The TMI Dilemma

As in, literally, “too much information.”

—That is the dilemma facing any young writer who dares take a counter-stance to the predominant neoliberal ideology of publish or perish in academia, or just perish in cultural criticism on the market. Question the prevailing ethos at your peril.

For the first time in human history — sweeping statements like these have had at best a checkered past in cultural critical pronouncements, though there is sufficient and then some evidence to warrant such a broad claim — the vast majority of humanity’s knowledge is available at the touch of a button, a tap on an iPhone. The amount of knowledge available for free is truly staggering. So where does one start?

For me, it was Thoreau, followed by Kant, Emerson, Dostoevsky, Hawthorne and then Will and Ariel Durant’s “Story of Civilization.” Yet when I sit down to pen an essay or even some random thoughts on a particular topic, I’m struck often by what I haven’t read than what I have that informs my writing. I’ve been reading James Baldwin of late, salient both in the wake of the Trayvon Martin/Michael Brown/Eric Garner murders and as an LGBT American, salient as a window to an era in which Mr. Baldwin was a double outsider — a racial and sexual minority in an era which tolerated neither. In 2014, we claim to be post-racial, yet clearly are not; we’ve made more advances in terms of gender and sexual identity equality than any other society in recorded human history. In the next ten years, marriage equality will be the law of all fifty United States, if not sooner, and likely in all G-7 and most G-20 nations.

So where to begin as a new writer? It’s not even remotely possible to absorb so much as half the available information about one’s own nation; to even attempt to absorb the news about the rest of the world — well, just forget it. I write about the United States because it’s what I know best; I don’t and won’t claim to “know” the United States. Such a nation as mine is so far beyond the grasp of one mind as to be stultifying; I can’t even imagine writing on India or China. I write about the United States, its lost generation of 20-somethings my age or even further lost and our great hope and despair for this unfolding millennium as best I can, I can do no other.

~ by Benji on December 17, 2014.

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