Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Trying to avoid the onset of curmudgeonhood

From Charles McGrath's article "The Amis Inheritance" in the Sunday NYT Magazine about the complex relationship between the two members of the famous Amis writing duo, Martin Amis on the way his father Kingsley's became increasingly pessimistic as he aged:
A topic that comes up sometimes in conversation with Martin is where Kingsley went wrong, and Martin says he thinks it’s that with age he became a dogmatist of pessimism. “You have to distinguish between what is universal for your age group — that feeling that everything is going to hell, ubi sunt, and the rest — and what is reality,” he said last winter. “Kingsley never even tried to distinguish between that feeling in himself and how things really were. I try to test myself on that score because I believe that a writer has a solemn duty to be cheerful and to guard against the failures of tolerance which characterize age. Kingsley was an absolutist in that how he saw it was how it was. I’m very on guard against that. I don’t want it.”

He added: “I don’t want this to get out of control or I’ll be drowning in schmaltz, but it all starts to look very beautiful now that I know I’m not going to be around indefinitely. You know, the way that to a prisoner condemned to death, water tastes delicious, the air tastes sweet, a bread-and-butter sandwich makes tears spring to the eye.”
It takes more than botox to ward off "the failures of tolerance which characterize age." Is it even possible to remain hopeful as you face your own inevitable decline? The jury is still out on the boomers, for all their determined pursuit of youthfulness.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"The solemn duty to be cheerful" is a good way to describe not only a writer's responsibility, but the responsibility of anyone over 50. 45 even. I find my co-boomers to be optimistic in general, ironic in particular and cynical only when talking about politics or education. They speak less about truth than verification.
I guess that counts as cheerful, though it's a long way from perky. I suspect a lot of us are surprised we survived at all.