Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Power of Choice

7/29/2015—Maria Russo, the editor of the children’s books for the New York Times Book Review, wrote a penetrating indictment of our culture in the Book Review last Sunday. She was writing about the newly discovered Dr. Seuss book, What Pet Should I Get?. The book is ok by the standards of Theodor Seuss Geisel and was just about ready for publication. But it was never published. The question is, why?

The official explanation given is that, at the time, Seuss was so busy that he forgot this one. That does not ring true to Russo—or any other author, frankly.

Russo’s explanation is that the content of the book—2 children trying to decide which pet to get in a pet store, led Seuss away from dog and cat to imaginative animals. This, she believes led him to write One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, which has many of the same elements, but has moved away from the context of commercial choice into pure imagination. Seuss “ran… away from the pressurized of money and responsibility… .”

Choice is the rubric of our day. It is the foundation of both capitalism and individual rights theory—loss of choice is why jail is a punishment. Choice is human autonomy and free will.

But choice is also not-imagination. It is the opposite of play and lies always in the realm of what already is. Choice is not transformative, except maybe in exposing my surrender to my context, as in Sophie’s Choice. Thus choice is also the opposite of itself. I am choosing among choices I did not necessarily choose.

Russo is showing us that the current world is unimaginative. Seuss was too imaginative to live in it.

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