Sunday, January 1, 2012

Kitsch

I spent the afternoon of New Year's eve alone at the farm.  I put firewood in the basement and then cleaned the furnace; an essential but grimy and thankless job.  


To celebrate the holiday I drove to the truckstop at the Harford exchange and had a cheesesteak sandwich and coffee and listened to Justin Bieber sing "Let It Be" on the TV suspended above the counter.  Except for two gay girls in the back booth, the waitress who insisted on calling me dear, and the toothless cook who  informed the soda machine that Nicki Minaj's costume was space age, "like something off the Jetson's," I was the only other person in the place.  So I lingered a while reading Glen Gold's "Carter Beats The Devil," and then ordered a brownie to-go and headed home.  

My old man once said:  The future is now!  That was a pretty heady observation.  As a matter of fact, it struck me as so enlightened, that after he passed away, I had it cast in bronze on his memorial plaque. Which brings to mind a truly amazing book wrItten by Milan Kundera, "The Unbearable Lightness of Being".  I first read it back in the 1980's and then again this past week. Toward the later half of the novel the narrator introduces the concept of kitsch, a mid-19th century word of Germanic origin which embodies all that is the "absolute denial of shit... or which is essentially unacceptable in human existence."  

Kitsch might be the heart warming winter scene on a Christmas card that makes a lifetime apartment dweller wax nostalgic for grandma & grandpa, the open hearth of a country home, mugs of cocoa or hot tea and a safe, loving family close at hand.  Kitsch is a song on the radio that fills you with romantic sentiment for your old high school or that crush you had on someone you never knew.  Kitsch gives form to the sweet illusion, the beautiful lie that strums pleasant melodies on the heart strings.  Of course the minute you see through kitsch, the moment you sober up and remember you were raised in the Bronx and not in a snow-bound New England village, the experience of kitsch moves into the realm of non-kitsch.  Recognized for the lie it is, kitsch loses its authoritarian power and becomes just another "touching human weakness."  

Which brings us back to slogans like "The future is now";  that cemetery poetry, those really wonderful, emotionally sophisticated phrases that shine filter-pure beauty on the dead as they pass through the shadows of loss and suffering.  Kundera writes "before we are forgotten, we will be turned into kitsch.  Kitsch is the stopover between being and oblivion."  

Truth of it is, the entire celebration of another year's end and the beginning of one anew, is an exercise in unbounded kitsch.  It is a party embracing the magical editing out of the shit that was the year before and the exuberant welcoming of a bright and unblemished future.  Or so it seemed to me in a roadside diner, TV tuned to Time Square with an adrenaline soaked announcer chanting on and on about the not-to-be missed crescendo performance of the year's number-one selling pop singer, Lady Gaga.  

Lady Gaga.  New Year's Eve.  Time Square.  If that isn't kitsch, I don't know what is.  


Happy 2012! 

2 comments:

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  2. Interesting and boundless, like all your writing. It's very optimistic imagine a wonderful and kitsch future, without "shit", but Lady Gaga has been a good omen.

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