What does it mean to refuse the passing of time?
Ask David McDermott. For over 30 years, McDermott has lived as though it was the late 19th century. McDermott, an artist, lives in Ireland—he renounced his American citizenship—in a house outfitted only with Victorian amenities. A chamber pot rests next to his bed for midnight bathroom breaks. He drives into town on an antique bicycle. Insouciant and unflappable, McDermott refuses all electronic currency, preferring paper money and metal coin.
McDermott seems to relish both the difficulty and singularity of his pursuit. He acknowledges how hard it is rip away the crutches of modernity, and, I suspect, wants others to acknowledge how unconventional his life has become. For McDermott, the job of the artist is to “[go] into the unknown territory.” This often puts the artist in a vulnerable position. But being dismissed, misunderstood, and labeled an eccentric is almost a badge of honor, a proof of purchase, a seal of authenticity. It means you’re doing something right.
In his radio profile, McDermott says that humans are capable of “time experiments,” by which he means choosing the epoch we want to live in and situating ourselves in it authentically.
This brings up a question. If McDermott wasn’t an artist pushing into “unknown territory,” would we accept him and his lifestyle? Do we accept him even now, as an artist? In a funny way, McDermott poses a threat to more traditional lifestyles, and he probably means to. He admits he doesn’t like the way modern culture is turning out. At the same time, the pulsing throng of internet users, credit card swipers, and frequent fliers—myself included—tend to look at people like McDermott with a mixture of disbelief and mockery. Each group denounces the other’s Eden.
Maybe I’m alone here, but I think it’s pretty cool that McDermott took historical reenactment and turned it into a collision sport. I disagree with his assessment that life after 1928 took a disastrous turn for the worse, but I think much of what he is saying deserves to be listened to, not dismissed out of hand. I’m not so sure that McDermott necessarily has a richer life than modern citizens, but I bet he thinks he does. In a way, that’s all that really matters.