Today’s Salon features an insightful, probing piece by Rebecca Traister on the humdrum, sorry state of being a Modern American Woman, and the trouble with dating the contemporary early-adult American male – specifically, how today’s women are dissatisfied with this “new breed of man: a man of few interests and no passions; a man whose libido is reduced and whose sense of responsibility nonexistent. These men are commitment-phobic not just about love, but about life. They drink and take drugs, but even their hedonism lacks focus or joy. They exhibit no energy for anyone, any activity, profession or ideology.”
Traister sagely acknowledges that writers such as Candace Bushnell et al have explored this subject to death, and, as such, she seeks a new hook: What might Ben Kunkel, the author of Random House’s Indecision – this month’s literary hotcake amongst the city’s subway- and nightstand-reading set – have to contribute to this line of discussion? Of the author and his text’s protagonist, she asks, “After I finished Kunkel’s novel, I was curious about the man who had so precisely drawn a figure whose initial indifference is so painfully familiar. With Kunkel, I thought I might be able to have a safe, objective conversation about the kind of guy Dwight is as his story begins. How did we get a population of Dwights? Will they ever get better? Why do my friends and I continue to date them?”
But why limit Kunkel to a simple, one-track discussion on dating and relationships? We asked him, this literate, Harvard-trained man-about-town, to help our sullen readers with some of their sundry dilemmas. And boy, did he ever!
Welcome, then, to the first installment of our new, groundbreakingly opinionated, and most important, gentlemanly advice column.
ASK BEN KUNKEL
I recently left my wife of five years after – for lack of a better way of phrasing it – losing my passion for her. Not falling out of love, mind you…just losing that sense of passion that keeps people together. Lately, however, I have been regretting my decision, and want her back. The problem is, she has taken up reading all sorts of self-help books that seem to discourage exes from reuniting. What should I do?
It can be very difficult dealing with the repercussions of our actions, particularly when it comes to love and the causalities thereof. Do we love for the sake of loving, or do we love merely to stay afloat in this pool of the everyday, the human interactions that define our existence? Hannah Arendt hit it right on the head when she put forth that being female was akin to being imprisoned by one’s mind and morality, and that, no matter what we may do to attempt to break free, we – and, it may be said, all of humanity – will forever be subjected to a greater external framework, an ethical morass the likes of which no mere mortal can transcend. Which is why she encouraged her lover, Walter Benjamin, to take his own life. Ever the slattern, she then wound up fucking Heidegger over, too.
I recently moved into an elite co-op in Chelsea, and was thrilled to become a part of what felt like a second home, this tightly-knit community of likeminded, intellectually vibrant, book-reading wage-earners. But since settling in last month, I have learned my upstairs neighbor insists on playing his music far too loudly, and usually at moments when I am trying to sleep. I have thought of leaving notes on his door, but am uncertain of what this might do to upset the otherwise tranquil balance of our collective abode. Any ideas?
Noise, and music in particular, can be a source of great asymmetric tension. Historically, one may note, Theodor Adorno espoused nothing but the severest disdain for jazz music, or rather, what he termed “jazz music”, but which was, in fact, a series of sounds akin to “big band” music, henceforth confusing generations of Marxists and music critics alike. It was his literal reading of this cacophony, the simpleminded focus on aberrant rhythms and layered ideas, that confounded his aesthetic judgment, and led to a great deal of turmoil in his dealings with his onetime partner in the Frankfurt School, Max Horkheimer. Horkheimer really got down with the horns, the clarinet, the vibrato…all of which conveyed an intricate melding of joy and sadness and expedient physicality. This tapestry of the old and new, incidentally, can be found in the recent works of Radiohead.
Benjamin Kunkel grew up in Colorado. He has written for Dissent, The Nation, and the The New York Review of Books, and is a founding editor of n+1 magazine.