Down By The River

country river

Warning against the virtues of the perceived authentic life in the country, Schiller—the wordsmith behind Beethoven’s ever popular, much loved Ode to Joy music in his 9th Symphony—directs people to “submit to all [the] evils of civilization with a free resignation.” This was in 1795. The worst thing one could do, in other words, was to dupe oneself into believing a life in the country could ever still amount to anything, and not to waste it there. So, the only thing to do was to take in the fullness that modern life in the city offered. Again, this was in 1795. Under completely dissimilar circumstances, actor Joseph C. Phillips condemns the now beleaguered American comic Bill Cosby in 2015 for his predatory philandering by urging him, in a publicly released article to “Please, go live a quiet country life.” In other words, to vanish, to disappear, to fritter away his days to nothing. Get out of the city! Get out of New York! Get out of LA! Get out of Berlin! Get out of Leipzig! Get out of Jakarta! Get out of Barcelona! Get out of the public eye! Get out of business! Get out of the world!

But with the hyperconnectivity of our Internet entwined globe, this trope of the Country Mouse and the Town Mouse—the quiet and the busy, the ignorant and the urbane—is not valid anymore. While the superfluities of Jonathan Franzen’s words litter columns of myriad subjects enmeshed within Wikipedia articles, he will likely be recalled by his own confession as dictum that in order to write, he has to turn off his Wi-Fi. This is completely the opposite of Susan Sontag’s fantastic declaration much earlier in time that she has a multiple-attention-to-everything disorder, or Camille Paglia’s hefty boast in the 80’s to having to have her Walkman playing music on loud while writing to write. Surely, as Steve Martin has amused us all, whether in a shack in the country, or a teensy-weensy studio in the city, or some shanty in obscurity, the women rule here.

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