This is really super long and interesting–well, the first half is good but then it becomes a sort of too repetitive litany…I eventually tuckered out and skipped to the end. After maximalism, and minimalism, now there’s nothingness, the growing trend of people not just unplugging, but trying to escape from reality altogether. The article is both good (though too long, as I said) and a bit breathless, as if this new, shocking trope had never ever been thought of before. I read almost all of it with the curious sensation that I had actually heard of this somewhere before. But before I tell you where, here are some bits beginning with a description of what it’s like to go into a floatarium (paging Alexander McCall Smith):
He guided me to a little tiled room with a shower and a rounded white pod, about twice the size of a bathtub. Battling claustrophobia, I stripped, washed, got in and shut the lid. While floating in the dark, I was fully relaxed for the first time in what felt like years. The water was a warm embrace from the void — a little death, as a treat. I scheduled another appointment on my way out. When I left the spa, I blinked at the bright sun and felt as if I had slept for eight hours. On the nights that followed my continued sessions, my dreams were always deep and strange.
For years, an aesthetic mode of nothingness has been ascendant — a literally nihilistic attitude visible in all realms of culture, one intent on the destruction of extraneity in all its forms, up to and including noise, decoration, possessions, identities and face-to-face interaction. Over the past decade, American consumers have glamorized the pursuit of expensive nothing in the form of emptied-out spaces like the open-floor plans of start-up offices, austere loft-condo buildings and anonymous Airbnbs. Minimalism from the Marie Kondo school advocated a jettisoning of possessions that left followers with empty white walls. This aspiration toward disappearance made luxury synonymous with seeing, hearing, owning and even feeling less.
This desire for nothingness reaches its most literal manifestation in the sensory-deprivation fad, but it can be found in more subtle forms elsewhere: the omnipresent decorative succulents capable of surviving neglect; the gently textured wabi-sabi ceramics that provide an aspirational hobby for the Instagram generation; functionalist beige monochrome outfits from Everlane or Uniqlo; the clingy softness of athleisure and cashmere sweatpants, which have sold out during the pandemic. Elaborate skin-care routines involving pale layers of moisturizers successively shellacked over the body provide almost a literal barrier — we seal ourselves inside ourselves. The late-2010s panacea of CBD is like a mental moisturizer. It promises not the blissed THC haze of the stoner (too uncontrolled, too many thoughts) but the psychological equivalent of white noise, dampening anything negative. A CBD-infused sparkling water introduced in late 2018 named Recess, perhaps the most millennial product ever invented, advertises itself as “an antidote to modern times.” Drink a $5 can, it promises, and you will feel nothing but a collapse into the ambient rainbow haze of its branding.
I love that, “ambient rainbow haze of its branding.” So anyway, as I said, I felt like I had seen this before somewhere and I was totes right! Look at this:
Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales; behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust. Lebanon would not suffice for fuel, nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering. All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.
And this bit:
It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in; who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.
And then of course,
Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young man shall fall exhausted…
which I have always known in myself as a person trudging along through life. In the swirl of malaise, though, the line stood out to me with a new freshness. Everyone, even in their rejoicing, is so tired, so jaded, so disappointed. The sign of it is the cynicism, I think, the open disdain that groups of people have for each other, the loud cries of people of their own opinions without the need to moderate or consider the consequences of any particular idea or hope.
But unlike the article, which offered no solution whatsoever, the opening line of the chapter goes like this:
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint (emphasis, as they say, mine).
So anyway, there is a way out of the malaise. There is a way out of the discouragement. There is a way out of the cynicism–and that is to get you up to the height, to lift up your eyes to the hills, to hear the voice crying out that the glory of the Lord will be, indeed, has been revealed in Jesus and that everything will be alright, even if–actually espeically if–you can’t afford an hour at the floatarium.