Josna Rege

178. Talkin’ ’bout My Generation

In 1950s, 1960s, 2010s, Britain, India, Inter/Transnational, Music, Politics, United States, writing on March 8, 2013 at 5:57 pm
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Plate 1: Wherefore stopp'st thou me? by Gustave Doré (wisdomcriethwithout.com)

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Plate 1: Wherefore stopp’st thou me? by Gustave Doré (wisdomcriethwithout.com)

He holds him with his skinny hand,
‘There was a ship,’ quoth he.
‘Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!’
Eftsoons his hand dropt he.

He holds him with his glittering eye—
The Wedding-Guest stood still,
And listens like a three years’ child:
The Mariner hath his will.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, S. T. Coleridge

It has occurred to me more than once that I am writing this blog to record worldviews, sensibilities, textures of time and place that are passing away. They are shared by many members of my generation, and to some extent, that of my parents. Of course, some of them are specific to my generation in England, India, or the United States, while others are transnational currents, shared across continents, cultures, and even social classes. But the older I get, the more I understand the uncontrollable urge that compelled the Ancient Mariner, that “grey-beard loon,” to grab hold of the young Wedding Guest with his skinny hand, sit him down upon a stone, and, held fast with his glittering eye, make him listen to his long, haunting tale—a tale that cannot, must not be forgotten.

My British generation, very much aware of the privilege and poverty of  the bad old days before and during the Second World War, believed in social equality, educational reform, and the Welfare State. My Indian generation, who grew up in the era of Nehruvian socialism, secularism, and non-alignment very much aware of our parents’ and grandparents’ struggle for Independence, rejected casteism and embraced economic self-reliance. My U.S. generation opposed the Vietnam War and Cold-War paranoia, cast off consumerism, fought for civil rights and proclaimed freedom for all. My inter/transnational generation were universalists who shared world music and global culture long before the terms were coined. So much to explain, so little time.

(thefirstfew.com)

(thefirstfew.com)

Why don’t you all f-f-f–fade away
And don’t try to d-dig what we all s-s-say
I’m not trying to cause a b-big s-s-sensation
I’m just talkin’ ’bout my g-g-generation
                                                            —My Generation, The Who

There’s another part of me that, like the Who, prophets of my generation, doesn’t want to proselytize and doesn’t have to explain. I’m under no illusions that my generation is better than the ones that preceded and followed it and fully recognize that there are as many continuities as breaks between us: I’ve never really believed in the Generation Gap. But I do want to share some of the spirit of the times that have shaped me with my agemates around the world who will know exactly what I’m talking about, and with young people now entering their prime who may not, but for whom Tell Me Another might help to account for our antics and attitudes, which can sometimes be exasperating in the extreme.

Tell Me Another (Contents to Date)

Chronological Table of Contents

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  1. ah, and you don’t know that you are even OF a generation unless you want to teach, say, martin luther king or the bra burning women’s movement and then your students look at you like you’re trying henri VIII on them… bine (one of the hags)

    • Too true, bine. Because of the way “the Sixties Generation” has been packaged and trivialized in the mass media, one is always at risk of being seen as a relic, a mere figure of pity and ridicule. But because they are a captive audience one tries to resist taking advantage of one’s position (at least, not too much) to rant at them.

  2. That was an excellent post today. Thanks so much for sharing it. I
    really enjoyed reading it very much. You have a wonderful day!

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  3. You are doing an important work here by sharing these stories like story tellers through the ages who have helped shape and hold the fabric of society together. Our stories and our music are all part of what reflect our sense of community, our pride in our past and our hope for the future. What you are doing is valuable beyond your time and your family and friends. Thank you for having the courage to use your gift for writing to share with the world those experiences and ideas which have meaning and value for you. As you have discovered by now, they have meaning and value to people around the world.
    Love,
    Marianne

    • Thank you for your loving response, dear Marianne. I’m embarrassed—but still pleased, of course—by your affirmation. I guess I do feel the need to tell these stories. It delights me when they resonate, not only with dear readers like you, agemates whose background and experiences parallel and overlap with mine, but also with both older and younger ones who have come of age in very different times and places. x J

  4. Such a good post, Josna. Just this morning i was in a discussion about how our personal histories and stories colour our world and how its only when we begin to try and grasp and understand these stories that we are able to connect in deeper ways.

    • Thank you so much for your comment, Don. I do tend to be very opinionated, and in reading your response I am put in mind of a moment in my fiery youth at a school committee meeting in high school back in 1970, soon after I had immigrated to the U.S. I think we high-school students were calling for a student strike against the Vietnam War (and the Kent and Jackson State shootings at home), when a middle-aged man (or so he seemed to me!) started talking about the Second World War. I remember (with shame now) calling out something impatiently dismissive about “you people,” always going on and on about that old war. I don’t even remember whether he was speaking in support or opposition to the proposal, just assumed that an old fogey like that, talking about an “old war,” was irrelevant—as if this was “our war” and had nothing to do with “theirs.” Now, forty years later, I see much more clearly how powerfully the lives of my parents’ generation were affected by that war, and wish I had been able to listen and learn back then.

      • Josna, you remind me of moments when I did the same kind of thing. So embarrassing when you think back on it, but then I suppose you live up to light that was in you at the time. Thank you for sharing – really appreciate it.

  5. Your response above to Don reminds me of a letter to the editor I saw two or three years ago. I believe it was from a young man who had joined one of the armed services here in the U.S. He was trying to explain why he thought he was doing the right thing by joining up to fight in Iraq and was tired of hearing about Vietnam and Iran/Contra and the baby boom generation in general. His last sentence was almost word for word this: “Why can’t we just have our own war?” I still find it haunting: I’m not sure he was aware of how many ways that demand could be read. I felt — still do — a mixture of compassion and respect for his wanting to work through these issues, exasperation that he thought earlier generations had nothing to teach him about war, and revulsion and fear that he thought that war in a foreign country was a place to work out issues from home. Maybe this is just the way it always is.

    You’re fulfilling your part of the bargain beautifully. The personal stories of family are especially moving and seem to hit a universal nerve, if there be such a thing.

    • Sarah, you articulate your range of emotional reactions to the young man’s letter so well. It’s deeply frustrating when every new generation seems to think it has nothing to learn from the last and merely reacts to it, repeating the same old mistakes all over again. As Doris Lessing characters have so often wondered, is there no progress, no forward movement at all? I sincerely hope we can start to learn something fast, otherwise there’s not much hope for this poor world. It infuriates me when my students, in response to war and colonialism and xenophobia and people’s inhumanity to their fellow human beings, just shrug and say (sounding like tired old people), But it’s human nature, that’s the way it’s always been. Not that I think for a moment that you’re “just shrugging,” Sarah! What upsets me is when students seem to think that the fact that it has ever been so excuses them from having to struggle against it.
      And thank you for your as-ever-supportive words at the end. It always delights me when one of the personal stories resonates with someone and generates another story in response, like yours here. x J

  6. Jo — thanks for this post. I have only two minor comments: 1) Gustave Dore is the MAN and 2) eftsoons is the WORD! Xxoo

    • McNance, you hit the NAIL on the HEAD. Perfectly put, in a few well-chosen words! I wish my uncle would post his comments here (he sends them to me by email), because he just wrote me a long message, using eftsoons! Among other things, he also said that though he liked the Dore, he imagined the A. M. differently, out of one of those seafarer’s yarns, or an American movie version of Treasure Island. Love hearing from you (Grandma!) xxx J

  7. Josna, I love this post. Lately I’ve come to see how much my parents and grandparents’ experiences have direct bearing on my own experiences and my children’s experiences. Of course, when I was young, even when I was a soldier in West Berlin at the height of the Cold War, I was still so oblivious. I think history becomes more important as we age, and I know that I’m always trying to tell my kids things about our generations’ experiences. They tend to tune out though. Their video games are so much more interesting! It’s wonderful that you’ve written these memoirs for your son and other young people to read, now or someday in the future.

    • You’re right, Maureen, that right now our children may find our stories dull compared to the hyper-stimulation of video games. Perhaps not at bedtime, though; and more likely, well into the future, perhaps when it comes time for them to tell stories to their own children. Thanks so much for your comment. You have had amazing experiences that give you such an important vantage point on our times. You’re right that when we were living history we weren’t necessary conscious of it in the way that we are now, in retrospect. And yes, I now treasure what I remember of the stories of my parents and grandparents (told second-hand in the case of my grandparents, since I didn’t have the opportunity to know them). x J

  8. It’s the age at which you automatically seem to dismiss as irrelevant the experiences of elders. It’s always the now and the present that is more important than the past.

    The young soldier Sarah wrote about might have been looking for reaffirmation of his decision, support for his present situation rather than a memory.

    As always, a pleasure to come her and read.

    • Yes, I think that the young have many automatic reactions to the older generation. I found with my son that it was almost like a curse when I told him to do something, because after that, even if he had already been meaning to do it before I had spoken, he couldn’t bring himself to do it any more. Perhaps because it took away his own agency? The young are probably the wiser ones. After all, it is always the now. The old tend to live in and re-live the past too much instead of paying full attention to the present (I see that frightening tendency in myself), and this is understandably exasperating to the youth.
      About the soldier, yes, it was probably cold comfort to him to have his predicament in the present reduced to just the latest in a sad series of wars, with himself not seen an individual but a “universal soldier” (as in Buffy St. Marie’s song).
      Thanks, as always, for your visit and your lively comments.

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