Pushcart 2011: Hari Kunzru, “Memories of the Decadence” from PEN America and Mute Magazine

At the beginning of the Decadence it was easy. Although we were bored, and though everything had been done before, we were seized with a peculiar sense of potential. Our anomie had something optimistic to it. This was the golden age of our decline.

This is the story of a fictional (sort of) series of fads and obsessions which occurred during the fictional (sort of) Decadence. One fad he left out is the one in which everyone writes stories about quasi-fictional alternative presents in second person plural.

Maybe I’d be more swept away if I hadn’t just read Seth Fried’s “Frost Mountain Picnic Massacre,” which I loved, by the way. And I truly enjoyed “Memories of the Decadence” too. If I’d read them in a different order, perhaps I’d feel differently. But as is, it just felt a little “been there, done that.” Or like it’s trying just a little too hard to be, you know man, like, relevant.

Not that it isn’t really, really good. See for yourself – you can read it on Hari Kunzru’s website (which is worth looking at for a whole bunch of other things), or at PEN/American Center (it was published in the “Fear Itself” issue), or at Mute (in slightly different form). I love that it’s so accessible, maybe because the author believes in it. And it’s quite short, and readable. And I couldn’t be more on his side in his exposition of the lemming nature of people or the shallowness of our obsessions. Not to mention his journalistic observations of recent events.

I suspect, however, that I’m missing some of the brilliance of the work because I can’t really attach the philosopies to the fads in the story. I can recognize Myspace/Facebook (I’ve always found it strange that at the same time people are screaming about privacy while putting naked pictures on the Internet), and Aristotle. But I just don’t have the juice in my synapses to see an overall pattern. My impression is, things were moving backwards, actually, and the end point of the story is pretty much the 50s. But I admit, it’s over my head.

I trust the source, though. And it is a great read, even for those of us on the lower levels. Even though it’s been done before, it has a peculiar sense of potential… Oh! Did I just get it?

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