From Robert Farrar Capon’s recently republished marriage anti-advice book, Bed & Board:
I became an old fogey young; I looked backward habitually and gladly. So, I think, did a good many of my generation. The real question therefore is: where did this love of the past come from?
Well, I think it came from living just one age after the end of the modern era. I grew up reading ~Popular Science Monthly~ in the thirties. I will never forget its rapt narration of the coming wonders of the new age; but I don’t think we will ever see that dewy-eyed scientific Messianism ever again. Back there, in the dark of the depression, newness was still the great watchword, just as it had been in the twenties. At Hiroshima, the newness blew itself sky-high, and when we finally did crawl out of our holes, we all began to look around for something a little less violently new. ~The Waste Land~ was no longer an avant-garde way of talking about life; it was the way our world ~felt~.
An odd bit of reflection from a book ostensibly about marriage, but that’s one of the wonderful things about Capon’s writing — immediate concerns are almost indistinguishable from transcendent ones. Thus, Bed & Board is about marriage, but also more than marriage. Ultimately, I would say the book is about everyday grace.
Some readers (as well as Capon himself, later in life) have noted that some of the statements in the book are a bit dated, if not outright sexist, in their views of men and women. But despite these shortcomings, the book’s message of embracing the absurdities of marriage holds up well. As CJ Green writes in his foreword to the new edition, “…it is its unfailing levity regarding everyday life that resurrects Bed and Board day after day, keeping it fresh, relevant, and completely true no matter the decade.”
And I would say the quote I opened this post with demonstrates its relevance very well. I’m unsure whether or not Capon would be surprised, but the “dewy-eyed scientific Messianism” seems to have returned, at least among some — a quick perusal of Hacker News comments will reveal this. But as the newness of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica and Twitter flame-wars and hyper-partisan clickbait of all varieties have blown our civil discourse and sense of community/stability sky-high, I can’t help but wonder if people are seeking out ways of being, interacting, and consuming information that are “a little less violently new.” I certainly am.