Friday, July 04, 2008
Out of It
15. to be out of it.I'm out of it in sense 15.b.a. Not involved or included in an action or event.
b. Removed or distant from the centre or heart of something; isolated; uninformed.
c. slang (orig. U.S.). Confused, stupefied, or unconscious, esp. after consuming drink or drugs; (also) unable to think or react properly as a result of being tired.
Sometimes, when I read something, I get the odd sensation that I'm looking at myself in a mirror. So it was when I read Joseph Epstein's essay Nicely Out of It, published in his collection With My Trousers Rolled (New York: W.W. Norton, 1995). T.S. Eliot wrote, "I grow old...I grow old...I shall wear the bottom of my trousers rolled." I actually do wear the bottom of my trousers rolled much of the time. Here are some excerpts from Epstein's essay:
As best as I can date such an event, I believe I began to feel out of it roughly in 1966. Around that time the curtain fell, dividing the country between the young and the not-young, and I found myself, even though only twenty-nine, on the not-young side of that curtain. The student revolution had begun, and Iin taste, in temperament, in point of viewhad ancien régime so clearly written all over me that I might as well have worn a powdered wig.
I nowadays steer clear of all talk shows and am proud to report that a number of currently famous people are at least still obscure to me. Nevertheless, by osmosis of a mystical kind, I know rather more than I wish I did about people with no possible relevance to my life and whose minds I find more than a jot less than fascinating. I feel I would be leading a better, a more elevated life if I didn't recognize the names Burt Reynolds, Marv Albert, Madonna, Connie Chung, Willie Nelson, David Gergen, Regis Philbin, and Dan Dierdorf. But, alas, I do.
I feel I am progressing nicely when, standing in the checkout line at the supermarket, glimpsing the grocery-store press (our version of England's gutter press), I don't recognize the names of the people involved in scandals, or when I haven't a clue about the person on the cover of People. Yet there is no gainsaying that I do know the names Dolly Parton, Loni Anderson, and Tina Turner (not to speak of Keena Turner, the former San Francisco 49ers linebacker). So many, after all, are the old names I do not know enough about: Callimachus, Hypatia, Erasmus, Palestrina. I know, I fear, altogether too much about the Barbarians and not nearly enough about the Hellenes.
If I lived to be eighty, there was no telling how far out of it I might eventually go; perhaps I could slip all the way back into the eighteenth century, which has always seemed to me a nice place to visit.
A decade or so ago, for example, I discovered that I had ceased to read much contemporary fiction. Faster than you can say Italo Calvino, I had fallen two Malamuds, three Roths, a Bellow and a half, four Mailers, and five or six Updikes behind. I had let John Irving pass me by. So, too, Ann Beattie, Joan Didion, Gabriel García Márquez. Every book you read is a book you don't read, by my reckoning, and there were too many important non-contemporary books I had not yet read.
I prefer being out in the cold with my own well-worn but comfortably out-of-it notions. These include: that there are a number of unchanging ideasnone of them particularly stylishworth fighting for; that honor is immitigable; that so, too, is dignity, despite the almost inherent ridiculousness of human beings; that one's life is a work of art, however badly botched, which can be restored and touched up here and there but not fundamentally changed; that, in connection with this, integrity includes coherence of personality; that elegance, where possible, is very nice, but there are many things more important than style, loyalty and decency among them; that a cello is a finer instrument than an electric guitar; and that a man ought to start out the day with a clean handkerchief. I hope I speak for others who are out of it when I say that we take these truths to be self-evident. And, as those of us who are out of it have learned, when it comes to the really important truths, no other kind of evidence is usually available.