Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Last Man Shuffle

My Intro to Philosophy professor described Nietzsche's Last Man as "an appetitive creature, roaming from sports bar to sports bar." Either he made this speech several times or he unveiled it only once with the lights dimmed, the curtains drawn, and a thunderstorm raging outside. The image of the Last Man nursing a Bud Light down at TGI Friday's has stuck with me well into my decadent twenties and it haunts me as I find myself roaming from sports bar to sports bar, from coffee shop to coffee shop, doing the Last Man Shuffle, as it were.

The Last Man Shuffle is an exhausting dance. I've caught myself performing it on several continents, so it isn't necessarily endemic to America, though it might be endemic to Americans. Step One: Set aside an afternoon to pursue an artistic venture of your choice. Step Two: Choose one of your three favorite bars or coffee shops as a venue in which to write, sketch, or photocollage. Step Three: Wiggle your ass in a stiff-backed chair for thirty minutes until the urge to leave becomes unbearable. Step Four: Having accomplished nothing, get into your early-90's sedan and either zip off to another coffee shop or bar (where you will encounter the same discomfort) or just head home to twist one off, take a nap, and call it a day. Now you're doing the Last Man Shuffle.

The worst part is that the Last Man, unremarkable though he is, is plagued by artistic delusions. He works a dull job and has ample time to think about what he'd rather be doing, and what he'd rather be doing is creating a work of art so staggeringly brilliant that all of the kids who picked on him in middle school would rip out their own hair and mail him reparation checks for the rest of their miserable lives. The daydream gets him through work. But the moment he punches out, he finds that he'd rather be at home twisting one off. And so the days pass and all that is achieved is a marginal reduction in the Last Man's sexual tension.

In The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus describes a French torture device called le malconfort, or the little-ease. It wasn't terribly inventive, but I imagine it worked. The little-ease was a small prison cell that was neither long enough for the inmate to lay down, nor tall enough for the inmate to stand up. So it must have been very uncomfortable. Life in a society that is rich in Old Chicagos is probably preferable to le malconfort, but there is the same kind of restriction on one's range of movement. You feel as though you can't stand up and do something truly remarkable - because that could involve failure and financial ruin - but to lie down, twist one off, and call it a day would be a waste of life. And so you drift from sports bar to sports bar, from coffee shop to coffee shop, doing the Last Man Shuffle, and one day you'll write that novel that will bring western civilization to its knees. In the meantime ...

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