It seems the longer ago an event or person or place occurred, the more affection the subject is regarded with. It is how we service our ghosts. How we gently lie to ourselves to pretend what came before was better, sweeter, more valuable. . .somehow more worthy.
Of course, this is bullshit. The “good old days” sucked.
I often get accused of sentimentality or nostalgia because I reference the past. This is not out of longing. It is about remembering; making notice of what was and was not there.
Some years ago I had a show of a different body of work at the Chicago Cultural Center. It was from a three-volume set of books I’d made about Chicago– specifically, the Chicago of my childhood. The critic from The Tribune dismissed it as “sentimental,” which could not have been further from the truth. Some of the imagery was absolutely monstrous, remembering a city of thoughtless cruelty and punishing bigotry; the city of Algren’s perpetually-rigged game.
Still, this handjob, who wrote badly for The Tribune for over 30 years, and is now, thankfully for Chicago, unemployed, made the cheap and easy assumption that this work was nostalgia or sentimental.
When people tell me this is what they see, I know they haven’t really looked.
One of the good things about the discourse of the internet is that it has forever shit-canned the self-appointed aristocracy of art critics. It made the conversation bigger, with more voices, more choices and more democracy.
The imbecile who wrote for The Tribune all of those years? He got kicked to the curb. Art critics were either good, or they didn’t survive.
One notices that the great critics, Smith, Schjeldahl, Saltz, Cotter and my favorite, the one-man hurricane, Charlie Finch, had no job worries because of the Net. Mostly it was the bad ones went up in flames. It went that way for all of the other disciplines as well. They no longer hold sway. We all get to be part of this discourse.
I know artists who foolishly long for the art world of the ’80s–that decadeof greed, Reagan, social indifference, AIDS and stupid hair–merely because of the booming art market. These morons were the “big whispers” of that ugly decade; the dwarves who were momentarily the tallest midgets in the circus. They never seem to get it. This thing is a marathon, not a sprint.
I don’t know if we can trust what we choose to remember It seems the longer a relative or friend has been dead, the more saintly they become in the rear view mirror of memory.
I call it the “High-School Reunion” version of remembering. My high school teachers, with a few luminous exceptions, were mostly lazy, bumbling dolts, dullards, and douchebags. C-minus intellects who wanted nothing more than a job they only had to work eight months a year. If you want education to get better, make teaching a meritocracy and make these fuckers take a test once a year. If I meet one more high school English teacher who has not read Wallace Stevens, I’ll scream. Seriously. Fire half of the fucking teachers. Both of my kids went to Chicago public schools. My son get a first-rate education at a progressive, marvelous high school named Whitney Young. My daughter went to Lincoln Park High School and was taught by slack-jawed mouth breathers.
If these assholes could count to eleven, without taking a shoe off, I wouldn’t be surprised. . .I’d be amazed. Still, people I know look backward and think of these pukes with fondness. I do not get it.
It is dangerous to romanticize the past, precisely because it can hobble our efforts to go forward into the future. I’m not really nostalgic for anything. I like the idea of tomorrow much more than yesterday. Too many people waste their lives trying to replay yesterday’s box score. When I reference the past, I am remembering, not longing.
Xerox this to your brain.