Tuesday, August 22, 2006

That Last Infirmity of Noble Mind...

It's been a week since I last felt the kiss of the Blogging Muse, who, as you all know, cannot be commanded to appear at will. Or at your will, at least - she has a mind of her own, and keeps her own schedule of play dates. Today she must have been lonely, as she has given my ear a friendly nibble.

The reason for the nibble is today's article in the New York Times Science Times section about "The Fame Motive." It appears that psychologists are only now discovering what good old John Milton knew centuries ago, that "Fame is the spur" that drives and motivates a large portion of the human race. "Money and power are handy, but millions of people want something else: fame" - so runs the blurb on the front page. Having been force-fed Milton at an early age, all I can say is, "Well, duh."

Of course, the way today's shrinks define "fame" seems a bit different from what Milton had in mind. He wanted literary immortality, hoping that his deathless prose and poetry would be read for all generations to come. For this he forswore "to sport with Amaryllis in the shade, or in the tangles of Naerea's hair," concentrating instead on learning his grammar and rhetoric. I think he would be surprised to read in this article that his idea of fame was all wet. "To swivel necks, to light a flare in others' eyes, to walk into a crowded room and feel the conversation stop...to have others care about what you're doing, even what you had for lunch..." - that, Mr. Milton, is fame in 21st century America. We've come a long way since the 17th century, baby.

Which is why I don't think Milton would be an especially happy camper in today's Greenwich, where most of our our citizens are pretty much in tune with the Times article. Everyone and their dog seem to have plenty of money and power, but they're all hung up on wanting "to be noticed...to be loved" and to swivel those necks. A dowdy, frumpy Puritan would not fit in well here, and in fact might quickly wind up as road kill for our SUVs as he tried to use a crosswalk with his white cane. I know you didn't live in the easiest of times, John, but I think you can be glad you were a part of your century, not ours. We don't have much use for odists or epic poets these days; our cultural speciality is Britney Spears and rap lyrics.

So let's have no more talk of weeping shepherds or noble minds or clear spirits, Mr. Milton - we have few if any of those in town, and if you think you can become famous that way in this day and age, you're sadly mistaken. But hey - don't be depressed - a few of us still like and remember your poetry, some four hundred years on, even if we can't remember what we had for lunch.


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