Monday, January 9, 2017

The Shining City on the Hill

The shining city on the hill may well stop glistening
unless all of its citizens desist from listening
to music they think rocks  and start listening instead
to Bach and Mozart and men like them who  are dead.
And, instead of focusing on the their devices,
which burn their brains and make them melt as Arctic ice,
all citizens shoud take steps to make sure they shine by reading,
closely, not to messages sent them by texting heeding,
great  poetry, like that of Frost, who was  invited
by JFK to his inauguration. Blighted
by music that's its poison, not its penicillin,
and verse that's rubbish--- if it isn't by Bob Dylan!---
the shining city has completely lost its luster,
all leaders in this Little Big Horn like a Custer.
The city, having lost its glamour, will not never glisten
again until its people make sure that they listen
to music and to poetry that is uplifting,
and  will not end ice and fire but like snow flakes drifting.

John Williams, reviewing How To Be Bored by Eva Hoffman (“Feeling Blah? There's a Book About That,” NYT, 1/8/17), writes:

The most philosophically vexing problem she recognizes is “the temptations of plenitude and the problems of freedom.” We’re led to believe that we have a paralyzingly large number of prospective romantic partners or career choices or recreation options. And we face these forking paths without a compass; the acceptance of increasingly diverse lifestyles and values leave us with “few common criteria for making important life choices.”

So what about boredom, again?

It’s best to stop expecting the book to be about that. Ms. Hoffman does.

She barrels ahead into solutions for our paradoxically harried ennui, including close listening to Mozart and keeping a diary. She also strongly suggests we get off the devices. Technology, a mixed blessing to be sure, is here a towering straw man, responsible for much of our unhappiness.

“Our coexistence with digital devices has affected our patience and shortened the span of our attention,” runs a typical sentence. She bemoans “the segmentation of thought encouraged by digital technologies,” “the constant barrage of external stimuli,” and the “virtual knowledge” we get from “the flat spaces of computer screens and via abbreviated communications.”

She’s a fan of “authentic human contact,” but worries that by texting and Facebook messaging so often, “we may be losing track of what such contact is, or how we can achieve it.”

Robert Frost inspired the last line:

Fire and Ice

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

1/9/17 #17703

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