Where Michael Kinsley Meets William Faulkner; or, The Beat Goes On

“The danger is in the neatness of identifications,” Beckett said in “Dante…Bruno.Vico..Joyce,” and “literary criticism is not book-keeping.” Perhaps a certain kind of journalism is book-keeping, the kind that embeds meaning in pre-packaged classifications, designations that deprive individuals of their unique character by assigning them to a group, where they are given a number.

I am today more than ever before it seems identified as a Baby Boomer, someone born between the years 1946 and 1964, according to the Atlantic’s Michael Kinsley, in his “The Least We Can Do,” a call for the Boomer generation to satisfy its promise to the country, to redeem its sins of excess by giving back, by paying off the national debt. The call is to behave now like Faulkner’s Isaac in “The Bear,” denying our inheritance, for, after all, no one can own the land, as the housing crisis now teaches. Of course, there’s already not as much land as there once was, our having, like Quentin in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, sold off a portion to pay for our year at Harvard.

We began our retirements at the end of a century of wars that ended in yet another war, a war that Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense, called, not the least bit wearily, the “first war of the 21st century, implying it would be yet another century of wars: “But really, this is precisely what transformation is about. Here we are in the year 2002, fighting the first war of the 21st century, and the horse cavalry was back and being used, but being used in previously unimaginable ways. It showed that a revolution in military affairs is about more than building new high tech weapons, though that is certainly part of it. It’s also about new ways of thinking, and new ways of fighting.”

“You are a lost generation,” Gertrude Stein told Hemingway, suggesting that the post World War I survivors had been both abandoned and set free by their parents’ great war, the war to end all wars. But twenty years later they would find themselves caught up in another great war, and after that one they would be called the Beat Generation, and beat they were, the Boomers’ parents. Now we are burying the beat, yet the beat goes on. You can’t buy the beat.