Resident social critic Alexander lays down his tomes and half-devoured pint of real ale to illuminate the shrouded crevices of the St Andrean bubble and beyond.
Am I the Bad Guy?
My experience writing this column and, indeed, editing the Viewpoint section this year has been unique, to say the least. I imagine that anyone who thought what they were doing was worthwhile and novel would say that. The cynic in me — the dogged old git that nudged me to write this column originally — is inclined to think that anything and everything I may say now in conclusion shall be vain, a platitude, or merely meaningless. I can certainly see why I would think that.
But sometimes — often, even — I find that the best times of life arise when I command that inner cynic to get stuffed, insofar as it’s possible. As Alexander’s Slander comes to a close, I believe there are valuable things to be said for the sake of both posterity and future reflection. And thus, I’ll say them here.
Above all else, it’s perhaps worthwhile disclaiming that the nature of this column comprises one grand paradox. I write, week in and week out, showcasing and rendering humorous the little blips and supposedly undesirable mannerisms that surround us on a day-to-day basis. It would appear that in so doing I am discouraging them, castigating people, and demanding that they change their ways. Such could not be further from the truth. If everyone were like me, for example — which is not a timeline for which I’d eagerly advocate — the world would be a boring place. And it would be an awful place; just as all humans do, I have my faults. I make mistakes. I slip up. It just so happens that, when my wrongdoings manifest themselves, there tends not to be a duplicate pugnacious and bespectacled swot on hand to observe and judge publicly my foolishness.
Recently, life led me to the consideration of mortality. Not in some philosophical or metaphysical sense, but a very real one in which something extra concretised, and added buckets more realness to, the often too distant truth that this whole life thing — as we know it, at least — can cease at any minute, any moment, any millisecond. We are effectively powerless in the face of it, and maybe, to an extent, that’s a consolation. Deep in what was quite saddening thought, I couldn’t shake the feeling that, given this situation, the life well lived cannot be one of permanently casting stones at fellow humans. Especially not for doing only what can be expected of them: being human.
And hence a clarification. Yes, this article pokes fun. Yes, people enjoy its implicit criticism; this column has been miles more popular than anything I’ve ever written prior. And, ultimately, I’ve loved writing it. But, rather than a parade of glum and misery, as would be an intuitive first understanding, it must be considered a celebration. A celebration of the fact that all around us are these marvellous living, walking, breathing, (occasionally) thinking, and endlessly complex entities, and that you and I have the unmitigated pleasure of being one of them. I’ve endeavoured to be one that makes you laugh. Others will make you feel differently. Some might break your heart, some might cause you the most immense amounts of pain — intended or not — and sometimes it may feel very easy to practice the cynicism characteristic of this column. Oscar Wilde branded the cynic “a man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing”; picture accordingly the individual who, strutting through aisle after aisle, grumbling about unjust prices and unwanted produce, fails to acknowledge the fundamental luxury of the shop’s presence, of one’s capacity to enter it, and of one’s freedom perhaps to take something down from the shelf and purchase it.
And it is the case that in life, everything does have a ‘price’. Consider art, love, joy, and ale. You may have to make a sacrifice of sorts to obtain such things, but it’s in order to gain a greater good the discrete measurement of which is, as if by design, not possible. The sheerest of beauties surges forth in those very real moments in which a human sacrifices their comfort and their ease to allow the transcendental to osmose just marginally more into our lives — like Andrew Neiman in the film Whiplash, or Susan Boyle’s audition on Britain’s Got Talent. The cynic, forcibly an impediment to this transcendental possibility, is thus a character I have decided I do not want to be. And nor should you.
As I bid farewell to my editorship of the Viewpoint section and to this beloved column, I implore you to go out into the world and cherish maximally, optimistically, with a full and brazen smile, the Nows of which Forever is composed — Emily Dickinson’s genius, not mine.
The transcendental awaits.
Illustration: Sarah Knight