic. It's an easy topic. But it is a topic that I had never thought about until my brain went "click," and when I started to think about it, I realized very quickly that my conclusions were none of your business. I do have some. They are not for you. There's public personal, which is honest as far as it goes, and there is personal personal (which, ironically, may not be all that honest) but which is private.

Come back next year. If I'm dead, ask my wife if I said anything provocative near the end.

The point is that I could easily have written a by-the-numbers column on this topic having nothing to do with how I really feel but connecting with the Metanarrative of the Newspaper Column. I don't fully understand what metanarrative is supposed to mean. It is one of those terms, like deconstruction, that is so useful when defined idiosyncratically that, well, why should I bog myself down in the subtleties of its meaning, historicized and ramified? Why do the work, that is, until I start writing my academic scholarship and, in the words of Joseph Conrad, "immerse myself in the destructive element."

(Which means? Who knows what it means. I have some vague recollection of Lord Byron saying something like, "I hardly know what I mean myself when I'm being very fine." And scholarly writing is fine, very fine, fine to the point of invisible, tiny and beautiful like the shadow of an atom.)

So: What Metanarrative means to me by Michael Robertson, Age 60.

It's more than zeitgeist. It's the big story behind the smaller stories, the default setting, the big picture, the governing assumption that points us toward framing/limiting/shaping what we see and telling about it from a restricted number of viewpoints. It's the cultural point of view, the blanket on the bed that keeps us warm but traps us in the dark. A mini-metanarrative for columnists is the male turning some genuine emotion into a joke not so much at the expense of the female but as a counterpoint to the female's disclosure of emotion. My wife is serious about something -- I will fold that genuine emotion into something perfectly flat and navigate that two dimensional world joke by predictable joke. You have seen it all before. You can predict each step before I take it. It is a way of looking at things that is not believed so much as it is prebelieved. I suppose I'm talking about paradigm or formula. I have an idea metanarrative is slightly more complicated, but it would violate the common sense principle on which this blog is based -- YOU WILL WRITE ABOUT NOTHING THAT TAKES MORE THAN 90 MINUTES OR REQUIRES ANY RESEARCH BECAUSE THAT WOULD CERTAINLY TAKE MORE THAN 90 MINUTES--to tease out its undoubtedly multi-faceted meaning.

The deeper truth is that if this whole Column*Which enterprise bogs down and I fail at writing "smart" about column writing, if I can figure out the metanarrative (or the paradigm or the formula) I can bang out one hell of a how-to book on column writing. I can suck the soul out of any truly creative writer just as if I were a vampire, and make that writer pay me for the privilege.

I wouldn't be sucking anybody's blood. I would simply be telling writers how to slash their own wrists and drain it out themselves. It's called the lowest common denominator, and it's parked in your driveway, hanging in your closet and hanging on your lips every time you open your mouth. And I mean me. We don't even hear ourselves. We don't have to. It's all preheard. It's all preheard.

Where was I?

....so I said to my wife, I wasn't jealous of her next husband, not at our age, until the appearance of all these "chemical improvements" for guys our age. I mean, how can I enjoy being dead if I keep imagining her on a one-woman tour of Viagra Nation.

It's not crap. It's metanarrative:

Thesis. Antithesis. Paralysis.


2 comments:

G Pabst said...

Oh, I'm sorry I missed the deadline in this one!

My built-in bullshit detector went "condition red" when these words showed up in your link:
1) legitimates
2) totalizes
3) emancipatory

Neologisms = new thinking.

How about this: torocacapoopoo!

I've made a solemn vow to the Brothers of Truth - sorry, if I talked about them I'd be assassinated with a secret and undetecable poison - that I will leave any meeting - immediately - in which the term "paradigm shift" falls flopping about on the conference room table like a new-caught cod. And have, though my colleagues thought I was joking.

Your echewance (revenge is sweet) of "shift" prevented me from fleeing my office as if it were ablaze.

Why do we let these idiots get away with the Peter Pan in Neverland crap?

I know, I know. A hundred years from now my decendants will be looking at their computerized genealogy charts and sniffing at me as the family idiot - after all, I ate meat and derided Derida.

So it goes.

I shift from angry to depressed (anger turned inward).

I admit I admire the Enlightenment thinkers, and know as a historian should, that the Church (read as conservatives) were aghast at those whippersnappers, much like I muster an aghast at what passes in the early 21st century.

Old dogs/new tricks? Not on this planet!

Farewell to all that. But more than grudgingly.
GP

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