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Within the Context of Parenting

June 3rd, 2010  |  by  |  Published in Uncategorized  |  1 Comment

George W. S. Trow was not widely known as a father. Fancy essayist, editor of the twee, proto-media-critic (in the days when Media might include painting, television, and opera all at once), but Daddy? Not so much.

But his most famous work, Within the Context of No Context, which I highly recommend, does expend a lot of energy describing children. Granted, the children in this, uh, context, weren’t really children at all, but members of our culture, which Trow believed to be infantilized by television (and though he didn’t know it when the essay was first published in 1980, the Internet), confused by dissociative stimuli, and ruined by isolation.

That said, several passages in this fascinating, confusing, startling, beautifully written little book refer to the parenting of actual children, not “cultural” kids raised by folks who thinks “open and honest dialogue will keep Baby Judy from gulping Quaaludes and drinking Night Train Express and marking her arms with razor blades,” or who indoctrinates his little ones with such thoughts as “nobody does anything in America unless it is perceived as a step up.”

A couple of examples:

An important role of a father is to give a son a sense of permission—a sense of what might be done. This still works [in America], but since no adult is supported by the voice of the culture (which is now a childish voice), it does not work well.

And this:

In the absence of adults, people came to put their trust in experts.

And this:

“Adulthood” in the last generations has little to do with “adulthood” as that word would have been understood by adults in any previous generation. Rather, “adulthood” has been defined as “a position of control in the world of childhood.”

I started out thinking that this post would be about my efforts to parse these statements, but I’m going to let them stand. I think they are relevant to many of the situations I encounter as a parent, and I would wager many of this site’s readers would agree. I definitely think these lines above help explain much of what gets put up on this site, for better and for worse. Perhaps some of you will tell me what you think.


  1. KK says:

    June 3rd, 2010at 2:46 pm(#)

    “In the absence of adults, people came to put their trust in experts.” — That thought is often in the back of my head and it frustrates and confuses me as someone trying to grow up and make my way in the world. How can I be anybody if I’m not an expert? But I have no expertise, and I cannot for my life figure out what to focus on. If I have no focus (though I have plenty of drive), no direction, I feel worthless. I am a perfect example of someone confused by dissociative stimuli and ruined by isolation (sort of, for the latter; ‘ruined’ is a harsh word). Everyone says everything, everything is available, the world is at your fingertips, so where do you run to? Which path do you follow, if they are all available to you? If I had a focus I could do so exceptionally well. I feel that the modern world has left me too scattered. It’s unfortunate. I feel you.

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