Friday, August 10, 2007

Imagination and Mind Rot

There was a lot to be learned from watching Günter Grass being interviewed by Andrew O'Hagan at the New York Public Library on Book TV. Most interesting was getting beyond what Grass had to say about Germany to his thoughts on how the United States in currently perceived in Europe. I had not anticipated what he said, but I could understand it. His observation was that, during the period of recovery from the Second World War, Europe looked to the United States for inspiration, whether it involved the lofty ambitions of space travel or the imaginative use of media. In that context Grass asserted that Europe no longer finds the United States inspiring, and one has to look no further than the current operation of our government to understand his position. Will Bill Clinton be remembered as the last President who inspired American's to turn out on Election Day? If so, then the days we face are likely to be dark ones.

Grass shared this event with Norman Mailer, who also made a striking comment. He made the claim that television damages the mind because it interrupts narrative. Mailer is certainly not alone in recognizing the role that narratives play in how we make sense of the world in which we are embedded, but he is the first one I have encountered to recognize that interrupting the act of storytelling is inherently pathological. The consequence is that we have lost our capacity to both enjoy and be informed by uninterrupted narrative. Mailer views this as a form of mind rot, and I think I agree with him!

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