February 21, 2015

"I'm glad I've started a conversation. But why are the people on the other side of the conversation so boring?"

"All they say is that I'm 'stupid' or my comment is 'nonsense.' What I said is apparently interesting enough to respond to, but you don't say anything interesting in response. Say something about art! Say something new and unusual about why I'm so wrong! Dammit! I can see people are talking about me, and I go over to hear what they are saying, and it's a thuddingly dull remark."

That's something I said back in '05, and I'm reading it this morning as a result of this morning's first post — about Will Butler and Bob Dylan — which brought up my old aphorism — "To be a great artist is inherently right wing" — which was the topic of that '05 post.

That made me think of something I heard in the middle of the night on the audiobook I had playing through my under-pillow speaker, "Headhunters on My Doorstep: A True Treasure Island Ghost Story" by J. Maarten Troost:

Happy hour had long ago lost its frisson. Christopher Hitchens once said that he drinks “because it makes other people less boring.” I’d read a lot of Hitchens when I was trying to justify my drinking. If he could write like that, I reckoned, while getting blotto every day, well then, everything must be just peachy with me. Of course, when I finally did stop drinking I discovered the other side of that equation: When you’re sober, drinkers are curiously boring. For a long while I could only walk by a bar at dusk with finger-gnawing longing. I’d hear the laughter and the clink of glasses— or even catch a waft of stale beer and Lysol— and I’d have to quicken my pace. I’ll never have fun again, I’d think, as I hurried home to my steaming cup of herbal tea. But after a few months, when I finally felt confident that I was unlikely to start pounding shots of J√§germeister, I’d occasionally meet friends at a pub. As I sipped a club soda, I’d immediately scope out those who belonged to my tribe— the solitary drinkers hunched over their phones, the anxious woman with the shaky hands waiting for her pinot grigio, the two college students on their third pitcher, the bartender sneaking shots— and I’d feel a special camaraderie. It’s like gaydar for alcoholics. And then, as the alcohol started to take its toll and people began repeating the same stories and their eyes got glassy and their coordination started to wither, and there in the corner, the woman who just slipped off her barstool, I’d think, no, I don’t really miss this and I’d think of myself as cured. Done. Finished. No worries.
I'll just observe that writing is another method of keeping other people from boring you, and it's much more efficient (and healthy) than reducing yourself into a stupor (though I'm amused by the cockiness of Hitchens's contention that he needs to dilute his brilliance with drink so he can relate to the lesser humans of the walking-around world (It reminds me of Rush Limbaugh's oft-repeated "with half my brain tied behind my back, just to make it fair")).

Blogging, you can pick what you want to respond to and ignore whomever you want. You can take quick shots and make short work of the boring people and leave them to steam and spurt on their own time.

Texting is similar. I think texting is displacing phone calls because you get the immediacy and the conversational energy without the languors of real-time speech and the need to feign continual engagement.

21 comments:

traditionalguy said...

Talk about people on the other side of conversations being so boring, just wait until you get stuck socially in groups of age 65+ friends.

You find yourself longing to be in groups that include younger people just so you can listen to them interact about sports, children and interesting people they know.







Ann Althouse said...

@traditionalguy

That extra space in your comment... uh... it's... bo...

Michael K said...

I read your 2005 post and it made me think about the obviously left wing denizens of Hollywood. Just try to negotiate a contract with them and you will find out how left wing they are. Just ask Kim Basinger.

As the Greeks once said, "Women are for family and boys are for fun," so Hollywood lefties will eat you alive if you think left wing means THEIR money.

Laslo Spatula said...

Emperor Joseph II: My dear young man, don't take it too hard. Your work is ingenious. It's quality work. And there are simply too many notes, that's all. Just cut a few and it will be perfect.

Mozart: Which few did you have in mind, Majesty?


I am Laslo.

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...


Blogging, you can pick what you want to respond to and ignore whomever you want.

Especially those who can refute your points.

Humperdink said...

Any conversation with the +65 crowd invariably revolves around a variety of medical issues.

All medical, all the time.

Laslo Spatula said...

3 different categories of blog response:

1. Those who want to have fun and are just playing,

2. Those who are mentally disordered and hurling themselves toward greater chaos and feelings of turbulence, and

3. Those who only want to feel normal.

I read that somewhere.

I am Laslo.

virgil xenophon said...

You buy from C Crane, Ann? You must have been an old Art Bell "Coast to Coast AM" devotee, lol.

Sebastian said...

The author of the line illustrated the point all too well, but: L'enfer, c'est les autres.

Corollary: Why can't other people be more amusing?

"Solutions": drink, texting, etc.

"Troost": the name is oddly à propos.

David said...

Something you wrote in 2005 is an "old testament" (lower case) so you made it to three.

MaxedOutMama said...

I just don't agree with your '05 theory:
A great artist like Dylan or Picasso may have some superficial, naive, lefty things to say, but underneath, where it counts, there is a strong individual, taking responsibility for his place in the world and focusing on that.

I think it is possible to adopt both left and right wing political stances precisely to escape the need to be an individual taking his or her place in the world and focusing on that.

If we were all entirely coherent thinkers, perhaps you would be right, but you constantly point out that we are not.

traditionalguy said...

Sorry about that boring white space under my recent comments. I hope it's fixed now. It seems to have started after I made a change increasing the lines skipped setting on the roll bar.

chickelit said...

I'm glad I've started a conversation. But why are the people on the other side of the conversation so boring?

I think you bore too easily.





chickelit said...

There are some great "old testament" commenters in that 2005 thread. Many from before I began to comment here. I wonder where some of them went?

I know where vbspurs and amba went and Simon is still here and so is Meade. But I wonder where Eli Blake, XWL, and peter ho went?

Mark Caplan said...

I don't understand the aphorism. Anyone can come up with highly regarded artists on the left: Tolstoy, Orwell, Bernard Shaw, Van Gogh, the Hollywood Ten, Wittgenstein, Caricaturist David Levine, Leonard Bernstein, Orson Welles....

Oso Negro said...

My "under-pillow speaker in the middle of the night"????? What is up with that Professor? Are you an un-previously-confessed insomniac or experimenting in filling your great dreaming brain with new material?

Inquiring minds want to know!!

Oso Negro said...

Laslo, you are on your game today!

If there is ever a Madison Cheese and Althouse Fest, I must meet you!

Love, Oso

tim in vermont said...

I think it is possible to adopt both left and right wing political stances precisely to escape the need to be an individual taking his or her place in the world and focusing on that.

To start with, I don't entirely agree with Althouse, but I do try to understand what people are saying before rejecting their arguments so here goes:

I think her point is that assertion of the freedom to be a great artist goes against the pressure to conform, follow rules, work toward a common goal with your art. These are the fundamental marker of the left. The left is largely about conformity and common purpose while allowing small freedoms.

The line "I gave her my heart and she wanted my soul," I believe, was about how Joan Baez wanted Bob Dylan to make every song and every performance about the struggle against the war. Bob said no and walked away. He wanted to be an artist and make his art, not the art the movement demanded of him. If the movement could use his art, great, if they couldn't, it didn't really matter to him. To be an artist is to reject the expectations of others, to reject the expectations of society is an essentially right wing, in the sense of classical liberalism, attitude.

There is the other sense of the term "right wing" which is used to describe nativists, for example, I don't think that applies here.

Mark Caplan said...

tim in Vermont wrote:

"The left is largely about conformity and common purpose while allowing small freedoms."

Sometime stream TRIUMPH OF THE WILL if you care to see conformity and common purpose on the Right.

The Left is the natural setting for nonconformity -- green hair, pierced tongues, slang, profanity, subversive gestures, "off the pigs," and other evidence of arrested maturity and intellectual maldevelopment.

tim in vermont said...

There are two things called "the right" This was a very clever move by the left. I am referring to classical liberalism.

Ann Althouse said...

"My "under-pillow speaker in the middle of the night"????? What is up with that Professor? Are you an un-previously-confessed insomniac or experimenting in filling your great dreaming brain with new material?"

I've explained it a few times. It's my cure for insomnia and has been for 20 years. I listen to audiobooks, and it keeps me from thinking my own thoughts, which were what kept me awake all those many years ago. Now, it's just a habit.