The Egyptian mummies that I have seen, have had their mouths open, and somewhat gaping, which affordeth a good opportunity to view and observe their teeth. — Sir Thomas Browne

(c) The National Gallery, London; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Dear Sir,*

At this very moment I have on my desk an old dictionary, cracked open to the O’s. It seems the issue you have brought to my attention concerning my old bones is a matter of definition. But before I define a thing I must bring to my readers’ attention the fundamental creed I live by: I wish in all things to be as unlike my generation as possible. For my generation, as I see it, does little but chase after the current material fad until they are bored with it or until some other salesman stops by with a “new” gadget that promises to fulfill their vain lives for the next two weeks. It is, of course, foolish to say that old people are not equally as bored as our youth, but at the very least, they are not roaming around and telling everyone how bored they are. And the problem really persists because my generation has been told that there actually is something “new under the sun.” They actually believe that modern scientists are saying something new when they preach the primordial soup theory as our origin. They do not seem to take into account the serious difficulty of this being both a new and true philosophy. It seems to me the old amphibian who emerged from the soup would be more knowledgeable about the soup than the scientist. The real beauty of those old ages is that scientists could actually say things that were new; they were not so hung up on the past. If evolution is true, it is anything but new. If it is new, I seriously doubt it could be true.

Nevertheless, we are told that every modern theory is a new theory, as if the Sophists and the Gnostics did not exist, as if every twenty-year-old atheist is striking out on his own as some unfettered free-thinker. But the twenty-year-old atheist is as old as Sennacherib or Protagoras; fighting the Christian God is as old as the dawn of man–we’ve been doing it since we ate the apple. And so when these newfangled atheists strut around as if they are doing something new, I cannot help but think they are proving the exact opposite. To say a thing is “new” is to say it is either lately made or lately discovered: atheism is neither of those things. It has been made ever since Lucifer made himself God; it can no more be discovered than can a void in space. But what I really hear the young atheists saying today is that they are “new” in the same way that modern cars are new–that is, they are somehow different than what came before them: in their case, their ancestors. Never mind the fact that they really are no different from their religious ancestors; never mind that they proselytize and preach just as much, if not more, than their religious associates; let us play their game; let us say they are different, that each individual atheist is both distinct from his brethren and unlike his ancestors.

Though I should point out the incredible arrogance that comes from believing your philosophy trumps six-thousand years of thought, I will refrain. I will give the new atheist the benefit of the doubt and then ask him why. Why, on earth, would the new atheist cringe at being called arrogant (or racist or sexist or narrow-minded)? I have never understood why an atheist cares about any single moral precept except the ones that told us to eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die. But then I do suppose the new atheist is trying to distinguish himself from the Epicureans and Hedonists; I suppose too he is probably closer to Christianity than he thinks when he finds more pleasure in monarchy than anarchy, more pleasure in meaning than nihilism, more pleasure in virtue than vice. But given all this he still has not actually answered my question other than he wants to be a different type of atheist–one who can have his cake and eat it too. But then we’ve only really arrived at where we’ve started. If nothing is essentially good about being new and different then why all this rigmarole about the evils of conformity, and, perhaps more importantly, why are all atheists exactly the same?

It seems to me that the more modern man goes on about individuality and not conforming to the dominant culture the more these silly subcultures–in wanting to be unique–conform to each other. Take, for instance, the modern insistence that students have unique voices, and we should not stifle their voices by teaching them the proper way to write and speak because that was handed down by white male suppressors. We stress this until we are blue in the face and then come to find that no student ever really says anything unique. Is it no wonder that, due to their decreased vocabulary, a certain word beginning with the letter F is used as an adjective, noun, verb, and gerund and all in the same sentence? As a culture we think of the fifties as a time of horrible conformity because our natural tendency is to look at the surface and not the soul of a man. The Renaissance–that horrible period dominated by classical learning and white, male supremacy–created far more varied and unique literatures than our day ever will. And this notion of conformity is the very reason why I depict myself as a man with old bones.

For I long to conform as little as possible with my generation, and I only use the characterization as a depiction of my physical capabilities in a secondary sense, so to fit in with the nature of narrative. I, of course, do not have old bones in the sense that they are aged, nor would I want that. Why, a few months ago I was visiting my grandmother and thought to myself how sad it was she could not throw rocks or amble in the woods. But in the sense that my old bones represent my desire to simply not be new, I thus characterize myself. There is a very real sense (I have noted it elsewhere) that the world is actually very old and those men and philosophies that came before us are actually the products of a young and spritely world. The new world was a world where men sacrificed unblemished lambs to an unseen deity, not a world where unborn children were sacrificed by unwed mothers. We live in a world grown old, a world that longs for the freshness and vitality, the wonder and joy, of a world newly created. But the vain technologies of our age give us the sense of wonder and creativity, the sense of uniqueness and novelty, when really it’s nothing new under the sun; it’s warped or dried up under the sun, like a man’s skin left out too long. Today we get giddy that we can face-chat China; we forget that the medieval man could chat with the dead. We tell ourselves that because a thing has never been done physically that that proves improvement. As if building the tallest gallows was an improvement on creating fewer criminals. And in this sense I am perfectly fine with my old bones. I suppose that, to answer your objection in a much more succinct way, I wish I was born in a different time period. It is certainly over dramatic for me to say, but a part of me would certainly much rather take on the Black Death and the corrupt Popes than to ever stand in a circle of modern, moralizing atheists telling me that I’m a sexist pig or a narrow-minded bigot. They of course never tell this to your face but instead post it on Facebook–the old world that has become our new reality.

Samuel Snow

Sam Snow,
Written in Super Black India Ink,
Manhattan, KS
October 5, 2014

Transcribed by Adam the Scribe II
At Kansas State University,
October 7, 2014

Painting: “An Old Man in an Armchair”
By Rembrandt van Rijn
Oil on Canvas, 1650s

*This post is written in response to a critic whom I greatly respect. The objection to my constant references to my old bones can be found here.


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