I become very sentimental when Christmas arrives, and I say that without shame. There is so much else in the world that invites me to embrace cynicism and it’s a relief to be pulled away from that.
Christmas is a holiday that extends from the hope that transcendence might enter the human sphere, that our existence might not be defined by entropy.
I wish you all a very merry Christmas.
Madonna of the Dry Tree by Petrus Christus, c. 1462–1465
Paul Verlaine, Bibi-la-Purée et Stéphane Mallarmé at the Café Procope by Serafino Macchiati, 1890
The Fall of the Damned by Peter Paul Rubens, ca. 1620
Whenever we discuss the experience of “reading” as we recognize it today, it is always important to keep in mind that we recognize as “reading” is a relatively young phenomena in the history of humanity, one that only exists because of the technological invention of the book. What past civilizations understood by “reading” often looked very different (and, it should be noted, literacy itself was generally the domain only of the privileged).
Still, I find my affection for sustained reading experiences–by which I mean focused reading for thirty minutes or an hour without interruption–growing deeper in our age of sensory onslaught. If reading does not exist in opposition to what we think of “technology” (indeed, the technologies of our age are very reading-dependent), sustained reading, whether you do it on a codex or a Kindle, forces us into a different mode of engagement than many of the technological structures we utilize and inhabit on a daily basis, structures that are designed to distract through stimulation. In a world of seemingly endless noise, sustained reading increasingly feels like a respite.
The Head of Saint John the Baptist by Francesco Cairo, c. 1635
It goes without saying that much art extends from personal experience, and it’s neither unusual nor shameful for songwriters to draw and comment on their own experience, but when pop celebrities tie their music so explicitly and openly to their (generally unremarkable) love lives generally robs their music of its malleability, forcing listeners to experience the song as a component of a broader celebrity-gossip conversation.
Another way of saying this is to note that, whatever else I might say about the tune, shackling “thank u, next” to the memory of Pete Davidson does not help my experience of the song.