"The Province of the Stuck Record"

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Editorial and Opinion  |  House: Booksie Classic
Discussion on the drawbacks of modern progress, invention and mechanisation; Are we truly living in the “Province of the Stuck Record”?

Submitted: December 30, 2011

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Submitted: December 30, 2011

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“The Province of the Stuck Record”

 

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By Niamh Jiménez

 

There comes a moment in every privileged young person’s life when he or she must decide what they intend to do with the rest of their lives. It seems almost incongruous that those of us blessed with the merits of an education and its Olympian scope of opportunity could be terrorised by this seemingly self-evident question. What will I be? How will I contribute to the world? Making a contribution to the world has become a somewhat hackneyed platitude; how exactly does an ambitious young man or woman of the modern age succeed in devising something original without necessity as his or her guide? Real advancement, reserved for the few occupying that inaccessible echelon of brilliance, appears to have satisfied our requirements tenfold. Scores of intellectuals, dabbling in the fields of science, art and literature pondered this tormenting question, which seems to foil our ambition. Sylvia Plath’s life was fraught with the fear of effacement, the chilling prospect of never quite reaching that glorious echelon, the fear of tottering on the very penumbra of brilliance. She defined this phobia as the “fear of total neutrality”, “neutr” signifying nothingness; her literary talent was publically acknowledged but did her work ever receive the degree of recognition which she had always sought.

I am not here to repudiate the advantages of social progress and scientific advancement; I do not consider myself a revanchist or even suggest that we should all adopt an outdated modus vivendi. But occasionally I question the consequences of racing progress for the general populace, the ambitious man or woman who yearns to “contribute to society” but whose human efforts lag behind the unsurpassable might of modern inventions. In Plath’s poem “The Times Are Tidy”, she satirises modern society’s fanatic veneration of mechanisation and new technologies, which, to a certain extent, deprive our world of spontaneity, diversity and a certain inexplicable element of magic: “Unlucky the hero born in this province of the stuck record.” She describes how mechanisation has left “watchful cooks” jobless and how the “major’s rotisserie turns around of its own accord.”

Scientific innovation and the rapid progression characteristic of the modern era diminish the less monumental achievements of the average person, which are comparatively inconsequential; the ambitious man or woman might suddenly ask themselves: “Is it really possible to make a contribution?” Society becomes conditioned to an unattainable paradigm, an artificially inflated standard set by machinery, which supersede our merely human capacities.  Achieving distinction of the kind envisaged by Plath becomes progressively implausible, as we are made more and more aware of our human limitations. And yet society’s expectation for greater and more sophisticated technologies breeds a heightened ambition and a desire for that very distinction which progress has made relatively unattainable. Men and women strive for excellence in their field, aspiring to reach that untouchable echelon, while fraught with the knowledge that genius is patented. The greatest specimens of technology, which exist in abundance, are the products of a minuscule, ingenious demographic who own the exclusive rights.

Fresh innovations eradicate former obstacles and thus make our lives comparatively effortless. With modern comforts, the same resourcefulness is nonessential, and imagination becomes obsolete in accordance with the death of self-sufficiency. It appears that the paradox of modern-day progress is that indolence and inactivity is one of the outcomes. Old traditions die out; former hazards are eliminated through profligate censorship and the excessive cloistering of our children, leading to an almost destructive sterilisation of our society. According to Plath, “history’s beaten the hazard”, and the magic of fairytale has died away with the burning of the “last old crone”.

Those of us who are perceived as “above average” in the classroom are predestined to go into medicine, academia or exhibit our eloquence in the courtroom, not because these professions coincide with our ambitions, but because they are universally deemed to be appropriate outlets for the modern-day intellectual. This is perhaps another example of the way in which the modern perspective has stifled creativity and our prerogative to pursue individual thought and action. The bland predictability and insipidness of this pattern seems to suggest that, in many ways, we have evolved into a society of conformers. 

 


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