Crafting Gentleness

Monday, August 06, 2007

Article: With our common cultural vocabulary splintering or disappearing ...

From the Sunday Boston Globe


Lingua fracta:
With our common cultural vocabulary splintering or disappearing, it's not so easy to only connect

By Gail Caldwell, Ideas Section, Boston Globe August 5, 2007

Daylight is already waning by early July, and so it was that on a recent night when the stars were out, the conversation turned to the subject -- typically breezy for this crowd -- of death's final mystery. I was trying to say something about the bright edges of existence being defined by the certainty of their end, and so I reached for a finer mind to articulate the point. "Well," I mumbled, " 'the force that through the green fuse drives the flower.' "

I wasn't showing off (not in this company, all of whom could quote circles around me). I love the monosyllabic trip of the tongue that Dylan Thomas's famous death poem inspires; more germane, every schoolchild of my generation -- the baby boomers -- had been exposed to the poem by early high school. As with Yeats's rough beast or Dickinson's thing with feathers, Thomas's green fuse, for the melancholy postwar crowd, had been a shortcut for gaining purchase on the cliff face of life. Shakespeare and John Lennon were the sources we quoted instead of Scripture, and their words translated the feelings of mere mortals into universal song.

Or was it really universal? Maybe time and hindsight have glazed my perspective; the Thomas quote holds as a code for the life-death conundrum only if you were listening in class that week, and dared to remember it. But the evening I invoked his words, there were several nods of recognition -- albeit from a certain age group. They ranged from a couple of computer geeks to a woodworker and an academic, and all of them were over 45. The youthful end of the party, brilliant every one and looking baffled, decided to go for a walk.

This could be a simple matter of the referents changing with the generation; my mother and dad hummed Benny Goodman to each other and rolled their eyes when my sister and I, barely adolescent, swooned over the choice between Paul and John. And everyone beneath my slightly arbitrary cutoff point might be bonding on an equally deep plane with lyrics from Fall Out Boy. But the explosion of popular and high culture in the past 15 years has rendered obsolete the assumptions and metaphors of the old guard. If once we could count on the shared experience of a common vocabulary, learned methodically from literary sources that had stood the test of time, now we have to make room on the digital shelves for 10,000 alternatives -- words and images from a zeitgeist that seems to change by the week.

More ...


Post a Comment

<< Home