Sunday, March 04, 2007
(11:04 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Dave Brubeck and HeideggerDave Brubeck has always been closely associated with Heidegger in my mind. We played "Take Five" in jazz band in high school, but those memories have been largely overwritten by a period of a couple weeks during which I largely sat alone in a nearly-empty apartment on the margins of Olivet's campus, reading Being and Time and going through Mark Miller's voluminous collection of jazz albums: John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Art Blakey, Dave Brubeck.... My study of jazz was haphazard and inconclusive, never getting past that necessary early stage where one grabs whatever is ready-to-hand, in order to compile the bare minimum of random knowledge out of which some form of coherence can slowly be built, in my case, some way of knowing what I'm listening to, beyond simply "liking" it. (I've been told that Kind of Blue is the greatest jazz album ever, and yeah, I "like" it. I can see how you'd say that.)
The reading of Being and Time was something I had been preparing for throughout that summer, mainly by going through David Krell's Basic Writings collection. This was a tumultuous summer for me, my first effort to try to live on-campus during the summer instead of facing the misery of living at home again. I did not do well in providing for myself. I got a job delivering pizzas and got in an accident while on the job. When I went back to Michigan to get my replacement vehicle, I ended up missing work at the pizza place, giving them the pretext they needed to fire me. On impulse, I moved back home, convinced that I would have a job at the lawn-mowing place, but I got only very minimal hours -- in fact, the only reason I got any hours at all was because I simply showed up one morning and clocked in, and the boss felt bad sending me home.
In general, I was not really making enough money, a trend that continues to this very day. But I was reading a lot -- Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Wittgenstein. The nice thing about getting so few hours at the lawn-mowing place was that I wasn't too tired to read. Life was pretty laid-back for a few weeks. Then one day, the hottest day of the summer, my parents told me that they were taking a trip. I worked only a half-day, then one of my co-workers mentioned that his parents lived on Lake Fenton and had a boat -- one of these lazy rich kids who were failing to develop the character their fathers had hoped physical labor would bring -- so a few of us went out there and had a few beers, while driving around on this boat.
Everything was handled with an amazing level of responsibility -- we even managed to get some stone-cold sober people to drive us home. A half hour after I got home, my dad arrived; apparently this trip had not happened or I had misunderstood. Anyway, I didn't want to discuss it at the time. It was only about 8:00, but I got in bed anyway. I had what seemed to be a bullet-proof excuse for going to bed so early: I'd put in a long day's work on the hottest day of the year. I was exhausted!
A few days later, as I was trying to read, my parents "sat me down" in the living room. This was a part of a broader series of talks, stretching back to tenth grade, about how I was squandering my life. Themes included my lack of a clear career path, the degree to which my girlfriend was hated by all members of my family, my failure to adhere faithfully to the religious sect in which I was raised, my general moodiness, the fact that I was sure to get said girlfriend pregnant (in reality, we never had sex), etc. These interventions, which at their peak happened several times a week, had tapered off a bit since I went to college, simply for geographical reasons, but this summer I had been such a pain and had now so obviously violated their trust that some kind of reckoning couldn't be avoided.
I didn't deny I had been drinking. I had been responsible about it, had endangered no one -- they of course didn't believe the part about finding sober drivers, since people who would be so stupid as to drink by definition would not attend to such matters. (Even now, as I think about this conversation, I am becoming angry all over again.) My dad -- ever insightful in such discussions! -- said that he thought I was too good to be a "follower," a sentiment that seemed to me to have been adopted from a public service announcement of some kind. My mom pointed out that the title to my truck was in their name and therefore threatened that a DUI would result in their reclaiming it. Great, fine.
At a certain point, I had had enough, and I told them so. I walked away, went back in my room and started reading again. Within a week, I had confirmed with Mark -- who worked on the grounds crew at Olivet during the summer, something I obviously should've done as well -- that our apartment was available to move into, and I unceremoniously left, with no prospect whatsoever for making money. PBJ and ramen was the order of the day. I just read, almost all day, occasionally venturing out, walking across the vast distances while the dry grass cracked under my feet.
After that, it was never a question of moving back home, even for a short time. I could live my minimal little life, a frugal life of bad food and no new clothes, a life of near-constant worry about where money was going to come from -- I just had to know that I would never be "sat down" again. A whole life of making minimal demands, of keeping to myself, of doing all my chores promptly and well, of getting superlative grades, of being a star in band, of being a dutiful student of the piano, of having good and well-behaved friends, of working ever since I was old enough to drive -- that all meant nothing. Being good hadn't preserved me from random interrogations, in fact made me more vulnerable -- I bought into their standard of judgment and tried to defend myself according to it, once even breaking down in tears, a seventeen-year-old kid, breaking down into incoherence, collapsing into a fetal position, and she just walked away. Even now, if something ever comes up in conversation, she acts like she doesn't remember, like it was someone else entirely -- she apologizes on behalf of this other person, over-eagerly, like she's apologizing for some weird misunderstanding that she can't fully assimilate.
Having actually done something wrong according to their standards, though -- that was what it took. Then I was outside and could pass judgment on the whole regime. My teenage rebellion had been to do exactly what they wanted, then sit back and take it, hope they would realize how they were mistreating me -- instead of trying to buy me off with clothes I didn't want and they couldn't afford, or with a stupid excess of Christmas gifts. Like most teenage rebellions, it was futile. I should've just told them flat out: I prefer to read. Leave me alone.