In with the Old

The Curious Case of Careless Words

It's very strange to have your own seeming words of wisdom echoed back to you long after you've forgotten them. Indeed, the very possibility that one might forget them certainly calls into question the wisdom they encapsulate, or rather your possession of it. It is as if insight is borrowed, spontaneously given, the product of chance and just as readily revoked. Perhaps we only acquire knowledge when it is too late, when we can only pass it on to others rather than use it for ourselves.

This evening, in the midst of a cocktail party, a friend reminded me of something I said that apparently had some resonance long after I'd forgotten saying it. I would venture that it was the product of a time when I was prone to bold proclamations about the way things are, whereas now I seem to precede everything with some kind of disclaimer. I should first clarify that this was a Monday Night Cocktail Party, attended by the two of us, and that the sole drink on the menu was a concoction known as the "Adios Motherfucker," a mysterious blue draught whose exact ingredients shall remain privy to its inventor.

It's a strange experience to hear yourself quoted. It certainly makes me understand the appeal of academia. My immediate reaction was to be impressed with my past self. The more unsettling reaction was that I wondered if maybe this past self had a better grasp of things than I do now. I think our understanding of time is so inundated with the bilge of progress that we even come to see the life of an individual in those terms. We take for granted that everything we know now somehow builds on, or is superior to, that which we knew before. This is problematic when you consider the very real phenomena of aging and forgetting, it also touches on what I've talked about previously when it comes to passing one's prime.

Is there a saving grace in proving your past self wrong, or is this itself some kind of forced fight, a compulsory battle in order to maintain one's legitimacy? I am reminded of something Harold Bloom describing in an interview, the sense in which all authors must almost deliberately misinterpret their predecessors and mentors in order to make room for their own creativity. In other words, if you truly believe that Shakespeare provided a complete account of the range of meaningful human experience, then why write another play? Why try to best the poet who has triumphed? We must believe that our present selves are wiser because it justifies our continual existence. To phrase things more colloquially, those who say that high school was the best time of their lives should really off themselves for the sake of logical consistency.