Predicting the Present

January 02nd, 2008 | Category: Marginalia

Daniel Pinchbeck once wrote that traditionally the job of the writer was to “define the zeitgeist,” what Marshall McLuhan referred to as “predicting the present.” Now everyone is a writer, and the zeitgeist is defined by an algorithm, which is probably much more precise. Like time itself, the zeitgeist moves. With the imperceptible passing of the present, it changes from moment to moment.

To grow old is to resist the zeitgeist. It is to want the same thing, the same car, the same house, the same friends, the same spouse, the same reruns, the same scripted conversations day-in and day-out, all of this new stuff needling one on, signaling the end of it all.

But the world isn’t going to shit because of change. It’s getting better because of it.

To be young is to be defined by change. To stay young is not only to roll with changes as they come, but to want them, to force them. To stay young is not only to stay agile, but to stay hungry.

Maybe becoming an adult means finally having what you want and trying to keep it, to finally have the status quo working for you and to fight to keep it that way. Maybe it’s about finding a balance between appetite and satisfaction, between a lust for flux and a longing for stasis.

What other watermark exists to define adulthood in our culture?

Further Posting:


  • Mark said:

    Having a child may not define adulthood, but it changes a person. Surprisingly, it has made me more able to live in the moment. Not completely (I did buy life insurance), but more than I before. Maybe I’m an exception. Seems like the opposite is probably more common (?).

  • Roy Christopher (author) said:

    Maybe you are an exception, Mark, but, as I wrote previously, “…the old rites of passage (e.g., marriage, childbirth, etc.) do not adults make. Perhaps they never did, but the illusion was strong, and now there seems to be no one consciously interested in maintaining that illusion.” I’ve been trying to look beyond the usual criteria and perhaps inward a bit (even though I’m certainly not a typical exemplar either).

  • Matt said:

    I have to partially disagree with your definition of growing old. At least with music, I would love to experience new things, but a consequence of getting older is that I don’t see a whole lot that really qualifies as “new” enough to interest me.

    For me (at 36), I’ve become less interested in new music because I feel like I’ve seen it all before, based on a perspective my younger self never could have had. I used to be one music-loving mofo, and I could get excited about all kinds of stuff – often because it seemed new and cutting edge. But now instead of thinking some new music kicks major ass, or even thinking “cool – they took some X influences and some Y influences and created something great”, I just think “they’re just ripping off X and Y – yawn”. Or I find myself thinking things like “ooh, I see we’re dressing up like Joy Division today”. And after all these years, I’ve reached my limit of being intrigued by the same few chords played by people who are obviously “really, really into it”.

    I’ve also begun to see new music as a commodity produced for consumption by various demographic groups. I don’t want to see it that way, but I do, and it’s ruining it for me. I don’t see a cool new punk group anymore. I see the result of some record company exec deciding that the lucrative alienated teenager demographic is ripe for new product.

    I think things have always been like this, but it’s getting older that has forced me to realize it.

    I remember being 14 and thinking “A.I.R.” by Anthrax was the coolest song in the world. When my teacher (reasonably) pointed out that it was more or less just a rehash of “Black Dog” by Zeppelin, I thought he was crazy. His comment to me at that time does a good job representing where I’m at with most new music now.

    Maybe that means that my life is becoming trite and jaded, boring and confiscated. I hope not. At least I haven’t started thinking that way about the wimmins (marriage didn’t cure that. Hey, I only said “thinking”), or my compulsive need to move or otherwise change things up every few years. I’d like to dig on some new music, but I just haven’t found any.

  • Roy Christopher (author) said:

    Ah, the other side of getting older… I’ve been railing against this attitude on a Hip-hop message board I frequent. Kids (yes, I say “kids”) who lament that Hip-hop sucks these days and that it was so much better during X years (the late-80s and early-90s being the most-cited eras).

    No, no, and no, I say. Hip-hop (and music in general) is better now than ever. Just because you’re jaded at 36 (as those “kids” are at 26) doesn’t mean there’s not a ton of new stuff happening.

    Man, Matt, I can’t even keep up. Sure, things are derivative, but it’s just as you said, Anthrax was biting Zepplin. Cultural authenticity comes from the experience, not from the artifact.

    Besides, you should be loving High on Fire, Mastodon, Jesu, Isis, Cult of Luna, et al. C’mon, man…

  • Matt said:

    My point isn’t so much that new music sucks these days as it is that my years of having listened to tons of good music are making it difficult for me to have any visceral interest in the new stuff.

    I think what you say about the experience, not the artifact, can be used to support what I’m saying. Think about the first time you saw Star Wars as a kid. How mind-blowing that was, and how you couldn’t wait to see the Empire Strikes Back. Fast forward to today. Say a new sci-fi movie comes out that’s in that genre, but better than Star Wars in every way (technically, story, etc.). You can appreciate it and enjoy it, but you’re just not going to get to those same oh-my-god heights that you experienced when you were a kid. Not because the movie isn’t as good — and not because you’ve chosen to resist the zeitgeist — but because everything you’ve seen in the years since then has changed your perspective. Experience, not the artifact.

    This applies to my feelings toward new music on my more non-cynical days: I can appreciate it & maybe even enjoy it, but I’m rarely moved by it. Back to my original point, I don’t think that this is a choice I’ve made because I’m older now, but rather an unfortunate but inevitable consequence. At least for folks wired like me.

  • Roy Christopher (author) said:

    True. I’m hearing you now.

    I actually have a post about this phenomenon called “The First Part: The Liminality of Orientation.” As Heraclitus put it, “You can’t step into the same river twice.” There’s just no way to recapture that first time…

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