4.20.2008

Our Restless Hearts

I have decided that I am going to make every effort not to let 2 months elapse between each of my posts. We’ll see how far good intentions get me…

Anyway, I am reading a great book called Bonfire of the Humanities. One of its authors is Victor Davis Hanson, a professor of Greek and the director of the Classics Program at the California State University in Fresno. You may recognize him as the author of Who Killed Homer? and A War Like No Other. Bonfire of the Humanities is a fantastic book that, at its core, brings the “crisis” of the Classics to the forefront. American society is steadily losing interest in the Classics, the authors claim, and there is diverse debate about the root cause of the problem. The book is comprised of essays by Hanson and two other authors; I found one by Bruce Thornton (hilariously entitled “Cultivating Sophistry” as a jab at Martha Nussbaum’s book Cultivating Humanity) particularly interesting. This essay, essentially a review of Nussbaum’s book, focuses on the irony of her simultaneous derision of “Western hegemony” and assertion that the concept of multiculturalism is its antidote. How, Thornton muses, could Nussbaum miss the fact that to engage in serious study of other cultures is an idea developed solely in Western culture?

At any rate, Thornton’s essay concludes by framing the desire for multiculturalism as the pastime of the elite, people who are “at home only in transit.” He quotes Christopher Lasch as claiming that “multiculturalism provides the… rootless consumer, whether of cuisine or ideas, with a wide variety of lifestyle options and choices, ‘bits and pieces they can try on for a while, taste and enjoy, and throw away’.” Both Thornton and Lasch were characterizing the hypocrisy of university professors, but I find that these quotations apply equally as accurately to the vast majority of my own generation. I have heard, on occasions too numerous to count, friends and acquaintances complain that they find it impossible to imagine staying at a job for longer than a year. Oh, the horror of commitment to a quotidian existence! If only we could all be world travelers, unbounded by zip codes and responding with “Mother Earth” when asked the address of our home. Multiculturalism feeds the perverse desire to crown oneself with the epithet “itinerant,” even if one’s bank account doesn’t allow for such freedoms. I think, too, that multiculturalism’s dramatic rise in popularity (in America, at least) must also be due to the fact that people of my generation lack real interests. As soon as any 20-35 year old I know accomplishes a goal, be it in the realm of career or education, the sheen of glamour fades and a new goal must quickly be established. As Lasch noted, the goal is attained, the lifestyle is tried on and experienced, found to be as superficial and unsatisfying as the previous ends, and the peripatetic twenty something continues his roving. Multiculturalism may superficially gratify our restless hearts, but how many decades must this generation waste before it realizes that no foundation built on sand can ever support a home? It appears, however, that this generation isn’t even interested in locating solid ground.

2 comments:

Zachary said...

"You are never more American than when you think you have transcended being American"

To paraphrase someone

Catherine! said...

father neuhaus, i presume?