Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Road to Character: Chapter 9 (Self-Examination)

...[Samuel] Johnson is like an East Coast rapper - intense, earnest, combative. [Michel de] Montaigne is like a West Coast rapper - equally realistic but also relaxed, mellow, sun-drenched.

I can't top that line. I could sit here staring at this page for hours, I could drink myself into oblivion, I could lock myself in a dark closet until I lose touch with reality, and I still won't be able to top this. It is the perfect distillation of Brooks' writing style. It's tonally awkward compared to everything else in that chapter. It's an awful metaphor that makes less and less sense the more you think about it. It's stolen - Brooks allegedly got it from one of those kids who so wisely opted to take his humility course. It's weirdly wrong - the West Coast was the home of gangsta rap and the birthplace of N.W.A., how is that "relaxed" or "mellow"? And can I safely assume that the mistake was on Brooks when he wrote it down rather than the student when she said it?

There's no point in going over the rest of the chapter, none at all. There's nothing to learn from it. It's still mostly other people's work. It's even lazier than Chapter 8, which I think confirms my hypothesis about Brooks losing steam. The above quote is followed by a compare-and-contrast bit that absolutely reads like the kind of thing a college freshman writes to give the illusion of understanding when really he just doesn't know enough about the topic to draw any conclusions. I don't even know what the virtue on display is meant to be. "Self-examination" is about as broad as it gets. Hasn't every chapter been about self-examination? Isn't that part and parcel of Brooks' thesis? Is it necessary for it to get its own little chapter when that's been a running theme for the previous two hundred pages?

This is the last of the book reports, of the unambitious freshman essays. I have not enjoyed them at all. You know, I wish that this book was aggravating to read. I wish that Brooks had been much more forceful in his preaching and lecturing because it would have given me far more material to work with. But they were frustrating in a different and far less productive way. This was 225 pages of nothing, of monotonous writing, of trite and ancient ideas, of self-righteousness disguised as the wisdom of the ages, of self-blindness and unintentional irony. This was writing as product, as something to be churned out so it can be bound and placed conspicuously on a shelf to invoke a dialogue at some cocktail party. This was writing that, in a sterling act of hypocrisy, served only to elevate the author's name even as he decried those shallow souls who live for fame.

The good news is that it gets better, which is to say that it gets better for me and hopefully for you. In Chapter 10, we'll watch as Brooks struggles to bring it all together. We'll watch him pretend that there was some greater lesson to be gleaned from the stitched-together digests he's presented us. We'll watch him complain about the hippies and the Kids These Days while pretending that he's doing nothing of the sort. We'll watch him give away the game on his own personal unacknowledged beliefs and biases, the ones that he failed to unearth on his journey of self-discovery. And then once we think that there's nothing more, that he couldn't top himself, we'll watch him present a Humility Code for the KTDs to follow in their own lives. I've seen but a glimpse, and it is amazing. Two parts amazing, in fact; maybe even three parts.

But for right now, I can only leave you with this one quote, this ugly testament to the writer's hackdom, this unconsidered signpost proving once again that no one has read this far. Ponder it, for the road in all its splendor and terror has led us here. Ponder it and try not to laugh too hard. Save some of that for next week, when we dive deep into the black pool of Brooksian understanding.

I hope I'll see you then.

Brooks' code is five items better.

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