Tim Kreider on selves

“There’s a temptation to disown your idiot know-it-all past self, an impulse I felt intensely while listening to those old letters read aloud. Some of my favorite artists (control freaks, all) renounced or suppressed their own juvenilia; Francis Bacon seems to have destroyed most of his paintings before the breakthrough Crucifixion; Stanley Kubrick once had a plane turned around that was delivering the reels of his first feature, Fear and Desire, to a festival screening. This seems to me not only a kind of insanity, like autocratic governments censoring their own histories, but a disservice—trying to present themselves as fully formed and accomplished from the start, denying aspirants the chance to see their apprentice work. Thomas Pynchon admirably resisted this impulse in publishing his own journeyman short stories in the collection Slow Learner; ‘I mean I can’t very well just 86 this guy from my life,’ he wrote in the introduction. In college, cleaning out a storage space, I once threw out a drawing I’d done in high school—a big, ambitious cubist/collage self-portrait—thinking it pretentious. I remember that now with guilt, as a crime against my former self. […]

I wish I could look back at my own younger self with the same forgiving distance, the kind of fond indulgence you’d feel for a fuckup younger brother. […]

Maybe there’s some consolation in knowing that, no matter what, my future self, 60- or 70-year-old me, will look back on me now, on this very essay, as embarrassing. It’s hard, at any age, to comprehend that we’re still very young, because it’s the oldest we’ve ever been, and we figure we ought to know better by now. Maybe you just have to learn to accept, even embrace, being perpetually stupid—what Rilke more artfully called ‘living the questions’—in the dubious assurance that you’ll one day be smart enough to rue it.”

— Tim Kreider (via)