“The annoying thing about the disenchantment of the world,” as Bob Hope would have put it, “is that it starts so early and lasts so long.” I got my first installment of it at the age of five or so, when I learned from my kindergarten teacher that “oakmeal” had nothing to do with oak trees and everything to do with some creepy alien plant called an “oat”; and my most recent one maybe a year ago, when I learned that the Germans had their own prosaically German-sounding word for “swastika,” “Hakenkreuz.” I mean, seriously, f****: how did they manage to persuade themselves that they were descended from Indian nobility using a word like that?
The adolescent regards the memories of his childhood as a fifth-century Athenian regarded the Homeric epics, accepting them as a true account of actual events in default of a proper fact-checkable record, paying lip service to the naïve heroism routinely exhibited by his noble ancestor; and yet at bottom believing that the here and now is where it’s at, and that the there and then has absolutely no physical or metaphysical bearing upon it. The middle-aged man, in contrast, is more like a Hellenistic Greek (whose city of origin is perforce irrelevant, natch?). He has the plays, the poems, the histories, the philosophical dialogues, of his Athenian forbears (i.e., his adolescent self) ready to hand. He knows that the events alluded to therein actually happened to men who actually existed, and were recorded by men who knew them and likewise existed. He knows that they cannot be bettered by him, on account not so much of any diminution of ability on his part, as of their own interposition between his so-called creative consciousness and the age of myth whose immediate contiguity was the principal impetus to their inception. One might say that he has an Oedipal relation to his adolescent self; or, perhaps more aptly, that he has Oedipus complex envy of him.