Wednesday Miscellany (Nick Cave Edition)
I have a few books on my shelf that I return to often, books that I’ve read and reread and underlined and highlighted and stuck a bunch of colourful sticky notes in to draw my attention easily to memorable passages. I usually quote these people endlessly on my blog because, well, because why not? Good words need to be shared. Christian Wiman’s My Bright Abyss is one of these. Some of Marilynne Robinson’s novels would fall into this category. And now Nick Cave’s Faith, Hope and Carnage has become another. I promise I’ll give it a rest for a while after this, but a few of his quotes anchor today’s miscellany.
Last Sunday, someone remarked during worship that their twenty-year-old self might have been exasperated by their forty-something-year-old self. They might not have approved of all of the accommodations that accrue as the years go by. I nodded along wistfully.
Today I read Nick Cave on getting older:
We’re often told led to believe that getting older is in itself somehow a betrayal of our younger idealistic self, but sometimes I think it might be the other way around. Maybe the younger self finds it difficult to inhabit its true potential because it has no idea what that potential is. It is a kind of unformed thing running scared most of the time, frantically trying to build its sense of self—This is me! Here I am!—in any way it can. But then time and life come along, and smash that sense of self into a million pieces.
And then comes the reassembled self, the self you have to put back together. You no longer have to devote time to finding out what you are, you are just free to be whatever you want to be, unimpeded by the incessant needs of others. You somehow grow into the fullness of your humanity, form your own character, become a proper person—I don’t know, someone who has become a part of things, not someone separated from or at odds with the world.
I resonate more with the first paragraph than the second here—I’m not nearly as confident as Cave seems to be that becoming “whatever I want to be” is a necessarily good thing, nor do I believe that who we become can or should take place apart from the impediments of others. The fullness of our humanity is not something we make up but is given to us by God.
But still. This landed in a way that felt true to at least some of my experience.
Speaking of our younger vs older selves… I love this passage on the “luxury of contempt”:
Well, the young Nick Cave could afford to hold the world in some form of disdain because he had no idea what was coming down the line. I can see now that this disdain or contempt for the world was a kind of luxury or indulgence, even a vanity. He had no notion of the preciousness of life—the fragility. He had no idea how difficult, but essential it is to love the world and to treat the world with mercy.
This morning, I listened to an interview with Winston Marshall, the British musician who left the band Mumford & Sons ostensibly to avoid contaminating his band-mates with his own “cancellation” online (he had tweeted favourably about the wrong book with the wrong perspective on the right issue, etc., etc., and the online blow-back was getting unmanageable). It was a very interesting interview with plenty of interesting subjects raised, but by the end I was thinking, “You know, one of the ways you (and everyone else worried about having careers jeopardized by cancellation) might solve most of these problems is to just, um, you know, get off Twitter.”
Again, Nick Cave:
I spent a year on Twitter, not active, just following people, but in the end even that proved to be utterly dispiriting. I followed all these people, people I admired people I had been interested in for years—podcasters, writers, journalists, public thinkers, social critics—and I found that the form somehow diminished almost all of them. Not all, but most. Initially, I thought it was like the Wild West or punk rock, but Twitter is really just a factory that churns out arseholes…
I have to say, when I came off Twitter, the world suddenly improved. It became a better place to live in, and the quality of my life improved immeasurably, the sun started to shine and the little birds started singing in the trees. I wasn’t feeling so ill in my body, so worn out and depressed by it all. As far as I can see, social media makes you sick.
This paragraph essentially describes my (juvenile) reaction to most conversations between my wife and I that began with the question, “So, tell me about what you’re preaching on this Sunday…”:
I do find, in general, that other people’s opinions are mostly problematic, especially if you respect the person or, indeed, are married to them. Most of the time, I just don’t solicit other people’s opinions if I can help it, unless of course I know that their opinion is going to be the same as mine. I prefer to go with the flow, provided it’s my flow, if you know what I mean.
And finally, this gem from the Red Hand Files. Nick is responding to Valerio, from Italy, who asks, “What is mercy, to you?” and Frances, from Los Angeles, who wants to know what he thinks of “cancel culture”:
Mercy is a value that should be at the heart of any functioning and tolerant society. Mercy ultimately acknowledges that we are all imperfect and in doing so allows us the oxygen to breathe—to feel protected within a society, through our mutual fallibility. Without mercy a society loses its soul, and devours itself…
Yet mercy is not a given. It is a value we must nurture and aspire to. Tolerance allows the spirit of enquiry the confidence to roam freely, to make mistakes, to self-correct, to be bold, to dare to doubt and in the process to chance upon new and more advanced ideas. Without mercy society grows inflexible, fearful, vindictive and humourless.
Frances, you’ve asked about cancel culture. As far as I can see, cancel culture is mercy’s antithesis. Political correctness has grown to become the unhappiest religion in the world. Its once honourable attempt to reimagine our society in a more equitable way now embodies all the worst aspects that religion has to offer (and none of the beauty)—moral certainty and self-righteousness shorn even of the capacity for redemption. It has become quite literally, bad religion run amuck.
Compassion is the primary experience—the heart event—out of which emerges the genius and generosity of the imagination.
Feature image source.