“You happy to go back?” some drunk stranger slurred to me. Depending on how inebriated I am, anyone who asks this question will usually receive a deep grin and several eager nods. “Yeah. I’m so happy about it.” People don’t often ask why the obvious enthusiasm. If they had asked why, I would’ve had a long list of reasons to recite, the first of which being safety.
If you’ve managed to avoid the headlines this summer, you probably already feel safe. For the more informed, it’s been chaotic and violent in our country over the past three months. Crises range from debated genocide in Gaza to murderous racism in Ferguson, Missouri; we live in vile times. It seems as though these hotspots of sickening activity are indicative of a species that refuses to learn from its mistakes and instead continues on ignorantly. I’m world-weary, at only 22, and I know many others my age feel similarly. Perhaps this is due to an unprecedented state of unrest, but it could also just be due to the fact that we all have trouble grasping historicity. Beyond that, we’re supposed to inherit this world, already in shambles; and despite the finger often wagged in our direction by those who came prior, I’m hopeful for what we have to give.
In Danny Kaiser’s class last semester, we read one of Fredric Jameson’s brilliant essays on Postmodernism. Among many other defining traits, he noted that the postmodern is often marked by a lack of historical authenticity in that we move forward without any real or comprehensive idea of what came before us. “The modernists were so aware of their history, they were desperately trying to break from it,” Danny offered to bolster the argument. Reading Ulysses proves this, as one of the most striking lines in Chapter 2 affirms the tired awareness of Stephen Daedalus. “‘History, Stephen said, ‘is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.’”
We don’t have this. You can see it in the movies we consume, what Frederic Jameson refers to as “nostalgia films,” or films that take place in the past though mostly offer a view of the time through the lens of the modern day. Gangster Squad, for instance, is much less about the 20s than it is about the 20s in 2013, when it was released. This leads to our romanticizing of a time period we actually know nothing about, though are assured was “better.” Historical truth, then, is a dream we should be trying to enter into.
I also read a lot of Yeats with Danny last year, a poet insistent upon the claim that he existed at the end of things before the inevitable collapse that allows for reconstruction. It feels that we are certainly there more than ever, though I’m inclined to say that he was a little early in his apocalyptic thesis.
Which brings me to my hometown. Everyone here seems to move through the present in a stubborn stride that resists progress. They grope at the nameless behind them and continue in such a way that is ignorant and concerning. Two nights ago, while a girl at a bar in town was stating that she never wears skirts, a twentysomething in front of me said that he was gonna masturbate himself to sleep while thinking of her in one. He was clearly joking, but I didn’t think it was funny. Everyone else did.
At a party a week ago, a girl who was wearing short denim shorts was dancing by a bonfire. A couple of hipsters were throwing pennies at her ass, claiming they were “making wishes,” among other sexist comments that I don’t care to repeat.
They don’t get it. In fact, everywhere I go that isn’t Sarah Lawrence presents the same problem in boldface. Maybe I’m only able to see it so clearly now that I am fortunate enough to spend my years in a place that tries to exist without that stigma, even if it still has its own struggles with it. I’m teary-eyed thinking of my inevitable return to school, because it feels so safe to me now. I want to stumble arm-in-arm with students who can see where we need to go. I want to see my family again, because families take care of each other. I want to be taken care of.
The problems with existing in a rare safehaven notwithstanding, we are so lucky to be where we are, and more, to return after summers of war and bigotry. My hope is that we learn carefully from the environment of Sarah Lawrence so that we can try and recreate it in the world that is both our gift and our burden. We have an opportunity to enact real change. The brilliant gallery of kids I met last year will only multiply with the incoming freshmen, offering more chances of growth. More than that, it presents us with the ability to ensure that real knowledge and awareness exists in those who are so unfortunate to inherit the broken and damned system. Perhaps I’m hasty in suggesting that we view the crumbling structure of our country and others as a possibility to make it better.
Us Millenials are often termed as apathetic, uninformed, and even stupid. But in spite of everything, in spite of my stultified hometown and contented friends, Sarah Lawrence has restored my faith in our generation. I don’t see apathy here. I see instead a growing unrest and disinterest in the way things are currently managed, not a cancer of ignorance. If it comes to something dramatic, I say we tear it down and build again.
To fix any problem, we have to first acknowledge that there is one. Let’s devour those texts that seem monstrous and foreboding in our classes that 90% of the earth’s population won’t ever experience. Let’s not trash this privilege we have, nor take it for granted. Let’s do something with it. Really, really do something with it. We’re being armed not with weaponry, but with thought. That’s getting rarer. We have to capitalize on it while we can.
I’m so deeply impressed by everyone I know from SLC. You’re all beautiful and strange and crazy and eccentric. I wanna be with you all forever, but I know that’s not possible. Instead, I can honor the memory of everyone I inevitably won’t keep in touch with by keeping that fire burning, by keeping the angst alive, by refusing the status quo. Make no mistake, we can’t regain historicity all at once. But we can slowly accumulate the tools to redistribute it for those that’ll come after. Get loud. Sling some rocks. But also love each other and express affection for everyone that you have here on campus. We’re gonna do some weird and incredible shit. And if you’re not excited about it, I suggest you reassess.
For those of you that are just entering into Sarah Lawrence this year, you’re entering into a legacy of progressivism, one that is rife with likeminded fringe-students. Whether you’re a genderqueer anarchist, an athlete with a penchant for philosophy, or an avant-garde filmmaker who gets uncomfortable in crowds, this is the place for you. You’re going to be given the opportunity to experience life like you never have before. Don’t squander that. We are a family, a damned unique one. Come here not because you have to, but because you get to. And do things that are challenging and frustrating. Don’t settle for anything less than extraordinary.
To shamelessly quote Justin Timberlake in The Social Network, “This is our time.” Good God, something unprecedented and radical is bound to happen. I’m psyched about it. I hope you are too.
My name is Chris Kelly and I’m the new opinion editor. If you have something to say and want us to publish it, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to seeing what you all have to offer.