Thursday, January 28, 2010

Nostalgia for Past Pleasure

How many times can we do the same thing, over and over and over, and still pretend it gives the same pleasure as before? I was feeling cornered by the third day of holiday cheer, that no part of my mental space was left to me. All of it was commandeered by the needs of the group. So I sat down with my dad's laptop and played a mindless game, Snood. My fingers kept clicking the mouse, while I desultorily chimed in on the absolutely statutory conversation. As Julian Barnes said in his memoir piece, "The Past Conditional," (New Yorker, Dec. 25 & Jan. 1, 2007) the certainty that some of my family members have always shown that they know the correct way to proceed in all circumstances has been "usefully clear in childhood, restrictive in adolescence, and grindingly repetitive in adulthood."
It was delightful when we were children to have a complex Christmas ritual, the month or more of preparation, the illusion of plenty for a time when we were in fact usually economically challenged. We were churchgoers then, too. Now it is so difficult to trump the plenty of everyday that two weeks of excessive calorie intake and two Christmas trees with a mountain of presents under each still leaves the younger generation vaguely underwhelmed. These are the kids who annually are treated to three to five birthday parties to cover friends, school, and both sides of the top-heavy family.
Nostalgia for past pleasure seems to be fueling this escalation of effort and spending, but as far as I can determine, it is not in fact giving the perpetrators the pleasure they seek to recapture. Which is the definition of neurosis--to keep doing the same thing again and again, even though it doesn't work, in the hope that this time it will.

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