There’s a piece by contemporary poet Tao Lin I like to quote often, called “i will learn how to love a person and then i will teach you and then we will know.” There are “small children” who use “declarative sentences and then look at your face with an expression that says, ‘you’ll never do enough.’”
Hailed the Franz Kafka of the iPhone generation, Lin is a pioneer in a relatively underground artistic movement known as “New Sincerity,” an anti-movement reaction to postmodernity’s irony and cynicism.
As I contemplate the New Sincerity movement, I realize the return to sincerity is important for reasons we can understand, but have trouble articulating. In a way, the members of our generation are all characters in an Albert Camus novel: self-destructive in our search for a tangible identity, all caught up in an anxiety over how inauthentic we’ve become and the steps we can take to regain some semblance of sincere behavior.
Our cultural ethos is a weird hybrid of “YOLO” and a heightened sensation of inadequacy. There are those who act without thinking and those who think too much and act too little. In a culture where things are taken too seriously, the only option is often to act decisively and impulsively. In a culture to which everything is a flippant joke, on the other hand, members of our generation can live too much inside their heads — mini philosophers who deconstruct every aspect of their actions.
Despite the reputation as the stimulated generation, our culture of nonchalance leads me to believe that we are not overstimulated, but are in a self-created race to find stimulation that is more meaningful. Some friends I know frequently lament the events of their lives, measuring them in strings of inconsequential details that have no effect on the world before them. They are all searching for something intense, something outside themselves that will provoke and shock their minds into thinking and feeling powerfully again.
The inability to find sincerity is not exclusive to our generation. It is the stubbornness with which we refuse sincerity that runs rampant in our daily lives. We are still caught up trying to be other people — hipsters who feign an artificial coolness or critics of everything who are quick to show off an artificial intelligence. Lin ends his poem, asking us to all “try harder” — try harder to be ourselves, I assume.
As the youth in an undecided world, it would appear we are all trying to find some unrelenting truth, something to tether our identities to. Despite the technological advances we’ve seen in our lifetime and the anxieties we experience, there is nothing more honorable or courageous than being sincere — honest with feelings, motivations and beliefs.
Reach the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her at ce_truong.
Want to join the conversation? Send an email to email@example.com. Keep letters under 300 words and be sure to include your university affiliation. Anonymity will not be granted.