There is an illness—I have heard—festering in the minds of the audience, an illness regarding the interpretation of moral content embedded within narratives—a film, an article, a painting, a car accident…any collection of sensory experiences with a sense of meaningful, sequential cohesion. This illness can be most bluntly characterized as expectation: it is expectation which we carry into the theater of the world, it is expectation which all performances are reduced by. It is the expectation that all “good” narratives adhere to rigid codes of political and social responsibility—that is, the stories we patronize we expect to produce some discernible, agreeable moral content (and I use “moral” here in the general application of wellness). The problem is this moral content we conceive of is so often done from a position of reaction; our sense of wellness is informed by what is topical. We discern our own values and principles based off of whatever current offense is lighting up on our screens. And no, I’m not using “we” and “our” placatingly, condescendingly—my screen is my nightmare, too, and this post, abstract as it may sound, is my attempt to deal with it.
Here’s the anxiety: I endure a pig-headed presidential-candidate get elected and suddenly I become more sensitive to the kind of moral being I am. “For the world.” There is a higher, insanely-nuanced criticism which follows: how does a 3-hour Netflix binge serve my country? Is my community better served by refreshing my inbox hourly? Psychological pressure is applied. Addictions are abstained. But I can only maintain these weird, fuzzy, invasive ideals for so long before, sooner or later, “leisure”—an episode of a show, a text message conversation with an old flame, an evening of dysentery—marches in, and I, the audience, must filter these occurrences through my widely-undisciplined critical lens: how does this new information supplement and inform my current social understanding of the world and my place in it? Better: how can I most effectively interpret this new experience to serve a highly specific, topically-motivated moral agenda? Dysentery, for example, might be, in part, a fault of bad eating. My parents always made me eat better—groceries are so expensive—how can we really know what’s organic—capitalism is running our lives—etc—etc.
Every morally-categorized experience carries philosophical trailheads which appear providential, but are ultimately wastes. We may fairly consider them contributors of atrophy. This belief that outside stimulus should be categorized righteously according to topical impetus is absurd and profoundly limited. Hold an egg in your hand. In the context of the abortion debate (topical), the egg carries strong symbolic weight: it is a vessel of life, a beacon of hope, a vulnerable icon, a burden of existence. . .and these many shades fool us—the expanse may be wide but they all reside within one color. Do away with such context—what then does the egg become? My writing on this betrays the point, but let’s try it anyway: an egg is round, perhaps it conjures a notion of binary, of softness-hardness, it conjures taste, smell, reminds us of birth, of animals, of life in the wild, of nests, of homes, of mud and dirt, the trees, seeds, height, wind, landscape, shape, heat, supermarkets, farmers, agriculture, biographies, history class, your first C, your first kiss. . .the object of the egg is in its purest form a gateway to the infinite: all things are all things, and it is through faith in this unrestrained process of association that we can add to our lives, create connections, solve problems, uncover ourselves, rather than simply react to topical impulse. I must let the egg go, I must let it be itself. Otherwise this need to critically interpret from an expected context does not simply minimize the creative output we receive, it reverses the process. We are no longer getting anything out of life. Instead, we are putting onto everything our preconceptions, our topical states, all of these formed and inspired by new experiences, but all experiences dwindling under our preconceptions. In essence, the more we attempt to turn life into a picture puzzle for our current problems, the more life appears to us a current problem. Everything simply becomes reinforcement for states we already inhabit and problems we’ve already clarified. How can a song transform us, how can any song lift our spirits when it has been doomed, designated as the “our song” of our lives—the icon of some break-up suffering? How can we learn when all of our language has been reduced to that and this?