The Value of Hypocrisy, 1969 Essay; a few pages; Incomplete. Philadelphia, PA; Age: 17; Adolescence; Graduation from high school; the irony and the agony; Arch-skepticism, critical distance, an excruciatingly superior tone.


Mss_0017_01.

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Spiral bound notebook; Handwritten; Cartridge pen ink and paper; Good;

Notes and prose; Hypocrisy, sleep, irony;

The cartridge pen rambles all over, adding notes and meta-notes, stage instructions in parentheses above the text, a bunch of edits, and notes on notes. The question is whether I ever typed all of this up and submitted it, as requested, so that I might be considered for valedictorian. While the handwriting still has a few features of childhood, such as exaggerated flourishes on opening caps, these have largely disappered into a handwriting whose smaller, tighter, and sharper edges display a momentum in the writing.

Related mss: Journal of a Summer, other  Journals and notebooks from 1968 to 1970.

As high school graduation approached, we were all assigned the topic, "Youth in Ferment" as the theme on which to compose a commencement address. This messy manuscript, tucked into a journal from which its pages had been ripped, is hardly worth attention, except that it is a curious expresion of tone. Written in the final months of high school in response to the request from our school for us to produce drafts of a commencement speech on the theme, “Youth in Ferment,” (yes, they really did pose that theme), this completely impossible text was an arch expression of sophomoric cynicism. Another answer to the request, “The Value of Sleep,” was only a fragment, a paragraph draft. A few notes on “Facing Reality,” were also appended. “Reality is a force. It is only a space-time relationship based upon our sensual perception.” Alternatively, “Reality–the most subtle fantasy. The delusion of sensual perception in a space-time exsitence.” I was in full adolescent mode, philosophizing.

These pages are tucked into the back of the notebook titled, "Journal of a Summer, 1968."

But the pages of this particular manuscript of smart-ass notes and clever commentary has an alienated and smug tone, it is written against the grain of commencement speeches, and meant to annoy and shock my teachers. In the top margin the title is followed by these remarks, "Complete with stage directions for the most effective delivery (the reciter is cautioned not to improvise in any intonation or use any originality she may possibly retain after four years of not being the least original ever)." The tone throughout is drenched with irony, dismissive commentary and asides: "The problem with Commencement Papers is they only succeed in effectively boring every charming girl graduate's Mummy, Daddy, and miscellaneous obliging attendant relations with thorough and very profound discourses upon Important Abstractions and Serious (that is pompous) Solutions." I say, the chance of any of "the five hundred young creatures in our class stopping her mastication long enough to seriously compose five hundred words on such an utterly urgent and vital topic as 'Youth in Ferment' is almost too staggering to consider [...]" I am alienated beyond belief from the high school and experience, and have spent the year trying to piece myself back together after Amy's departure. I have lived for the occasional phone call, letter, or visit from her and have bonded with my mother in a deep way. But I write constantly in the notebooks, about our characters, and in the typed sheets that accumulate hidden from view.

After and amid the Amy writings, this text is only a blip and a throw-away, a momentary expression of teen angst and adolescent arrogance. I had no interest at all in fulfiling the expectations of my counselors, or fitting into the teachers’ ideas of what I should do or become, and the written draft was only a way to throw that into their faces. An act that accomplished nothing, and only confirmed their conviction that for all my academic ability, I had strayed into some aberrant path, had not played the game straight.

As a text, the piece was an attempt at wit, in imitation of Oscar Wilde and Jonathan Swift, but I had neither talent nor discipline sufficient to accomplish such a task. My pronouncements condemn “the system and the nature of man”. Fortunately, such language, and sentiments, did not appear again beyond this single embarrassing attempt.

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