Sunday, December 26, 2010

"Damn'd be him that first cries 'Hold! Enough!'"

Lev Grossman's cover story on Mark Zuckerberg as Time's person of the year for 2010 pays due regard to Zuckerberg's intelligence and drive, both of which are considerable (though I wouldn't be too thrilled, if I were he, to have to admit that I had never heard of E.M. Forster) and even extends the wunderkind the benefit of a doubt: he's not opposed to privacy, you see; he simply doesn't get it, similarly, one supposes, to his reported colorblindness to red and green. Well perhaps, but if that be true, no matter how big his achievement and his personal fortune, it's a flaw in his makeup.

Grossman is sharp and perceptive. I think this paragraph nailed it:
"[Facebook] herds everybody — friends, co-workers, romantic partners, that guy who lived on your block but moved away after fifth grade — into the same big room. It smooshes together your work self and your home self, your past self and your present self, into a single generic extruded product. It suspends the natural process by which old friends fall away over time, allowing them to build up endlessly, producing the social equivalent of liver failure."

"Conversation enriches the understanding, but solitude is the school of genius," as Gibbon wrote. I'll never claim to have achieved the latter state but greatly enjoy the solitude of a lengthy walk along the Shelby Farms Greenline, something I have done for some weeks now, to the benefit of both my health and peace of mind. In fact, I do occasionally meet people I know, including, at various times, fellow trivia buffs Jennifer Larkin and Saravan Chaturvedi, and if I happened to have company and good conversation on a walk, I would welcome it, but I also like the way the setting erects a corridor so apart from the rest of life that it seems almost strange when you happen to cross a street traveled by cars. The interstate, with its frequent whooshing noise of cars, is literally only yards away for much of the route and sometimes visible, but often, the trees mask the sight and to some extent, the sound.

It would hardly have satisfied C.S. Lewis, who wrote, describing his ideal day:
" two at the latest I would be on the road. Not, except at rare intervals, with a friend. Walking and talking are two very great pleasures, but it is a mistake to combine them. Our own noise blots out the sounds and silences of the outdoor world; and talking leads almost inevitably to smoking, and then farewell to nature as far as one of our senses is concerned. The only friend to walk with is one (such as I found, during the holidays, in Arthur) who so exactly shares your taste for each mood of the countryside that a glance, a halt, or at most a nudge, is enough to assure us that the pleasure is shared."

I thought today that whereas I welcome the very proximity to the interstate because the foliage defiantly filters it, as the foliage and the rushing fountain do in the lovely Meditation Garden on the grounds of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, the whole experience would have been destroyed for poor Lewis, who would have found the constant noise of traffic, even filtered, pretty well intolerable. How much our experiences and expectations change in just a few generations.

Once you've made yourself feel virtuous with a 10-mile walk on a winter day, you don't mind treating yourself to the perfect winter evening: a bowl of hot soup with a glass of wine, then a fire in the fireplace, a good book, and cognac. I'm finishing Peter Biskind's Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America (and no, it's not only about one thing!) and starting Livy's Early History of Rome, and I suppose two more different books could hardly be imagined, except that Beatty, like the legendary Romulus, is relentless in his purposes.

© Michael Huggins, 2010. All rights reserved.

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