I have this weird daydream sometimes. When I come across some nice building reserved for a very specific audience — say, art auctions or church services — I imagine what it would be like repurposing its facilities as an open community centre serving the surrounding neighbourhood. Especially if that building is rarely used, I catch myself thinking, “What a waste.” If it became a house of the people, locals could meet there for book clubs, dinner parties, discussions on local politics, whatever they can think of — all free of charge. Wouldn’t that be great? Wouldn’t residents get a new appreciation for the area they live in if the best real estate it has to offer were available to all?
As a heads-up, before you accuse me of “preaching to the choir” or going on a rant, just know that this post is mostly an attempt to sort out a personal crisis. So please read it with that in mind. (If, on the other hand, you want to call me an upper middle-class hippie to whom class struggle and social justice are merely matters of intellectual exercise, you can go ahead and do that. I don’t mind.)
Over the course of my short yet lively blogging career, I’ve somehow become an expert at writing about nostalgia. I never seem to tire of it. The main reason nostalgia has proven such a complicated feeling to unpack for me is my inherent skepticism towards it. I know how much my little monkey brain loves to fabricate false memories, and I’ve had to learn to be wary of sentimentality as a mere survival strategy. But despite my expertise in analyzing these feelings, I’m still in need of guidance when it comes to the kind of nostalgia that makes no pretence about its illusory nature: the kind where you long for a time you never witnessed.
If you’ve been hanging out with me lately, you’re almost sure to have heard me utter phrases such as these:
I’ve been thinking a lot about animal rights recently.
So I watched this Noam Chomsky documentary the other day.
I think we should all give to charity more often.
I feel very uneducated about world affairs.
I used to be somewhat cynical about The School of Life’s views on education. It’s easy to see them as a reflection of that oft-bemoaned “Peace, Love, and Understanding” mentality which has supposedly downgraded the millennial generation to a bunch of wimpy participation-trophy addicts.
On Term Papers and Intellectual Integrity
I have a confession to make: I’m a terrible philosopher. Putting aside the minor fact that prior to this semester break I hadn’t completed a single non-introductory philosophy module over two years of study, my recent classes have cast further doubt on whether I’m even cut out for the craft of philosophy — you know, critiquing an argument and all that jazz. It’s fair to say that I’m the type of person who is easily intrigued by thought experiments, paradoxes, and profound questions about the nature of humanity and everything that surrounds it (if there is such a thing). But the reality of the philosopher’s craft, which my minor has to some degree introduced me to, might prove my academic Achilles heel. (Not that being a slow reader is any drawback at all…)
After striking the cranium the bullet was moving at 900 feet per second, a pathetically sluggish, glacial pace compared to the synaptic lighting that flashed around it. Once in the brain, that is, the bullet came under the mediation of brain time, which gave Anders plenty of leisure to contemplate the scene that, in a phrase he would have abhorred, ‘passed before his eyes.’
— Tobias Wolff, “Bullet in the Brain”
I want to talk about one of my favourite short stories today: “Bullet in the Brain” by Tobias Wolff. (Please click on the title to read it and then come back; otherwise this post isn’t going to be very interesting. And be careful — graphic imagery ahead!)
When you read a book about memory, be it a memoir or novel, do you ever make up some happy ending and start to dread every passing remark by the narrator about what actually happened? They’ve got to be teasing you. There’s no way they’re unaware of the hope they inspire with their recurring monologues about What Could Have Been, their casual hints at a blooming love affair that never made it past the stage of fantasy. It’s torturous! So your only solace is wishing hindsight away.