René Girard, The Last Psychiatrist, and Mimetic Narcissism
I’ve been reading a lot of René Girard lately and along the way, I’ve seen a lot of parallels with another favorite writer: The Last Psychiatrist (TLP). My fascination with TLP goes back to 2011, when I discovered and quickly became obsessed with his writing on narcissism, media criticism, advertising, and psychology (and later made a movie that was heavily influence by his writing).
Connecting the dots in my mind has been delightful, and I wish they could get together and hash things out. Unfortunately, Girard is dead and The Last Psychiatrist is… well, last I heard he was drinking himself to death while writing a book about porn. I wish him well, wherever he may be.
There are many parallels between Girard and TLP, but I want to pull on one little thread that begins with Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground.
TLP’s project is far-reaching and delightfully tangential, but at its core, it’s a wickedly incisive, earnest, and often hilarious exploration of narcissism:
Shame over guilt; rage over anger; masturbation over sex; envy over greed; your future over your past but her past over her future…
The narcissist feels unhappy because he thinks his life isn’t as it should be, or things are going wrong; but all of those feelings find origin in frustration, a specific frustration: the inability to love the other person.
He’s a man in a glass box, unable to connect. He thinks the problem is people don’t like him, or not enough, so he exerts massive energy into the creation and maintenance of an identity: if they think of me as X…
But that attempt is always futile, not because you can’t trick the other person– you can, for an entire lifetime, it’s quite easy. But even then, the man in the box is still unsatisfied, still frustrated, because no amount of identity maintenance will break that glass box.
If the other person is also in a glass box, then you have a serious problem. If everyone is in their own glass box, well, then you have America.— The Last Psychiatrist: A Generational Pathology: Narcissism Is Not Grandiosity
But where does it come from? Where did it start?
Reading TLP, you get the sense that this epidemic of narcissism is a fairly recent phenomenon. Except, hold on, here he is talking about Dostoevsky:
Most people will give you the usual suspects, so let me add my personal favorite: Notes from The Underground. I know I’ve written about it elsewhere, but it’s a profound work of psychological insight.
While not exactly about depression, it’s fairly obvious he is depressed. But more importantly, the reason for his depression is an inability to connect with any other people. He sees them, he has remarkably precise observations about their character, but he completely misses/misinterprets their connections to him. He can only process reality in one direction, inwards: what it does to him, how it makes him feel, the impact of it on himself. Everyone else in the world is relevant only in the way they affect him.
Because of this perspective, he cannot help but be depressed; and, from my own experience, that narcissism is by far a more significant factor in today’s “clinical depression” than anything else.— from a comment on Recommend writing about depression – majordepressivedisorder | Ask MetaFilter
Notes from Underground was published in Russia in 1864 and it wasn’t science fiction and I don’t think Russians got American TV until 1989. The Boomers and American TV may have taken narcissism to dizzying new heights, but if it was going on in 1864 then you can’t pin it entirely on TV or advertising or going off the gold standard or thinkpieces in The Atlantic or mind-coddling or glyphosate or seed oils whatever is making us all sad and fat and angry these days.
Girard was also a fan of Dostoevsky and like TLP, he saw in his work a great illumination of his big idea: mimetic desire.
“Except for a few characters who entirely escape imitative desire, in Dostoevsky, there is no longer any love without jealousy, any friendship without envy, any attraction without repulsion. The characters insult each other, spit in each other’s faces, and minutes later they fall at the enemies feet. They objectively beg mercy. This fascination coupled with hatred is no different in principle from Proustian snobbism and Stendhalian vanity. The inevitable consequences of desire copied from another desire are envy, jealousy and impotent hatred. As one moves from Stendhal to Proust, and from Proust to Dostoevsky, the closer the mediator comes, the more bitter are the fruits of triangular desire.”– Deceit, Desire and the Novel (page 41)
Girard reads Notes from Underground and doesn’t see narcissism1, but a classic case of mimetic desire. The Underground Man is trapped in internal mediation, locked in mimetic rivalry with everyone he encounters. The result is a man consumed by envy, jealousy, and impotent hatred. In other words, the classic narcissist.
(if you’re lost and want a good primer on Girardian thought, I recommend Secrets about People: A Short and Dangerous Introduction to René Girard).
Because Girard is an anthropologist2, he’s well-positioned to sees that this phenomenon has roots that predate the 20th century. He wrote an essay called “Innovation and Repetition,” which is hard to excerpt but goes something like this: once upon a time in the West, before the intellectually wild and libertine 18th century, the term “innovation” was considered a bad word. Intellectuals and thinkers considered innovation a dangerous thing that could topple the social order.
The way to a good and virtuous life was through imitation — but not imitation of just anyone — you had to imitate great figures from the past, paragons of virtue from the domains of religion or philosophy.
But then, starting in the 18th century, thinkers started to get interested science and innovation and as we proceeded through the 19th and 20th centuries, the idea of God started to die. Imitation became gauche and innovation was the hot new thing.
The narcissism of today is not some recent phenomenon, but the result of a centuries-long shift in Western thought and culture. We didn’t invent it, but we perfected it.
Imitation may be uncool, but it happens regardless. You’re going to have models. The only question is “who?” and if you’re not deliberate about it, well, this is where TLP really shines.
One of his great insights was that ads don’t sell a specific product, they teach you how to want — as in, the car commercial doesn’t tell you “a Lexus is great” but it does tell you “your car defines your sexual desirability” or “your car is how you communicate who you are.” You watch the BMW ad and think “that guy’s a douche, everyone knows driving a BMW won’t get you laid” and the trick has worked — by rejecting the specific message, you accept the premise. “I love nature, that’s why I’m a Subaru man.”
And into this narcissistic world where internal mediation runs rampant, advertising comes in like a genius con artist and sees the setup for the greatest con of all time. You can trick people into wanting what you want them to want and all they’ll ask for in exchange is for you to define their identity.
If you don’t understand this, then you’re an easy target for advertisers, ideological charlatans, and anyone who wants to plug into your mimetic API for their own ends. You’re walking around with the private keys to your identity exposed.
If that makes you depressed and bitter, well then, don’t worry, they have something they can sell you for that. And if you immediately blame capitalism, then I think you missed the point of section II.
So, what do you do, if you’re like Underground Man, moving through the world bitter and spiteful of everyone around you, filled with envy and rage?
TLP struggled to answer this question, and I think that was in part because he saw mimesis as wholly the province of narcissists:
The narcissist has identity– but it is one he chose, not one that evolved naturally. That means he thinks of himself as something– based on a model. He consciously identifies with someone– Tony Soprano, the guy from Coldplay, Jack Kerouac, or a combination of traits from people, etc. The psychopath has no model– he just exists. Since the narcissist’s identity is entirely made up, it requires other people for constant reaffirmation of his identity and of its value.— The Last Psychiatrist: Psychopathy, Antisocial Personality Disorder, and Narcissism
The healthy individual doesn’t copy his identity, he allows it to evolve naturally. But what does it mean for your identity to evolve naturally? We can agree that the wholesale imitation of a TV character is a bad idea but is it possible to even exist without some level of imitation?
He never arrives at the Girardian concept of a higher, external mediator, but does get pretty close:
So what about the next generation, those under 25? If the problem was the unopposed influence of TV– not the TV, per se, but the lack of opposing influence– then the solution is some opposing influence.
I am nervous about recommending “the Classics” because it sounds contrived and pretentious, but anything that has withstood the test of time and is not something that was created to be consumed by current narcissist adults is as good a place to start as any.
Do the opposite of what the narcissists did. They wanted to know enough to fake it. They read just enough to use the book to build an identity, so they read about books, but not the actual books.— via The Last Psychiatrist: Can Narcissism Be Cured?
The unopposed influence of TV needs a counterweight — you need to go further into history, find something old to read — but he doesn’t quite arrive at the Girardian insight — why you need to go into the old books.
It’s not because they boomers didn’t read them, and it’s not because they’re Lindy (although that’s related), it’s because they’re above you, far away enough in time and space that there’s no risk of mimetic rivalry. Imitating the ancient Greeks or Romans, or Thomas Edison or Joan of Arc or basically anyone who isn’t someone in your actual life or on TV is better than imitating someone you know, a potential rival.3
If mimesis is inevitable, then who you choose to imitate is really important. To deny the choice, to let yourself go wherever the current takes you, means that you’ll inevitably imitate the people around you or whoever the dominant culture or whoever advertisers wants you to imitate.
Maybe you get lucky and have good role models, but maybe you don’t and you end up bitter, envious, and full of impotent rage. And that’s no way to live. At least that’s what my models say.
Choose wisely, wildman.
What does Girard think of narcissism? Well, he wrote an essay called “Narcissism: The Freudian Myth Demythified by Proust” and the astute reader will guess from the title that he’s not a huge fan of the concept. It’s hard to distill his opinion down to just one sentence, but — wait, never mind, he actually wrote this: “The whole theory of narcissism is one of the most questionable points in psychoanalysis” (from Mimesis & Theory). And there’s a funny bit where he basically says that the very idea of narcissism is an obstacle to “arrest our thinking at the point where Freud arrested his; it confirms our natural tendency, the tendency of all desire to consider ‘self-centeredness’ and ‘other-centeredness’ as separate poles that can become dominant in separate individuals.” In other words, the concept of narcissism prevents you from understanding the real truth and which diehard TLP readers will see the delicious irony here. If Girard’s favorite pastime was pointing out things that are actually mimetic desire, then TLP’s favorite pastime was pointing out things that are actually narcissistic defenses (against change, usually). For example: therapy, trying to understand yourself, addiction, projection, blaming others, rage, reading too much TLP, writing thinkpieces, hating on hipsters, etc. And maybe me pointing out that things are defenses against other things is my defense against… things. Or change. I don’t know. ↩
Yes, I know his formal training was not in anthropology. ↩
Look, obviously there are people from the past that are not good to imitate. The point isn’t that “everyone dead is a good role model”, the point is that “a dead person can’t become a rival.” You still have to choose good models. ↩
The Umbrellas of Sharebourg
I dropped in on a Clubhouse discussion tonight about whether or not AI-generated music can be as good and wonderful as people-generated music.
I drifted off into thought about an idea I read somewhere.1 The idea is that apart from the beauty or artistry of a work of art moving us, we are also moved by the very act of its creation — its creation is an inspiration, a kind of gift. In fact it’s a kind of double gift because it’s the gift of the artwork and it’s also the gift of saying “this is possible, to create something beautiful is possible”, which is the gift of inspiration.
I got it immediately but it didn’t really hit me until I went to see The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, which I loved, yes for the colors and the story and I don’t have the words frankly to describe why I loved it, but after I saw it, or maybe sometime during, I thought “how could someone love life this much?” and I mean Jacques Demy, the director, that you would have to have a deep love of life for all its sorrows and joys to create something like this, and that, that sense of love was more moving that the picture itself, or perhaps equally moving, or perhaps it’s completely impossible to distinguish between them.2
Which is why I, my tech brain, the one that’s seen what AI can do, how it can be quite creative with words — I actually do think that AI-generated music has a decent chance at making music just as “good” as what great musicians make. I think it’s possible, at least for music.
I don’t think that you can, knowing that it was AI-generated, ever wonder how much the AI loved life because the AI doesn’t love life, it can’t, not in the way we love life.
Context matters in how we experience these things, and sometimes it matters so much that it’s a bit absurd. Modern art seems to me a kind of reductio ad absurdum of the idea that the story behind a work of art or that its context is what matters, to such an extent that most people, lacking the requisite context, have no fucking idea what they’re looking at in a modern art museum and if you’re like me, maybe you’ve found yourself alone in a cavernous white room, surrounded by odd objects when the absurd strikes you like an existential taser.
“Perhaps you’d be more comfortable with something more representational?” asks the security guard, she’s seen that look of terror before. “Yes” I say, “can you take me back to the impressionists?”
Context matters a lot in movies too — I saw The Umbrellas of Cherbourg at the Metrograph in New York on a dark and cold night when I was feeling low and exhausted and then here was this intense bright wave of love, at just the right time and place for my soul.3
My favorite place in Chicago is The Music Box Theatre, not just for their curation, but because there’s really nothing like seeing a movie in a packed grand theater with an organist warming up the audience. It matters that there are still physical places where you can go and see great art and entertainment, because it’s not just that we get to see things on a bigger screen, but it’s that we know that others care, and we can share some of that joy and sorrow and joy with them, a collective inspiration.
It’s not just the thing, it’s the act of making the thing, and then, the act of sharing the thing.
I wish I could credit the person but it’s gone, but maybe it was Finite and Infinite games? ↩
The reverse of this phenomenon is when a film is made cynically. Sometimes I watch a film and have a kind of visceral negative reaction. It’s not just the content or the craft, but something worse, something ugly, like the opposite of a gift — some films seem to despise the audience, to hate people. Watching those films feels ugly, it feels like something has been taken from me. It’s rare, but not rare enough. ↩
I think it also helped that I knew almost nothing about it beforehand, except that it was a musical and French and from the 60s. ↩
Freedom and constraints
Since I left Chicago in August, I’ve been living a somewhat nomadic life. I don’t have any long-term commitments and I have a remote job that I can do from anywhere with an internet connection.
And I love it. I love freedom. It feels amazing.
But there are pangs of something that I feel, a feeling I can’t quite describe, a feeling of wanting to be constrained. And I’ve been trying to wrestle with why I feel this way, of why despite enjoying traveling so much, I have an urge to restrict my freedom.
Here’s what I think: freedom induces anxiety because it raises choices and choices have existential implications. So when confronted with freedom, we (subconsciously) look for ways to eliminate it.
What’s so great about a mortgage?
There are the obvious financial reasons and the ability to control your property. But I think there’s another psychological reason: a mortgage gives you an arbitrary goal, a way or ordering your life and making decisions.
The benefit of the mortgage is its long duration and high cost, which serve as both an organizing principle for life and a defense against the anxiety of freedom.
Want to take a new job? Well, sure, if I can still pay the mortgage.
Want to move? You can’t because you have this mortgage.
Of course people can sell their houses and move. The point isn’t that a mortgage ties you permanently to a place or situation, but that it alleviates the daily questioning of where you live.
It raises the threshold for considering a move — when you’re a nomad, you can move on any whim but when you have a mortgage, the threshold is much higher — you can move because you get a new job offer or to be closer to family or whatever, but you’re not just going to book a cheap fare to Buenos Aires and live there for a few months because you feel like it.
The defense against anxiety is key I think — life is much easier if you don’t question your purpose, if you have a shorthand rubric for every decision. Having children probably works in this way too, and I don’t mean to say that any of this is negative — people with children should probably organize their lives around the health and wellbeing of their children and if I have children I will almost certainly not be flying around the world on a whim.
When I lived in Chicago and I was studying/practicing comedy, I had an organizing goal for my life: to get better at comedy, to get cast in shows, to be successful.
When I switched from theater to film, there was a similar organizing goal: to make films.
Insomuch as Chicago was the best place for me to do those things or provided the best opportunity to do those things, it was easy to stay in Chicago, even when I felt like leaving or the winters were long and freezing, or when I was just feeling wanderlust. Sure, I was unhappy at times (who isn’t?), but I had a reason to stay — to move on a whim would take me farther from my goals.
And whatever suffering I felt was easier to bear, knowing that it was in service of a longer-term goal. The structure was secure as long as I didn’t question the organizing goal for being in Chicago (studying comedy).
Once I quit performing, I went through a crisis where I had to question everything (and mourn the loss of a part of me) before settling on a new goal: making movies, which brought an organizing structure back to my life.
During the transition, I toyed with the idea of moving but it was clear that the network I had built in Chicago, combined with cheap rents, made it much easier to make movies in Chicago.
Once I made a feature film, the calculus changed. I no longer had an organizing reason for staying in Chicago. Yes, I still want to make feature films and yes, it’s still easier to do that in Chicago than it is in New York or wherever (because I have the local knowledge and contacts in Chicago and because rent is so damn cheap), but because I want to move up a budget level, the calculus is different.
The model of “work two years and save, then make an ultra-low-budget film” is not what I want anymore. Once I decided that the majority of the budget for my next project will come from investors, there’s no need to keep rent ultra-low to save as much as possible and high-rent cities like New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles are now viable places to live.
It makes sense that we would have defenses against constantly questioning our life situation. I mean, it’s probably not great to wake up every day of your life asking yourself the question “is this where I should live? is this the right career for me? is this my best life?”.
If you constantly question everything and never commit to anything, you’ll end up living in a kind of high-anxiety state of paralysis.
Completing meaningful, long-term projects like raising children or starting a company or creating a political movement or changing the culture — these all require a lot of commitment and a lot of saying no.
On the other hand, if you never question anything and just copy whatever your friends are doing, you’re liable to get stuck in a life that you don’t want.
So I think it’s safe to say that there’s an optimal mix of questioning vs. living, of commitment (and its attendant constraints) and reorganizing.
The trick I think, is to choose constraints and commitments consciously1, with regular checkpoints or a regular framework for question things and considering a reorganization of life.
For me, it seems to come about every ten years, but I wonder if I should be more deliberate in how I approach this whole question, by setting up an arbitrary time for questioning, like the last week of the year.
Yes, I recognize that this is a massive luxury for privileged people ↩
Transgressive behavior: when is it celebrated and when is it punished by power?
I’ve been researching the life of Catalina de Erauso, the lieutenant nun. She lived most of her life dressed as (and passing for) a man. One thing in the story that has always bewildered me is why the Pope (Urban VIII for you Popeheads) would (after 30 or so years living as a man) grant her permission to continue living as a man.
The answer is complicated and goes into the way sexuality and gender were viewed in the 1600s1, but this passage from Eva Mendieta’s In Search of Catalina de Erauso, highlights something interesting:
First, we have already mentioned the importance of her virginity, verified by church authorities. This quality, which implies asexuality, was considered by society to be admirable and virtuous.
In addition, despite the fact that Erauso departed from the social norms, she demonstrated respect for and submission to both ecclesiastical and military institutional authorities; therefore her transgression neither challenged nor threatened the status quo.In Search of Catalina de Erauso (171)
Which reminded me of TLP on Solzhenitsyn:
You keep your job at McDonalds and the system gets another data point confirming it is right. I hope the parallel between this and anything written by Solzhenitsyn is immediately obvious, if not, read anything by Solzhenitsyn. The Matrix doesn’t need you, but it will offer you a free pass if you help get the other batteries in line.
Transgressive behavior may not only be tolerated but rewarded or celebrated, if it fits into the narrative of the powerful or supports their power.
I think that if Erauso had used her position of celebrity to advance the power of women or done anything else to upset the existing military-state-church power structures, then the response to her lifestyle choices would have been much different.
See Mendieta’s book for a much more robust discussion of the various factors at play. ↩
You get nothing but the wider world
I went to the El Caserio Museo Igartubeiti yesterday in Gipuzcoa, Spain, as I traverse the Basque Country in Spain and France doing some exploratory research for a screenplay.
In much of my reading and research, people have noted that the Basques have always been adventurers and explorers — they’ve fanned out around the world and were eager to move to the Americas and the US.
I’ve been wondering about why this is, I mean why would some cultures be more eager to move thousands of miles away from home — it’s hard enough now, but imagine doing that in 1620 when you had never been on a boat (if you lived inland, many Basques were incredible sailors and shipbuilders) and maybe had never even seen the sea and certainly hadn’t been on a long boat voyage or seen any other country or culture apart from your own.
You’d have to be pretty… crazy. Or brave. Or, maybe it was because of their inheritance laws!
I found out that they had a system where the oldest son (or daughter! imagine that!) received the majority of the inheritance. For a non-wealthy family, that would mean the land (e.g. el caserio).
So basically, one child gets the cider press and the surrounding land. The rest of the children get token items and some words of encouragement and they set off on their own, which would seem to encourage high-risk, adventurous travels and endeavors and Wiki agrees:
In contrast to surrounding regions, ancient Basque inheritance patterns, recognised in the fueros, favoured survival of the unity of inherited land holdings. In a kind of primogeniture, these usually were inherited by the eldest male or female child. As in other cultures, the fate of other family members depended on the assets of a family: wealthy Basque families tended to provide for all children in some way, while less-affluent families may have had only one asset to provide to one child.
However, this heir often provided for the rest of the family (unlike in England, with strict primogeniture, where the eldest son inherited everything and often did not provide for others).
Even though they were provided for in some way, younger siblings had to make much of their living by other means. Before the advent of industrialisation, this system resulted in the emigration of many rural Basques to Spain, France or the Americas.
Harsh by modern standards, this custom resulted in a great many enterprising figures of Basque origin who went into the world to earn their way, from Spanish conquistadors such as Lope de Aguirre and Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, to explorers, missionaries and saints of the Catholic Church, such as Francis Xavier.
Interesting that the English had a similar system of inheritance and also a penchant for sailing around the world and mucking things up.
Two competing revolts
From gwern’s 2018 news:
I don’t know how many blue-collar workers they will put out of work—even if software is solved, the robotic hardware is still expensive! But factories will be salivating over them, I’m sure. (The future of self-driving cars is in considerably more doubt.)
A standard-issue minimum-wage Homo sapiens worker-unit has a lot of advantages. I expect there will be a lot of blue-collar jobs for a long time to come, for those who want them. But they’ll be increasingly crummy jobs. This will make a lot of people unhappy.
I think of Turchin’s ‘elite overproduction’ concept—how much of political strife now is simply that we’ve overeducated so many people in degrees that were almost entirely signaling-based and not of intrinsic value in the real world and there were no slots available for them and now their expectations & lack of useful skills are colliding with reality?
In political science, they say revolutions happen not when things are going badly, but when things are going not as well as everyone expected.
My speculative view is that there will be (or currently are) two competing revolts: one from the aspirational 14% and one from the working class.
Both will face disruption from automation. Both will be angry about a promised future that does not exist: the manufacturing jobs won’t be there anymore, but neither will the guaranteed high-wage jobs promised to college graduates.
I don’t think we have a way of talking about this really, or finding solutions to it that work for most of society. Something like the UBI can ameliorate the personal finance aspects of the disruption, but to me, that just feels like throwing money at the problem.
People want meaning and status through their work; they want to feel like they are important and making a contribution. Just giving people money doesn’t solve that.
AI is really funny, and maybe, creative
I can’t stop laughing at the random stuff created by AI on AI Weirdness. These lists of AI-generated change.org petitions are wild:
Bad ideas/Lost Causes:
Dogs are not a thing!! Dog Owners are NOT Human beings!!
Help Bring Climate Change to the Philippines!
Taco, Chipotle, and Starbucks: Bring Back Lettuce Fries
Filipinos: We want your help stopping the killing of dolphins in Brazil in 1970’s
Mr.person: I want a fresh puppy in my home
Simple Stats Administration: Make Another proboscis.
Officials at Prince Alfred Hospital: Aurora to Tell The Company To Send A Baby to Mars
Sign Petition for Houston’s New Fireworks to be Offensive
Make a mudchat
Please not punish myself with a $20 fines.
Unicorn: Stop breaking crab products
Rooster Teeth : Have Rooster Teeth Fix Your Responses To Obama
The people of Great Adventure: get lil bl00ty moose loyal to us
The People of Kashmir : Ban of Airbrushed Bamboo Trees By Pune
Barack Obama, Barack Obama, and Barack Obama: STOP PING MY HUSBERS!
Saskatoon Police Service: No more scootty
One Highway, Four Hens, Highway 1
Rhino Amish Culture Association: Cut the horns of the congon sturgeon & treat it better!
Harmonix: Increase the speed limit on Easton Road to 5mph.
Everyone: Put the Bats on YouTube!
Donald Trump: Change the name of the National Anthem to be called the “Fiery Gator”
Taco Bell: Offer hot wings and non-perfumed water for all customers
Do not attack the unions! Keep cowpies!
Anyone: Get a cat to sing on air!
The people of the world: Change the name of the planet to the Planet of the Giants
Dr James Alexander: Make the Power of the Mongoose a Part of the School’s Curriculum
These are funny in the way that those “worst answers to tests” are funny — absurd and completely surprising responses, but in the right form. They have the form of petitions, but they’re insanely playful and creative instances of petitions.
I don’t know if it makes sense to all an algorithm’s output ‘playful,’ but I think ‘creative’ does make sense, if we think of creativity as the combination of disparate things in a coherent way. That’s basically creativity, yeah? At least one form of it.
Whatever it is, AI seems to be really good at it. On its own, it might just be a high-powered amusement generator, but when combined with a human writer/editor, it could be a powerful creative tool — as a writer, it’s really hard to get out of your own way and open the mind.
It’s far too easy to get stuck on a track, to limit where your ideas are sourced from (even within your own brain), to just not be creative.
Not to mention, how often do you have access to all of the possible combinations in your mind?
My brain is pretty mysterious to me, nothing like a database. I just have to kind of get into a certain state and hope that good ideas come through, like tuning a radio to a mysterious radio station.
But if there was a scanner to make all of the ideas available… to combine the ideas to generate new ones… well, now, that would be interesting.
The phantom goodbye
That awkward time when someone is physically with you, but mentally they’re checking their phone for their ride share to come.
You can talk to them and it seems like they can hear you, but they’re not really listening, like talking to a ghost.
And then, just like that, they disappear into the night.
Travailler, toujours travailler.
Roding then took Rilke outside for a tour of the grounds. As they walked, Roding began to tell Rilke about his life, but not in the way one might speak to a journalist on assignment. He understood that Rilke was a fellow artist, and so he framed his stories as lessons that the young poet might take as examples.
Above all else, he stressed to Rilke, Travailler, toujours travailler. You must work, always work, he said.
“To this I devoted my youth.” But it was not enough to make work, the word he preferred to “art”; one had to live it.
That meant renouncing the trappings of earthly pleasures, like fine wine, sedating sofas, even one’s own children, should they prove distracting form the pursuit.— from You Must Change Your Life: The Story of Rainer Maria Rilke and Auguste Rodin by Rachel Corbett
Exhilaration comes from naming the unnamable and hearing it named
I’m moving again and it’s time to go through books that are good enough for me to mark up but not good enough to haul into storage while I figure out where I’m going to land.
Going through The Last Self-Help Book, I found some passages that I highlighted a few months ago and now I’m wondering if Walker read Bohm because there are a lot of similarities in the way they talk about art and science describing the world as it is:
Exhilaration comes from naming the unnamable and hearing it named.
If Kafka’s Metamorphosis is presently a more accurate account of the self than Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, it is the more exhilarating for being so.
The naming of the predicament of the self by art is its reversal. Hence the salvific effect of art. Through art, the predicament of self becomes not only speakable but laughable. Hellen Keller and any two-year-old and Kafka’s friends laughed when the unnamable was named. Kafka and his friends laughed when the unnameable was named. Kafka and his friends laughed when he read his stories to them.
Less related but darkly comic, in that Kafka lol way:
If poets often commit suicide, it is not because their poems are bad but because they are good. Whoever heard of a bad poetry committing suicide? The reader is only a little better off. The exhilaration of a good poem lasts twenty minutes, an hour at most.
Unlike the scientist, the artist has reentry problems that are frequent and catastrophic.