The Men In My Mind (In Theirs, Too)

Innovation is a gross word. It probably gives Evegeny Morozov hives and/or an erection (a critic's diptich of conditions). The same cake is on the stove as four months ago, on another stove. I persist writing mood pieces about cakes.

Has Mad Men ever changed the way it does what it does? I doubt it. It's just intensified. These days it's a series of Mad Men Moments and setups for Mad Men Moments. Is it slapstick? Arrange things so that characters stumble into saying something unwittingly wise or prophetic. Last episode, the poetic phrase (and image) was "Why are you being punished?" "Because the wallpaper doesn't line up."

It sounds like a Don line, but this MMM belongs to his son, and suddenly he loves him. He says so to Megan, and she hugs him because oh my god, a man is having an Emotional Experience. (Much like the show's spectacle of whites spectacularly emoting over MLK's death. I'll give you one guess what two colors the wallpaper was.)

Don is more interested in his son's emergent familiarity than how he might be different. The show couldn't care less about its subject, only that it's poetic. Don is in love with himself, and the show is in love with itself.

Why do I care if I make new cakes? This one's delicious. Are there fruit other than apples?

Once, MMMs were delicious. They sustained interest. (A much messier word.) I'm always trying to decipher what made one meal delicious and another unremarkable. Odd--delight in eating is a terrible index of delight in anything else. My latest theory is to eat well is to take interest. A meal of variety is exemplary (there's always one), but even a lone bowl of broth may hold interest.

Interest is as suspect to Rectify as thought is heroic. One of the first things Daniel says in public is that in prison he developed a routine intended to avoid thinking. When he wasn't trying to stamp out thinking with chants, he read books, and thoughtfully conversed with the man in the next cell.

His half-brother, Ted, is calculated to make us as uncomfortable as Daniel, suspected of rape and murder, makes everyone on the show. Ted's problem is that he's as thoughtless as he is self-interested. He distrusts Daniel because he assumes Daniel will take his job. He thinks Daniel is guilty because Daniel tells him about being raped in prison. Presumably, he feels raped by Daniel's story. That's his epistemology.

"Never seen so many dumb Georgia crackers descended upon egg rolls and sweet and sour chicken in your life," Ted says. "That's interesting," Daniel says. "I guess." Ted has too much interest to find anything interesting. Daniel finds everything interesting and tries self-flagellatingly hard to not be interested in himself. This impersonality embues him and his thinking with an aura of goodness.

Verlyn Klinkenborg posits interest to be a way of bargaining with abudance. Being interested is the thing he urges us to recover from underneath our education. The bargain he proposes is: trust in the abundance of your interest, and receive the abundance of your interest. If I say I'm not sure about this, he can say that's why. I'm not sure whose circular logic it is, but still, I'm not sure. I'm the sort of person who can be engrossed by a novel for hundreds of pages and never read the last fifty. (Or reverse those numbers.) I routinely commit Klinkenborg's sin of being anxious I'll lose interest in a piece of writing. Not because the piece is a terrible idea, not ultimately worthy of interest, but because I'll make cake, watch television, worry about those things that impetuously solicit worry. Thinking that I'll think about something in the future is pretty much meaningless. My calendar and to-do list are records of futile promises. This is so apparent that, like Alison Bechdel repeats "I think" in her diary, I append question marks to half of my tasks.

Actually, they're all terrible ideas. Given enough time to mull over anything, I'll come to the conclusion it's stupid. (Which, yes, is a stupid conclusion, but what can I do?) We would have nothing if this logic reigned. Robert Creeley's introductions to his own collections of work are graceful for letting their contents be. But they would never have been written if he always took the long view. Creation is a process of outrunning understanding, for me at least, I think.

Which is stupid. What's wrong with making a cake I'm not infatuated with? Klinkenborg critiques the notion of writerly genius, in which all writing comes in flashes and unstoppable flows. Because his is a self-help book and everything has to be about doing better, the problem with needing to be infatuated with what you're doing is that it's deterimental to doing. It's also a reaction to the danger of fantasy, to being in hot, precarious relation. Interest appears as an appealing alternative to infatuation because it's cooler, more reliable.

There are relations other than detached tepidness and compromising intimacy. I know that I placed those adjectives to show their misplacement, but the motive is dim.

What's that about cake?

1 May 2013