Sunday, September 28, 2008

A one-person tribe

This is John Updike, in a review of Foer's Extremely loud and incredibly close:

The newer novelists, having inherited almost no set beliefs from their liberal, distracted middle-class parents, see childhood as the place where one invents the baggage – totems, rituals, lessons to live by – of a solitary one-person tribe.

Another indicator of the indolence of today's culture, perhaps. I think he's right, to an extent. We are, as people, shaped by our shared pasts as much as our individual presents, and our individual presents must also combine to form a collective present. But we are all becoming more selfish.

It doesn't have to be like that. The child who mostly dramatically invented his own baggage is Oskar Mazerath, in the Tin Drum. With his little drum, he created his own entire world, the better to view and deplore the real world from. And yet, in the end, this was not a form of solipsism: Oskar's turning inward was not selfishness. And although he did harm to individuals - Jan, his biological father, for example - he loved humanity. He was individual, but he wasn't a one-person tribe. On the contrary, he represents the power of the collective.

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