Saturday, July 31, 2010

Life Writing

One would think that it really makes no sense this whole "life writing" at this point in time, the topic seems rather overrated for most modern men and women; we have all grown into that of kind of utterances and they seem to hold little power to entice us, year after year, in inexorable engagements and entanglements, the word "life" seems to gain just about enough deeps to stretch little beyond its biological and ultimately bodily channel of meaning. Since there are times less than optimistic, most of us surrender to the pressure exerted on us by the endless chains of demands made by modern life. Whoever were to strike a conversation about what it is that we mean by life, or by writing about life, of course we would think immediately of the personal journal, no longer a literary gender but a productive activity of language and self-understand instead. There are all different styles of journals, perhaps most closely associated with a copious industry of films and other entertainment for teenagers; as we know from the long history of literature there have existed since immemorial times travel logs, personal letters, accounting documents and the like, which fall under this rubric, but seldom have we found in them true literary expression. The high-brow end of the academic line of argument would also tell us about the German Romantic movement, in particular of Friedrich Schlegel and of "life as writing" which shaped those long by-gone, yet pregnant and exasperating times. Life was reduced to a solipsism of sort whose only purpose to be lived, was to be at last written down. This process, far from the solitary cries of medieval love poetry, first condemned and now praised, because of the frequent homosexual themes, might have its foremost modern root in the writing of Rousseau, under whose spell, many of the early Romantic writers fell. It was more than anything an attempt to tell the story of the "I", in a way such as no one had done it before.

Ever since then there's a great deal we've learnt from personal writing, as an expression of selfness and selfhood, we have made sure to scrutinize with care all the personal correspondence of as many writers, politicians and intellectuals, as it has been possible. Not only we have learnt the movitations behind their actions and their thoughts, their written thoughts as they have come down to us, but viciously enough, we have taken their personal motivations to trial and have judged their love affairs, their passions, their melancholy, their glee, everything, and to no avail. There's nothing more useless than a dead writer, so many would say today, and then there's also the anthropological turn in the humanities (referred as to the science of anthropology and not anthropological as concerned with man and man alone) that under the commercial name of "Structuralism" has been up and around in the market for nearly a hundred years (but gaining great power after the social revolutions that shook Europe in the 1960's and that it seems today were everything but social or revolutionary, at least according to some very opinionated elements of the bourgueoisie) preaching on the basis of examining documents of countless indigenous cultures of the world and in languages none of us know, that there's really no such a thing as literature but rather a dynamic of power, of knowledge as power nurtured by the theo-political history of the Western canon in which certain works have been elevated to the stature of this so-called metaphysical institution of "literature", whereas the reality (a term that our great social scientists have so oddly failed to define that we are not sure anymore whether the serfs of the good dead god did too bad a job) of things is that all human expressions are equally valuable as long as they are expressing the manifold possibilities of human language. So let us assume that there's no such a thing as literature and that it is all in all possible that there're no different aesthetic standards to judge the difference between the Diary of Anne Frank and all of modernist literature altogether. This would be pretty nice indeed, so many people would be saved from the precarious usefulness of learning the likes of literary criticism in college.

So literature is a political devise after all, in which case, this fallacy of the canon has existed since Classical Greece, and it is but the poor self, the victim of this colonial, imperialist and subtle magic spell, because of all the failed writers that this has produced after all; not that too many people could read and write in the golden age of either Greece or the Netherlands, but then there is the blogosphere today crowded with endless numbers of petit anglaises, truthseekers, hairsplitters and worldskeptics. If anyone had the time or the material resources to explore with care the writing of so many modern people, he would be likely to find a few good authors in an ocean of what we would not call failed writers, because they were not trying their hand at literature anyway. What there is, is a mass number of everyday men and women trying to speak their minds out in this new international, cross-cultural and somewhat lawless mediatic platform. The overbearing number of pages written everyday attest perhaps not to the fact that people are more willing to write than in previous generation or even to the fact that life is more interesting today; if anything we could play the devil's advocate in saying that most people actually have little time for "writing" in the proper sense of the word, even within their limited professional circles. What is becoming manifest here is that people communicate less and less, and that the big open wide world is in fact a place much, much smaller than the planet earth but more like a global village which is in fact very much a village like those portrayed either with yearning by Hamsun or with irony, by Kafka. A village of nameless unrelated dwellers, a very small place in a no man's land. People feel just too ought to write about their own lives, and the psychological aftereffect of this is not only that classical case of drawing attention, but of the rather poor quality of everyday language. The effect of this language is much less powerful than the language of the old faiths, for it seems unable to stand on its own but rather acts as a bridge in between the satisfaction of bodily pleasures, which boldly speaking, is the only satisfaction that modern men, with their disparaged experience of time (time as not being dead yet), can understand.

There's this undeniable craving for experience which men are seeking in the most varied activities that would hardly count as experience in the sense of unmediated interaction with the world in which knowledge doesn't interfere; entertainment in all of its forms and the debauchery of sexuality seem to stand rather as way to learn the world in all the emotional connonation this has, rather than as pure experience. The activity of writing and the attention it receives from other human viewpoints is one of the rawmost forms of experience available to people nowadays by means of which they construct themselves and they disclose their sense of being in the world. We might be as well fed up with the endless tide of self-help books that are immediately best sellers and that if they were to constitute real spiritual enterprises in building the world, should be offered freely and the speakers not paid huge amounts of money to speak to the leading partners of multinational companies but rather broadcasted on nationwide television. We should sheer away from this thinking of both life and writing as commodities and begin to consider them as facts of our worldly existence, of the intensity with which the world can be loved and experienced for what it is, in its sheer whatness of character. The technical possibilities afforded by the internet make us look less than dull primitives, for we speak often in smoke signs and scribbles of Altamira rather than in the highly organized language of fully developed human societies; we seem to take just as much pride in our unhappiness as we take offense on those who actively seek it outside the realm of purely material satisfaction. It is them, our capitalist friends, running the world from the international corporations, who might stand for the most religious people of this world down and below, for their trust in a material and reckless version of human existance has gone so far as to prove its own dogma, that even medieval metaphysicians would have been embarrassed about themselves in purview of the great might of this modern revolution of restaurants, shopping malls and sex parties. Less is more. No, you're wrong. All is not enough.

We are not getting any smarter from this point onwards, and the complacency afforded by this postmodern sleaze of liberty might only by overlap coincide with the liberal definition of freedom as "non-domination" upon which has haunted the fate of a great deal of political thought. The village grows smaller and smaller and the non-domination far more performative, so that soon there might be enough empty space around it to begin a new world, without the chains of the old one, but without the global or the village. That world might as well begin in Wall Street or at the Zuidas in Amsterdam, if they want to give it a little royal charm - for it seems there are some cozy restaurants around there, with English menus and dirt cheap prices. Before they accomplish that of course the internet will be a great venue to do away with our languages and our cultures and replace them with icons so that people can matchmake their own sex dates without typing so much, because the age of the greatest technological possibilities is also the age of the greatest ignorance that has ever prevailed in all possible fields of knowledge so that Einstein might have been writing in asserting that the next war after the next will be fought not with weapons of mass destruction but with sticks and rods. It is not ignorance what makes people unhappy indeed, but the complete lack of serendipity. Our manager friends might be so sure by now that they rule the world and that Europe is dead, that it is no more and that happily the world is run now by China and the USA. Of course it never occurred to them to think even for a moment that no Western civilization can exist without Europe as the theo-political sphere of unity that it has been for over a thousand years and of course it didn't occur to them that it was the struggle within Europe's own tradition what enabled this modern world to unfold as it has, for the good and for the bad. We can rest assured that they will be happy to invent another set of myths, much more radical than Christianity's, certainly a godless China would have no problem in a new political mythology, but then that would be hardly necessary, for the world will be nicely interconnected in bigger and larger global villages with the same restaurants, modern museums and flat complexes, so that it will be no longer necessary to move elsewhere to pursue happiness or intellect, for anyone. This is the only reason why people should write about their lives, and continue doing is... In this activity we hold perhaps the only possible expectation that people might really want this world and no other, that they love it with the truths and untruths implied in its order of reality. The multinational corporations are still too lazy and their godlessness is still too fresh in the history of mankind to overpower millions of men and women in their attempt to find a home in the world within the specificity of their own rootedness and in the love of some particular persons and no others; their religion of endless and reckless acquisiton of wealth at the expense of all the rest seems to be entirely resolute to outdo this world, it might be even the most radical version of Christianity seen until now, the most otherworldly enterprise ever begun, more than Augustine's Ecclesiology and Constantine's conversion of the Empire; not to mention the help provided by our very friendly buddies in the sand dunes to fuel it all. The great problem with it all is that they have no authority from anywhere other than their pockets and that people in the world, unfortunately, are still looking for love, in the most classical and political sense of the word, so that they might come and go, but people's faith in the love of the world might still exist, and there might be then, a much fruitful and varied assortment of testimony to this today than there was ever. It might be that we are are being called to a truer unreligion, which is not atheism or just sensuality, something much more radical than all this, something like a faith of neighbourly love. There's little doubt that capitalism, sensuality, atheism, Christianity, globalization, self-help books and a whole deal of modern sciences, are nothing but different brand names for the same old religion that has existed for as long as man has used not the power of violence, but the power of love, to subject another man, and this goes back, well, a long time.

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