The Soaring Twenties

Commonplace Newsletter #013

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Someone more intelligent than me once said that history doesn’t repeat, but it does rhyme. 

Patterns can be discerned from its study and thus we can learn from them and then attempt to both imagine how they would manifest in the present and extrapolate and model how they might play out into the future. 

This is what those who play the stock markets do. They look for the rhymes. And of course your portfolio, whether literal or metaphorical, can go down as well as up when you play this predicting game.

George Santayana, who was absolutely for a fact more intelligent than me, once said:

Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.

Very true. But I think this idea applies to both the bad and also the good facets of previous eras. Allow me to explain…

The Lost Generation classics of the Roaring Twenties- Shoulders to stand upon?

Those Who Fail To Learn From History Are Condemned To (Not) Repeat It

There is a bias inherent in the present (and probably inherent in all the presents of the past, if you get what I mean) that now is, by definition, the greatest time ever and that the future must by necessity be even better. This myth of the linearity of progress implies that the past has nothing to offer us other than a catalogue of cautionary tales. 

I think this view is both short-sighted and epistemically arrogant. All civilisations and epochs potentially stand taller than our own time when judged in light of certain virtues- civility, aesthetics, self-reliance, toughness, literacy and so on. 

And of course these same epochs were orders of magnitude behind us in others. So what you need to do then is to be discerning and to become inspired by prior goodness while also looking for ways to further mitigate those eras vices and follies.

This applies when looking both across epochs and in terms of your own individual life. Simple.

So you see, in only seeing the evil and corruption and squalor and (as filtered through contemporary values) ignorance of the past, we lose the ability to be inspired. This seems to be a very common plight today.

You can’t see further by standing on the shoulders of giant if you first insist on kicking their legs out from under them.

So let’s put a few reservations to the side and consider a past collective of giants, whose own era appears to rhyme with our own.

Not All Who Wander Are Lost

‘I thought that all generations were lost by something and always had been and always would be.’

Hemingway, A Moveable Feast.

There was a pandemic spreading its way around the world. There was fear in the air. People wore masks when they went out into the streets, some with great conviction, others with great reluctance. 

The year was 1920.

In a little over twelve months, the young Hemingway would move to Paris, where with F Scott Fitzgerald, T S Eliot, Ezra Pound, Dos Passos and James Joyce he would write works that defined a generation and resonated throughout the rest of their century and beyond. 

Picasso, Matisse and Dali would provide the visual accompaniment, as would a whole host of youngsters working within the new medium of cinema.

But what we forget about these giants is this. They had to start somewhere. They were not known quantities. Their experimental and radically new work had few touchstones for people to latch on to. Many of them sold poorly in their own lifetimes and were not known by the public at large. And yet they existed and their legacy persisted. 

So strip away the subsequent myth-making of the biographers and you can see that these artists were talented, enthusiastic, often bellicose dreamers who had a vision and a commitment. No different then, at least potentially, than the kind of young artists and writers and thinkers who I interact with everyday.

No different then, at least not categorically, than myself. Behind the veneer of myth these legends were just humans. Same as me, same as you.

It’s worth pondering that one for a while.

The Found Generation

‘People were always the limiters of happiness except for the very few that were as good as spring itself.’

~Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

Generation Z gives me hope. This present historical moment gives me hope, though the amount of people who share these sentiments with me is relatively few. Fine. Their shortsightedness is my opportunity. Our opportunity.

Now, even though I have spent a good few hundred words laying a foundation of context here I want to make one further point before I properly lay out what I mean when I use my shorthand phrase ‘Soaring Twenties’

The point is this: though I believe this current decade will be a great one, I also believe it will get worse in the short term. I know it is rough for many now. There is a lot of fear around, a lot of despair, a lot of panic and sadness lingers in the air that is gnawing away at peoples physical, mental and spiritual health. I am not denying or attempting to dismiss or belittle any of these fact. I am not delusional. This is not a ‘Toxic Positivity’, shouting-mantras-at-the-bathroom-mirror type of newsletter.

I would like to think that in the past 12 issues I have established at least some bonafides for being a nuanced thinker who has some basic wit and human compassion. Or at least that I am above being a low vibration polariser who says any old garbage if it’ll rake in a few more crumbs of cyber-clout.

But anyway.

I believe the immediate future will be tough. No denial, no equivocation. 

But then, when we look back at Hemingway and the gang, World War One and the decimation of the Spanish Flu weren’t exactly a moveable feast either. And the rest of the Twenties subsequently roared on into cultural legend as a time of relative ease and plenty and prosperity and art and fun.

It’s the same story now, I say. The rhyme is apparent. At least to me.

So our immediate hardships today have, I believe, finally formed some cracks in the Monocultural top-down stasis that has existed since the mid-noughties, if not longer. In the same way that War and plague ended the Victorian ethos that preceded the Lost Generation (for better or worse).

Consider the present environment. You don’t hear much about celebrities any more. They no longer seem to stalk us. And people don’t seem to miss Hollywood especially. A summer off from Box-office-smashing, end-of-the-world-preventing Superhero films has brought the same sweet relief as when a neighbours car alarm suddenly decides to stop squawking. At least it has for me.

And I have found more and more that those people of an artistic bent who have already mentally gone through the Covid-induced despair phase and have emerged from the other side appear now to be full of hope and purpose. They already, in some sense, live in the future and they are now constructing the catacombs from which the decentralised art of the near future will emerge.

What The Soaring Twenties Could Be

‘If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.’

Hemingway, A Moveable Feast.

Our Paris is the Internet. Our Paris is DM groups and Discord channels and Telegram chats. It is Zoom calls and podcasts, newsletters and message boards.

Perhaps as the decade progresses our Paris will be less in thrall to Silicon Valley overlords and their platforms. Perhaps the Occupation by the artless tech corporations will end, or at least wane. After all they rule by our consent. We can simply ignore them if we choose. You have to give the vampire permission to pass the threshold.

So perhaps Web 3.0 will evolve in lockstep with the growing decentralised artistic impulse. Artists go where the freedom is, as my friend Cody Clarke likes to say. And so perhaps freedom-centred tech will also grow in the slipstream of the decentralised artistic vanguard.

Now, I am all for analogue media as you know. But I believe that the Soaring Twenties will thrive on a model of analogue art with digital distribution. Social media is predicated on status signalling and you can’t flaunt your taste and distinction by posting photographs of a PDF file on a laptop screen. 

But you can ‘flex’ by taking a carefully staged photo of your beach-bronzed leg next to a limited edition hardback of a novel by a cult author. And if your ego must play such games, you can at least help an artist out along the way if they have a physical artefact to sell you.

A first edition of Ulysses is today worth around £275,000. What will the great Soaring Twenties novel be worth? And what would it be worth to actual be able to get in on the ground floor with the authors or the painters or the musicians in question given that they can and do build audiences and thrive without the old world gatekeepers?

What would it be worth to be able to exist in your own chosen subculture or subcultures, in your own pieces of the Patchwork Age away from advertising and Rat Race propaganda and centralised top-down stories that do not speak to your actual lived experience.

The Soaring Twenties is the splintering of the Monoculture. It wasn’t too big to fail, it was in fact the exact right size to eventually fail.

So as things divide and localism ascends (in both the on and offline realms) you will be able to choose your own adventure. The impetus and momentum has caught up to the technologies of distribution and communication that has been waiting in the wings.

Of course being able to choose your own adventure means you can choose the path of despair and monoculture and politicisation. ‘Paris’ is always going to be partially occupied. But no one is stopping you from going to the cafes and the studios where the Soaring Twenties artists work and chat and party and dream. 

No checkpoint exists. No bribes are necessary. Your credentials are your talent. 

It’s simply a matter of making a decision and taking a step.

Writing The Story

“The story was writing itself and I was having a hard time keeping up with it.” 

Hemingway, A Moveable Feast.

F Scott Fitzgerald famously said ‘there are no second acts in American lives.’ He was wrong. All lives, American or otherwise are made up of two acts- the before and the after. Pre 9/11 and post 9/11, say. Before Christ and after being born again. As an immortal child and then as an adult acutely aware that each day brings you closer to the end.

The fulcrum of the scales is always a pivotal event or circumstance that finally wakes us up to the marvel and the beauty and the finitude of our own lives. Perhaps Covid and the fading of the monoculture has been mine. Perhaps this is why I have coined the phrase Soaring Twenties and why it is seemingly resonating with the people who encounter it.

Perhaps I have put my finger on something. Perhaps not. Time will tell. But even if everything that precedes this has been so much elegant and wordy gibberish, the point to take with you throughout the rest of this Sunday and beyond is this:

You get to write your own story.

Lord, I know that’s corny and platitudinous and sounds for all the world like the kind of thing that would be photographed in inky cursive on an insipid influencers Instagram account. You can almost taste the monochrome latte, almost picture the grain of the wooden table and the matte elegance of the carefully posed Monte Blanc.

But it’s true nonetheless. You get to write your own story.

The Soaring Twenties is not real. Not yet. But it can be, if you decide it will be. You just pick up your pen and write it down and make it so. The same as you do for any dream that you want to turn into a story.

Until next time,

Live well,

Tom. ✍️📖🍾🎉

Thank you for taking the time to read this. And thank you for signing up.

But more importantly, thanks to everyone who has shared these newsletters with friends and family and pointed other people in the direction of this work. It makes a difference.

The sign up list has grown in leaps and bounds since the last time we spoke. Beyond my expectations. And this is still just the beginning. It’s gratifying to know that there are people out there who resonate with what I’m saying and can have conversations about life and art without giving in to anger or despair. I am trying to build a kind of refuge from rage and incivility here.

Thank you for participating in it.

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