To the editors:
In response to the July 31 article by Julie Phillips:
Your baby boomer bashing upsets me. Not because I am a baby boomer, which I am (though I am closer to your age than to that of those 40-year-old “has-beens” you declaim as being so self-absorbed), but because you’re missing the point of what self-absorption is all about. My goodness, you’re terribly self-absorbed yourself, as the most casual reading of your article betrays. But that’s a good thing. Somebody’s got to do it. “Because,” as Mr. Compson explains to his son Quentin, who quite understandably, in light of his father’s counseling, eventually commits suicide, “you make so little impression, you see. You get born and you try this and you dont know why only you keep on trying it and you are born at the same time with a lot of other people, all mixed up with them, like trying to, having to, move your arms and legs with strings only the same strings are hitched to all the other arms and legs and the others all trying and they don’t know why either except that the strings are all in one another’s way like five or six people all trying to make a rug on the same loom only each one wants to weave his own pattern into the rug; and it cant matter, you know that, or the Ones that set up the loom would have arranged things a little better, and yet it must matter because you keep on trying or having to keep on trying and then all of a sudden it’s all over and all you have left is a block of stone with scratches on it provided there was someone to remember to have the marble scratched and set up or had time to, and it rains on it and the sun shines on it and after a while they dont even remember the name and what the scratches were trying to tell, and it doesn’t matter.” (Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner).
The highly (self-)publicized guilt of baby boomers over their selling out is essentially a noble thing. I wish to defend their self-absorption, for it is something quite distinct from genuine, vicious self-absorption, which is marked by the refusal to acknowledge the outside world, and the narrow focus on the totally private concerns of one’s immediate situation. The self-absorption of the baby boomers is actually the opposite of this in every respect. Through the obnoxious behavior you describe so well, Julie, the baby boomers are irritably reaching out after some continuity in their lives; they are desperately trying to connect their absurd present with their visionary past, to connect themselves with something far larger than the terminally ill present.
And they are doing what every generation before them has done. At 40, the marble stone with its soon-to-be-effaced scratches appears closer and more swiftly approaching than at any time before. Not every generation reacts to this in as maudlin a fashion as this generation is. But this reaction and the general crassness of the themes of the boomers’ self-absorption are irrelevant. Every generation makes use of its own materials. The kids of the Depression forever return to their hard times, the kids of the Good War return to battlefronts in Europe. As well each generation should–to appropriate for itself that which gives life meaning, dignity, and permanence: a present that looks back to the past to see its roots there, to respect that something was that had value and might have, should have, lasted.
This generation’s return to the 60s and its obsession over its loss of vision are as good as the compulsive looking back of any previous generation. For the subject matter doesn’t matter–the striving to relate oneself to the larger context of life, the effort to leave a mark on something more lasting than marble–the self-absorption–does.
So 20 years from now, Julie, when you are lamenting the passing of Spaghetti-O’s from the formative years of youth, or the absence of a healthy jaded cynicism in the college graduates of that time, or whatever–I’ll understand. You’ll be carrying on that precious process of self-absorption which is the stuff identity and character and nobility in mutability are made of. You’ll be trying to make an impression, you see.
Angelo A. Bonadonna
Baby Boomer, Vintage 1957