Michael Gottlieb / Letters to a Middle-Aged Poet / 11


Seizing upon. Seizing up.

What happens, as it seems to so often, increasingly often, amongst us at this age, when we spring upon an idea, an idée, an idée fixe and don’t let go?

The way it, the lovely idée itself, explains everything. The way it can grow, take up whatever shape the moment or argument requires, shape-shift to accommodate all – and every – manner of situation. So elegant, so simple yet so expansive. The way it solves everything. It must. It has to. And it does so, so effortlessly. Is it because we’ve grown tired of ‘looking’ …or, as always, are we afraid of sliding into irrelevancy?

It is not just an organizing principle. It is a lens, a filter, is it not? A new first principle, a call-to-action, through which the world, whichever world is the general focus, if not the world in the widest sense, the broadest definition of all, is now forever to be organized.

The saddest part of these fixations, when one finds them in those no-longer-young, is that unlike what ensues when they manifest themselves in the young, for whom hope always abides that they, the individuals in question, will indeed grow out of them, there is the sinking realization when we see this malady strike our peers that it may indeed, in fact quite probably will, turn out to be a permanent condition.

Fine, we can say: let anyone believe what they will. What is wrong with that? What could possibly be wrong? This is Liberty Hall, is it not? What can possibly go wrong? Nothing of course. Nothing at all. It matters not at all, or perhaps not too much, if these constructs, these models, these armatures are themselves specious or superficial or our friends mount their private rostrums and begin enunciating their particular, particularized, personalized rhetoric. We cannot help but see Polonius before us. Garbed in contemporary rags, or perhaps the wide-wale corduroy or the faded denim of a few decades past, but it is we see Polonius before us, nonetheless, gesticulating meaningly. It matters not much at all, and certainly he, or she, is harmless. Or not?

But what happens when something or someone comes along which or who refuses to fit into the prescribed model? Someone who refuses to accept its or his or her pre-determined role, who so clearly rejects the basic assumptions upon which our idée is founded, upon which it altogether depends, and does so, invariably, in that insouciantly ignorant way the young always seem to call up, in a way that seems of second nature to them. And then what happens? What happens when those young ‘uns refuse to fit into the neat boxes we’ve reserved for them? Rage? Elder-rage? After all, we are not young. Pounding on the worn Formica in the tired coffee shop? The suddenly anxious waiter hovering at a distance?

What is to become of us, of those of us in such thrall… what happens then?

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