Jael Goldfine ’17, in her final Arts & Entertainment column, crafts a wonderfully honest defense of writing as self-preservation. Through confessional eloquence, Goldfine exposes the duality of writing so gently that you could almost miss it. She writes, “I get naked with every ugly, dizzyingly and terrifying thought I am prone to: that I am unintelligent, boring, superficial, incapable of non-derivative ideas, lazy, inarticulate, inadequate and generally shallow, uncreative and deluded in thinking that I might be an OK person.”
It’s the paradox of writing, or the paradox of adolescence, or the paradox of social media or American east-coast elitist culture or something, I think. Your expressions should be sincere but not saccharine, naked so long as you don’t reveal your hedonism or deep (deep) fears or your interests that have crossed the threshold from quirky to strange. Append an all-lowercase “lol” to all your texts. Be down-to-earth, but don’t dig deep enough to divulge any earthworms. I’m cringing as I’m writing this because this is the exact self-serious, arrogant drivel that my friends and I mock in others’ writing. I added that sentence to show I’m self-aware of how pretentious I sound. That makes self-seriousness OK, right? The self-awareness?
This is hardly an original observation. Back in September of 2013, Henry Staley ’16 wrote that our generation was shifting toward narratives of the sincere and the insecure (“…bold self-expression can get a bit self-conscious in our digital hall of mirrors.”). Just last October, columnist Hebani Duggal ’18 wrote extensively about the fraudulent coolness of being the “cool girl.” In conversation with Staley, Duggal’s piece reveals the semi-sincerity of the transition to the post-ironic, whatever that means. Sorry! I’ve never read David Foster Wallace.
So here we are, at the intersection between ironic self-protection and genuine vulnerability, which is kind of like the intersection of Stewart and East Buffalo street: you can either wreck your tires on the brick road (Why is Stewart made mostly of loose bricks?!) or coast down a terrifyingly steep hill. Trying to engage in this recipe is frightening, which is why it’s easier to stay silent. Back in September, I could barely write my first column because of what I then thought was a fear of negative feedback but now realize was actually a dread of improperly walking an ironic tightrope. Here I am, in May, still unsure of how exactly to walk this line, still hitting backspace more often than the letter keys, still asking The Sun’s Associate Editor for extensions because what I’m writing isn’t yet explicitly self-aware enough to publish.
Maybe I’m deluded. Maybe it’s just me and my anxieties and I’ve completely constructed this problem in my head. I don’t know. I don’t know! But I do know that I have recently calmed my own anxieties through actively trying to desire failure. Not in, like, a masochistic way, but maybe a little bit in an almost-masochistic way. Like when Chris Gethard says with passionate exhaustion, “I wanna fall on my face. I want people to watch me get caught. I want people to watch me get blindsided by the failure of my own idea. I wanna either succeed big or fail hard.”
So fail! Like, not on your exams, but fail socially and intellectually. Make loud mistakes. Last week I asked my professor what “simultaneously” meant in a 200-person lecture and a bunch of AEM majors laughed at me. It hurt. It was rude and it hurt a lot and I still haven’t forgotten about it but I’m pretending it didn’t hurt because we’re in the middle of this whole irony transition thing I just wrote about, right? You could argue this last column was a big failure. Ha! But if we start to fail hard, to be so vulnerable that it hurts so bad, then maybe we’ll start loosening this grip of semi-sincerity. Everything about college is transient, which makes it the perfect time to screw up. So go out there and fail. Or something. I don’t know. lol.
Pegah Moradi is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. All Jokes Aside appears alternate Mondays this semester.