Monday, August 6, 2012

Parenting as Nihilism

The Thorny Path, Thomas Couture (1873)
This morning I stumbled across a real piece of work at the Awl by Amy Sohn, author of Run Catch Kiss, described thusly by Amazon:
"....a novel that will appeal to a very specific audience--fans of Amy Sohn; young college graduates who'd like to imagine it's really this easy to achieve notoriety in a city like New York; and readers who enjoy lots of name-dropping, club-hopping, and frank descriptions of sex and other bodily functions. Sohn includes several of Ariel's columns ("Stench of a Woman," for example, or "Smutlife") as well as the letters she gets in response. In between, Ariel and her cronies and assorted one-night stands hang out in places with names like BarF and BarBarella, and drop pop references to Gen-X movies and music. Sohn delivers it all up with moxie, making up for the novel's literary weaknesses by sheer full-frontal outrageousness."
Her new novel, Motherland, continues the rally.  Those reaching for the vomit bag will relate to Jen Doll's take-down at the Atlantic, responding to Sohn's labeling of her and her friends as "Regressives".
"Only last week, let's say, I went out and drank so much wine that the next day I might have regretted certain behaviors, or even forgotten them completely, only to regret them anew when I was reminded of them by others. Does that mean I am trapped in my teen years, or maybe my booze-guzzling twenties? Does it mean I have...regressed? 
What if, when I reach the age of nearly 40 and have children, if this happens to happen, I decide to go out on the town regularly, sowing my still-wild oats, with a bunch of other moms in a clique we give the name "Hookers, Sluts and Drug Addicts"? Does that mean I'm spiraling out of Benjamin-Button control...or just kind of an immature self-absorbed jerk who, maybe, has always been that way?"
I couldn't agree more.  Indeed, her cohort reminds Sohn herself of craven teenagers.
"My generation of moms isn’t getting shocking HPV news (we’re so old we’ve cleared it), or having anal sex with near-strangers, or smoking crack in Bushwick. But we’re masturbating excessively, cheating on good people, doing coke in newly price-inflated townhouses, and sexting compulsively—though rarely with our partners. Our children now school-aged, our marriages entering their second decade, we are avoiding the big questions—Should I quit my job? Have another child? Divorce?—by behaving like a bunch of crazy twentysomething hipsters. Call us the Regressives."
Being a good person is hard.  Being kind, self-less, caring, etc. requires reflection, listening, and sacrifice.  Assuming any of what Sohn describes is true (and anyone who has watched more than a few hours of reality TV will know that such depravedly inclined individuals indeed exist - what seems new is that you wouldn't expect to find them among the liberal arts crowd at Brooklyn co-ops), listening to tales of these relatively privileged anti-superwomen wallow in pathos and nihilistic hedonism at the expense of their children, and a surrounding society that could use less of their self-indulgence and more of their positive contributions, is a slap in the face to those of us who take seriously the notion that we have a duty and responsibility to give more back to society than we take away.

Yet in the end, the issue is one of consciousness, as these troubled souls seem to have lost their way and are still stumbling around the psychological halls of high school, somehow never having developed a spiritual wisdom that might allow them to transcend the bonds of a limited, narcissistic worldview.  As is true of decadence everywhere, this is the stuff of structural privilege in which norms can develop within a vacuum of moral consequence.  What has seemingly been removed are the mechanisms that ordinarily enforce positive social, community and personal values.

I suppose the rest of us can count our good fortune that more of the world doesn't look like Sohn's book.  At least not as far as I can tell.  And the world she describes is likely not as interesting as she would have us believe.  Like any reality show, editing is everything.  And like a roadside tragedy, people will want to watch, even fewer participate.   I think I'll pass.

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