A New Brand of Disaffected Youth
"Among the Believers"
By A.O. SCOTT
Published: September 11, 2005
Benjamin Kunkel's first novel, Indecision, published last month, concerns a young man living in Manhattan and trying, as the title suggests, to figure out what to do with his life. He has a B.A. in philosophy and an active, if confusing, romantic life; he gets by on a combination of office work and parental subsidy. In his author's affectionate estimation, offered over a beer on a recent evening at a Brooklyn bar, this young man, whose name is Dwight Wilmerding, is "kind of an idiot." Perhaps, but he may also be - the critical response to "Indecision" suggests as much - an especially representative kind of idiot. His plight, after all, is - for people of his age and background - a familiar one: an alienation from his own experience brought about by too much knowledge, too many easy, inconsequential choices, too much self-consciousness. Bred in a culture consecrated to the entitled primacy of the individual, he discovers that he lacks a self, a coherent identity, maybe a soul. He feels that he could be anyone. "It wasn't very unusual for me to lie awake at night," he confesses, "feeling like a scrap of sociology blown into its designated corner of the world. But knowing the cliches are cliches doesn't help you to escape them. You still have to go on experiencing your experience as if no one else has ever done it."
Of course, one aspect of that experience is the impulse to rebel against it - the desire to rescue thought, feeling and ambition from the quotation marks that seem perpetually affixed to them, to recover the possibility of earnest emotion, ethical commitment and serious thought. That desire can find any number of outlets, one of which might be - why not? - starting a literary journal, a small magazine.
No, no, I'm not starting a literary magazine or anything. But the article was interesting. People around my age who are over-educated and not sure what to do with their lives. Maybe it's wrong to use the term "over-educated." Maybe nobody can be over-educated, especially just with a measly BA. But it does seem, at 26, that life ought to have more overarching purpose or meaning than mine seems to. Not that I think that a BA gives life any kind of overarching purpose or meaning. Maybe, as some have suggested, it's just a matter of doing and seeing more, and then things will become clearer. Maybe it's too much to expect any kind of clarity at 26. But some people seem to have it...!
I used to be very worried about the purpose of my life, but then I had an epiphany: whether I knew it or not, I was already living my life's purpose. Once I internalized the idea that what my purpose was is something which can only be seen in hindsight (and thus, I won't be around to see it), I felt a lot better. Now I just try to be a decent person in my dealings, and trust that higher meanings will take care of themselves.