Against the boundaries of any single destiny

“We really wish to be multiple. Because of the mobile and vicarious character of so many promised happinesses, our era tempts us to push against the boundaries of any single destiny. From middle-class hopefulness, we think we have freedom of career. From the modern hiatus of college, we think life could be a thing of play and experiment.

From the narrow and desperate occupational specialization that follows, we are left to suspect that we could have done, or should have done, something else.

More different lifestyles are represented to us daily, televisually than to any previous group of people, and actual jobs are more specialized. So it’s easy to feel dissatisfaction with doing any one thing.

Sought-after experience lets you multiply your possible existences; getting a piece, or a taste, or many lives, as you tell yourself you know what it would have been like.

But the only-onceness of your life, mortality, may be the undercondition of all your other troubles. Old-style mortality reminded us that death lay around every corner, by disease, accident, or violence.

Contemporary mortality expects a solid life span, not a premature ending, thanks to medicine; but it resents the completeness of the ending of life, a life that preserves nothings, and leaves no soul, and can never be repeated.

Sometimes the concept of experience answers mortality by encouraging a spirit of recklessness. “You only live once” is the ironic verbal preface to actions that help kill you early.”

From pages 82 and 83 in Mark Grief’s collection of essays, Against Everything.

About the image by Robert Frederick Blum, The Ameya:

“Blum went to Japan in 1890 to illustrate a series of articles for Scribner’s Magazine and spent eighteen months there working on his own projects. His illustrated three-part article on his experiences appeared in Scribner’s in 1893 and included an image titled “The Ameya,” on which he based this painting. He wrote of an illustration of another ameya, or candy blower: “Very interesting things they do certainly perform . . . using the candy like a glassblower his lump of molten glass, and producing results, if hardly as beautiful or durable, certainly as artistic and finished as regards workmanship.”