As I, and I assume a great deal of this newsletter’s subscribers, hurdle towards another semester of academic courses, I have been pondering the notion of delayed gratification. Our time spent in the classroom, whether it ends following our state-mandated high school education, or spans decades of graduate and professional degrees, is generally oriented towards a post-graduate state of affairs. We pursue certificates, degrees, letters after our names to gain credibility and access to a profession, a way of being, a legitimate claim to an aspect of our identities. We “suffer” through training now to achieve respect and wealth later.
In some sense, the notion of delayed gratification is philosophically absurd. The internal tension of delayed gratification is unveiled as we oscillate between our conception of ourselves as we are now and our conception of our future selves. Martin Heidegger, in his seminal work Being and Time, characterizes humans as essentially “beings-towards-death” – beings “thrown” into the inescapable reality that we will, at one time or another, die. In other words, the possibility of our death at any moment is a factor that universally and fundamentally shapes our experience of the world. As such, any exercise of delayed gratification requires willful ignorance of our status as “beings-towards-death.” We must trust that we will live long enough to reap the benefits of our present labors. We prioritize the experience of our future selves over the experience of our current selves.
Don’t get me wrong, delayed gratification is often necessary to achieve the things in our lives that bring us satisfaction and wellbeing. If your life-long dream is to be an Olympic gymnast, you’re going to have to endure some physical discomfort to get there. As Americans, we often attribute value to enduring the process of delayed gratification. We proscribe nobility to those in the throes of hardship.
Sometimes, though, it is easy to get caught up in the addiction to glorified suffering, the anxiety of constant striving, and to lose sight of the supposed rewards, the things in life that bring us genuine satisfaction. Thus, it is important for us to examine our pursuits in light of our understanding of delayed gratification. Is what we are currently engaged in (doing schoolwork, for example) actually unpleasant? Or do we simply interpret it as such because it is societally framed in this way? Is the future self, or the future life we envision for our future self, really the unadulterated bounty that we envision? How can we equilibrate on a balance of present and future enjoyment?
I don’t pretend to have it all figured out, but hopefully immersing yourself in some of the art found in this newsletter and beyond, the product of someone else’s toil, can be a small pleasure that is experienced in your “now.”
To start things off with a crisp, sweet treat, flip through this gallery of William Mullan’s photographs of “Odd Apples” and appreciate the fruits of an evolution that sometimes has a sense of humor.
This week I’ve been drawn into the increasingly popular world of Japanese stationary, where the daily tasks of writing and planning are elevated to simple pleasures through thoughtful design and a nod to both contemporary minimalism and Imperial-era Japan. I finally gave in and ordered a journal from the conspicuous company Midori, whose webpage describing the features of its paper products is a work of art in itself. (It reminds me of alluring presentation of the features of the newest MacBook Pro or iPhone XYZ on the Apple webpage.) Even more striking are Omoshiroi Blocks, memo pads which reveal dazzlingly intricate objects, buildings, or landscapes as the sheets are used.
In the auditory realm, I’ve been bopping to Heat, this past fall’s from reclusive Japanese producer Shinichi Atobe off the Berlin-based label DDS (Spotify, Youtube, Discogs). In the process, I’ve been reminded of how much I love his 2017 album From the Heart, It’s a Start, A Work of Art (Spotify, Youtube,Discogs). If you’re new to Atobe, maybe listen to that one first.
And to leave you off with some weird for the week, Enric Sant’s paintings of aggregates of human bodies are equal parts disturbing and gorgeous.
That’s all for this week! Please send in original work, cultural recommendations, responses to the stuff here, or stray thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org. Share with your pals. Feedback in all forms is always appreciated. If you or your friends aren’t on the listserv already, please use this form to sign up!