- in Papers
- posted May 23, 2020
A fake, nonsensical essay (written for fun) about a real book that I didn’t read
Originally written January 6, 2008.
Scott Russell Sanders’ “Signs” explores a myriad of juxtaposing cultural messages swirling about against the backdrop of busy, hustle-bustle inner-city life. The simple act of driving down the street reveals an endless onslaught of billboard advertisements, flickering neon lights, and cries for help from the lost souls of the slums and boroughs who scrawl obscenities on crumbling brick walls in a vain quest for social identity. Sanders’ narrative speaks of a strange collective consciousness that struggles to rise up from this visual cacophony, created almost accidentally by our society’s need for self-expression. Were it not for our individual quests for the meaning of life, for this tumultuous exploration of place, values, and personal worth, we would have no use for the written word. The witticisms of the day, the bumper stickers we read in traffic, the catchy newspaper headlines that scream for our attention—they are a product of man’s innate weakness for acceptance.
If position equals prestige, and prestige power, then our inescapable pursuit of both is an expression of ubiquitously-perceived inequality. Television commercials capitalize on exploiting such shared weaknesses and appeal to the desire for more; more money, more fame, more friends. Evolved man’s meaningless existence compels him to aspire towards a manufactured nirvana that brings resolution to life’s most important questions: who am I, why am I here, and what is my purpose?
Sanders’ can only observe the phenomenon as one hopelessly caught up in it, but still he tries to make sense of the chaos. Everyone wants to be someone, and if the process of becoming said someone requires the sacrifice of anonymity, we are only too happy to offer it. Though the process may destroy and rearrange the core of humanity irreparably, the journey must be experienced. We are altogether one voice, a choir of collective social identity; though we sing with different voices to a multitude of musical genres and lyrics, it is here that one voice will ring out above the others as sweeter, better, and garner the greatest esteem.
Such is the rhythm of life. It may go quiet at times, it may swell up into a crescendo of nigh-unbearable extremes, or it may simply dawdle along until meeting an abrupt end. But that is the journey—that quest—that welcome realization of what must be done and how, even if the particulars are lost to the masses. They will find it, and we will find it too. Together, meaning will be discovered amidst the meaningless in a moment of shared equilateral-eureka. If not, we need only turn our ears to the deafening roar of distress we ourselves have created.