The Death of the Novel

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In his book of essays, The Art of the Novel, Milan Kundera discusses the death of that particular art form. Such a death, he argues, is brought about when the novel removes itself from history, as in the literature of the Soviet Union where novels could only confirm the official line of things and by doing so remain entrenched in the status quo. For Kundera, therefore, the spirit of the novel depends upon its historical position, a place that allows it to reveal the human condition to us from beneath the mind-numbing effects of the actual. Novels are, Kundera says, “part of a process which is the conquest of being,” participating in a “succession of discoveries” that are related to the historical process itself.

The idea of the historical process as a succession of discoveries that unfold and enrich humanity, is a humanistic perspective, and literature, and the novel, are without a doubt art forms driven by humanity-enriching purposes. Nevertheless, in our own analyses of the historical process, we have seen that history has never been a humanity-enriching progression. In fact, what we have discovered is that historical evolution has taken humanity further and further away from itself into the segregating tribalism of the national state or religious sects. History has been a process of dividing humanity instead of developing its potentials through unity. For this reason, we talk about the anti-human historical process – but if history is anti-human, what does that tell us about the novel’s role in that development? And, if we agree that our historical process needs to be redesigned in order to eliminate its anti-humanism and make it authentically human for once, what should the novel’s role in that revolution be?

In the first place, however, Kundera’s perception of the nexus between the novel and the historical process is a limited one. He is right to point out the way the novel’s evolution has reflected social changes, but he is mistaken in seeing that reflection as the means itself when the real nexus is the analysis of what it sees, and, through that analysis, its power of being critical.

What dictatorial censorship, like the Soviet one, must do is castrate the novel by chopping out its ability to criticise. Made impotent in its critical faculty, the novel is thereby rendered useless. Kundera’s argument, therefore, is that chopping in any form, even by well-intentioned capitalist editors, is potentially deadly for the novel itself. But a very dangerous question arises here: Is criticism only possible, therefore, because the anti-human historical process is so humanly flawed?

If this is so, then we have to ask ourselves if a truly-human process of progressive history would eliminate the need for criticism, which in turn would create a debilitating process for the mind akin to those created by dictatorship?

Or, in other words: Is the novel important to us only because the System (civilisation) we are immersed in is so defective?

We believe that Kundera, from his experience with Stalinism, would agree that it would. However, beginning an authentic-human historical process is not the same as completing the historical process, which was the purpose of communism.

By understanding the creative forces of humanity in a positive, universal way, guided by art, science and technology rather than ideology and religion, would be far more transformative than the evolutions and incomplete revolutions that have so far been produced by any anti-historical processes we have.

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Rather than dying, the novel would be in the front line of this pro-humanity transformation: both as an analyser and a critique of the new process. The novel, therefore, will not die with authentic-human history, rather its current moribund prestige will be rekindled and rejuvenated as wider appreciation will be made of its essential role in human (Sapiens) evolution.

Kundera admits in his book that the novel itself could have had a different history. He points to the different callings that the novel makes: The call to play (Tristan Shandy and Jacques the Fatalist); the call to dream (Kafka); the call to think (Musil and Broch); the call of time (Proust). There are other calls: the call to freedom (Joyce’s Ulysses); the call for justice (Zola, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy).

But the novel, like humanity has been more fettered than liberated by the anti-human historical process and our novelists now need to imagine new callings that can transcend the anti-human and embrace the calling toward an authentic Sapiens humanity. Yes, an evolution toward human authenticism, centring  history as a process of human-progress, would imagine more callings as the abstract and conditional perspectives of individuals are opened up. One of the major victories that humanity would gain through an authentic-human historical evolution would be the liberation of minds beyond the actual and into the abstract and conditional realms of the potential.

Where Kundera is most definitely right and acute in his book, is when he speaks of the Spirit of the Novel, and that Spirit needs to be analysed and continually vindicated in opposition to the spirit of the market-place or the spirit of selling books. Novels are meant to be written, published and read: and this implies distribution and/or accessibility, but it does not imply sales. A novel’s success has to be measured by how much pleasure it has produced by doing what novels do best, which is … to stimulate the mind. But even here we need to be careful of over-simplifying success: A novel that can stimulate the minds of millions might be considered more successful than another which only managed to reach a handful of readers, but the quantitative degree of that success is no real reflection of the qualitative importance of the two books. A book that is never read may be qualitatively far superior than another that is consumed by billions. We see here the importance of accessibility and distribution: a great, human civilisation would be geared towards ensuring the accessibility of quality. An authentically human ethics would have to always prioritise the production of quality above quantity in art.

Kundera says that “the spirit of the novel is the spirit of complexity,” a spirit which is also antithetical to the reductionist spirit of the market-place and its demands for simplicity.

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Human Destiny – do we care?

To what extent can human beings concern ourselves with the abstract question of human destiny? – assuming firstly that the beings we are concerned with know, or think they know, what human destiny is. To what extent can any eschatological stand point be directly admitted to?

This is the basic question behind all religions. If the ultimate truth is known to be this, how must we accordingly act? Our duty as Sapiens is to perceive, learn, investigate, discover, LIVE, etc., but what will happen to those who prefer to be lazy?

The old system of separations creeps back in once more. Once we say: “We know what to do,” there will be those who will contest us with: “Fine, and I choose not to do it,” or: “But that is too hard. Please don’t make me exert so much effort; let me go about my life my own way.

This is our human failing: a failing which has no other finality than endless squabbling and, ultimately, internecine destruction. All separations emanate from the freedom-driven will to choose to differ, and any absolute truth will immediately run up against its absolute opposition.

Nevertheless, this has never stopped belief and inspired behaviour before. Ultimately it must boil down to convictions. Al action must stand on the knife-edge between success and failure; or rather success itself is the mere act of standing on the rope over the abyss of failure.

But from the Ideal-reality perspective, everything humans do contributes to the framing of reality, and in this way the framing is never finished until humanity is finished – which is the only truly undesirable outcome. Here is a deeply existential idea – anything is permitted as long as it does not incite extinction, and also, everything is welcomed, and should be encouraged, that encourages learning and framing. And by framing we mean the representing of reality and the communication of knowledge about that reality, as well as the unfolding that takes place from such communication and representation.

History needs the science of history to exist. An existence, the finality of which can never be reached until the science itself is no longer understood or practised. It is the framing of history that makes it historical, and that framing is forever being developed or disfigured by the continuous nature of that same framing. While humans are Sapiens the process is constant, and past and future unfold in a constant framing in the present continuous.

THE DANGER OF DESTINY – AND HOW TO OVERCOME IT

 

Once a destiny is accepted, nihilism is vanquished but dogma threatens. Dogma as a killer of creativity can only be thwarted by elevating creativity against it. If the ultimate purpose of humanity as Sapiens (that the new dogma is derived on) is to create as well as know – to be original and inventive and as critical as an inventive wit must always be – then the negative effects of dogma will always be mitigated. Freedom is intrinsic to creativity and so, if the purpose is to be creative, the ethical results of that dogma of creativity will be an anti-authoritarian one.

To be able to frame, one needs to know. To be able to know, one needs to have an agile mind. To have an agile mind, one needs to have freedom, time, and the resources to develop that agility. A Sapiens ethics would have to encourage the creation of an environment in which the human mind is freed, allowed and encouraged to fulfil its potential. The real great revolutionary step for humanity will have to be one of unleashing Sapiens’ potential in order to liberate humanity from the stress and tyranny of our current, economic-singularity framing, and its tremendous anti-Sapiens structures. Only when productivity is measured not in terms of dollars earned and spent but in terms of our accumulated capital of ideas and know-how, will humanity start to rightfully perceive itself as the Homo sapiens sapiens.

Adolescent Society and the Anti-Nihilistic Anti-Oedipus (a revolutionary statement)

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Consumerism’s constant pressure on the pleasure button has fermented a nihilistic culture driven by a plutocratic system calling itself democracy. Our anti-human civilisation has embedded this nihilism with a deep, grass-roots pessimism. Modern life and its emphasis on individual fulfilment has fabricated a depressive tone with uninspired muscle.  Underneath the pristine glamour of the consumer society, lies the internal suffering of he or she who always wants more. Achievement is never enough – each acquisition creates or finds another lack that will open the doors toward another subjugation.

Psychologically we are an adolescent society, torn by narcissistic desires and paradoxical notions of conforming in rebellious ways. We hate the father-figures of power that govern us and will be quick to show our disdain for the present in the next elections, but, nevertheless, we are happy to receive the protection offered by that same parent without giving anything other than grudgingly back. The paternal power maintains its hold over us by creating our dreams and desires, but the Disneyworld factory of dreamworking is the system’s greatest instrument of repression. The anti-human civilisation can exert its power and control over all because the system tells the individual that he or she can also enjoy the same power. What the system promises each individual is the chance that they too can be a leader: a president or king of their own company, or at least a fascist parent.

Here we arrive at the same psychological root to the problem as Deleuze and Guattari: our society is Oedipal.[i] We submit to power because we ourselves are dreaming of achieving that power. The message manifests itself in positive thinking “You can do it!”, “Yes, we can”, “Just do it” etc.. The Fisher King is waiting for you to take his place. Laius must succumb   to you eventually, no matter how cruel he is to you now, no matter how much he wills your destruction. You are destined to step into his shoes and become the King of Thebes and, “Everybody loves a winner.”

Deleuze and Guattari argued[ii] that to fight the system one first of all had to become anti-Oedipal and become an orphan (breaking family ties), an atheist (without beliefs), and a nomad (without ties to any particular region, state or culture). To that list we would like to add a but – but without submitting to nihilism.

So, in our terms, the revolutionary must learn to be an orphan, an atheist, a nomad and an anti-nihilist believer in necessities.

Of course there seems to be a contradiction here: how can an atheist – the non-believer – also be an anti-nihilist moralist redeemer, the kind, let’s say, who believes and who can distinguish between good and evil. In order to resolve this apparent contradiction we would need to analyse what belief and non-belief is, starting with the premise that the pure non-believer does not really exist and the second, seemingly absurd proposition that it is possible to believe and not-believe at the same time. Here we don’t have room for such an analysis but … meanwhile, let a quote from the anti-Oedipal Nietzsche act as post data …

Nietzsche believed, like us, that the future survival of humanity required “another sort of spirit than those we are likely to encounter in this age.” What he called “the redeeming man of great love and contempt, the creative spirit who is pushed out of any position outside or beyond by his surging strength again and again, whose solitude will be misunderstood by the people as though it were a flight from reality – whereas it is just his way of being absorbed, buried and immersed in reality so that from it, when he emerges into the light again, he can return with redemption of this reality … This man from the future will redeem us, not just from the ideal held up till now, but also from those things which had to arise from it, from the great nausea, the will to nothingness, from nihilism, that stroke of midday and of great decision that makes the will free again, which gives its purpose and man his hope again, this Antichrist and anti-nihilist, this conqueror of God and of nothingness – he must come one day.”[iii]

Our redeemer must be Antichrist, Anti-Oedipus and Anti-Nihilist. The old edifice must be pulled right down to allow a new foundation of true, human reality to be laid. A foundation rooted in human purposiveness and a renewal of our necessary partnership with the world that is so important for our existence. Only from this completely new foundation will be able to reconstruct anything truly meaningful. Only from the ruins of our anti-human civilisation will be able to build the Human one.

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[i] SEE Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, Capitalism and Schizophrenia

[ii] Ibid

[iii] F. Nietzsche, On the Geneology of Morality, II, xxiv

Foucault’s manual for Anti-Fascism (with some notes)

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In his introduction to Deleuze and Guatarri’s Anti-Oedipus, Michel Foucault summarised the book into seven points which, he suggested, could serve as a guide for the everyday life of any anti-fascist. These seven points were:

  • “Free political action from all unitary and totalising paranoia.”[i] …or, in other words, avoid dogma at all costs.

We see this as the problems that arise from envisaging objectives as something fixed, or the perception of the Ideal as kind of frozen immobility. The essence of progress is that it is always moving beyond itself. The real revolutionary objective needs to be to maintain the linear impacts of progress and keep it out of the curving tendency that will render progress circular again.

  • “Develop action, thought and desires by proliferation, juxtaposition and disjunction, and not by subdivision and pyramidal hierarchisation.”[ii]

… let us add communication and visibility through social networking as real instruments of democracy and subsequently as destabilising instruments on all attempts to impose dogmas. This has to be done by uncovering and exposing manipulations, especially the most subtle, which are the ones that contemporary dogmas thrive on.

  • “Withdraw allegiance for the old categories of the Negative (law, limit, castration, lack, lacuna), which Western thought has so long held sacred as a form of power and an access to reality. Prefer what is positive and multiple, difference over uniformity, flows over unities, mobile arrangements over systems. Believe that what is productive is not sedentary but nomadic.”[iii]

Propagate a philosophical and artistic perspective of reality.

  • “Do not think that one has to be sad in order to be militant, even though the thing one is fighting is abominable. It is the connection of desire to reality (and not its retreat into the forms of representation) that possesses revolutionary force.”[iv]
  • “Do not use thought to ground a political practice in Truth; nor political action to discredit, as mere speculation, a line of thought. Use political practice as an intensifier of thought, and analysis as a multiplier of the forms and domains for the intervention of political action.”[v]
  • “Do not demand of politics that it restore the ‘rights’ of the individual as philosophy has defined them. The individual is the product of power. What is needed is to ‘de-individualise’ by means of multiplication and displacement, diverse combinations. The group must not be the organic bond uniting hierarchized individuals, but a constant generator of de-individualisation.”[vi]

Liberation of the individual must come through the liberation of humanity, not through the individual itself.

  • “Do not become enamoured of power.”[vii]

Escape the vicious circle of our sado-masochistic reality and our perverse fascination with power. Look for harmony rather than brutal domination and/or pathetic submission.

[i] (Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, Capitalism and Schizophrenia, UMP, Minneapolis, 1983, Preface, p. xiii)

[ii] Ibid

[iii] Ibid

[iv] Ibid, pp. xiii-xiv

[v] Ibid, p. xiv

[vi] Ibid

[vii] Ibid

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE END

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In order to break out of our bubble[i], transcend the retarding influence of Habitus[ii], unveil the ideological masks created by identity[iii] and escape the vicious circle of repeating our same mistakes, we need to question reality from a new perspective. Look beyond the actual and try to grasp the profound realities of possibility. Start to think in a teleological way in the direction of final causes. Perhaps we should even reinstate the idea of a final destiny for humanity as an inspiration. In any case, we have to look toward long-term future points of reference. Such long-term goals are now sadly lacking in the cyclical form of the global capitalist economy. The homo economicus is really going nowhere. And if there is no final aim there can be no becoming.  Sure, there are horizons, but we never get any closer to them – the horizon is never reached and the homo economicus becomes trapped in an endless circular pursuit of happiness-through-fulfilment-of-desire that really goes nowhere at all.

On the other hand, by revindication of the species and our Sapiens qualities, meaningful results become immediately tangible again and humanity can drift away from nihilism into purposiveness.

[i] See our entry The Way out of the Bubble –  https://pauladkin.wordpress.com/2015/03/02/the-way-out-of-the-bubble/

[ii] See our entry Habitus – https://pauladkin.wordpress.com/2015/02/28/habitus/

[iii] See our entry Ideology/Identity and Nihilism – https://pauladkin.wordpress.com/2015/01/27/ideologyidentity-and-nihilism/

Ideology/Identity and Nihilism

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Ideology/Identity tries to contain thought within an enclosed space that is the reality-that-is for those within it. It may be dynamically charged with the concept that it is also the reality-that-should-be or the best reality for everyone. In the latter case the Ideology/Identity runs the risk of exploding into a surge of imperialism (e.g.: the West, on one hand, and the Islamic Nation on the other). In the case of the West, despite its grand ideology of “freedom” the spaces enclosed by Ideology/Identity are consciousness-restricted spaces that are determined by dogmas and xenophobias as opposed to any authentic lust for liberating awareness and opportunities. The borders of the USA, for example, enclose an enormous conglomeration of Identity ideologies and the idea of the nation-state system working in harmony and bringing all these ideologies together within the same enclosed space is promoted as a magnificent example of what the Global-economy Ideology of Freedom can do. But, in truth, Ideology/identity can only be obtained by promoting the opposite of freedom. It requires false consciousness or even unconsciousness.

As for the Islamic Nation it has no borders and its Ideology/Identity is firmly rooted in the idea of Islam, which means submission to Allah, or, in practical terms, to those who profess to know how to interpret Allah correctly.

Seen as freedom versus submission the West and the Islamic Nation are antithetical forces which offer very little to each other in terms of creating any Yin Yang type harmonious separation. Nevertheless, both systems do have a common ground based on their shared anti-human nihilism created by a dualism of believers or non-believers. The nihilism of the non-believers versus the nihilism of the faithful; the nihilism in the belief in the paradise beyond the earthly versus the nihilistic faith in the fact that nothing we do in our lives makes any sense other than that we make the most of our limited time here on earth.

This nihilism is a direct result of the process of Ideology/Identity formation. As if the last thing we should consider is that we are human beings and that humanity has an authentic purpose in itself. It is a process of separation and segregation through the creation of enclosures. Separation breeds ignorance and ignorance is a kind of slavery for Sapiens. A fetter holding humanity back from uncovering its real destiny as a species.

Our Naked System

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Marxist doctrine argues a need for an emerging working-class self-consciousness capable of comprehending the aggressive nature of the capitalist system in order to liberate itself from it. But reality now demands that we look beyond the confines of any ideologies and their separations—whether class, cultural, linguistic or territorial—in order to become conscious of how the system infects us all, and how it uses the separating forces inherent in all ideologies to perpetuate its own selfish interests.

 

The best way to bring the oppressors down is to reveal the true nature of their nakedness. Like the Emperor parading his new clothes, the system is really quite naked of principles once we allow ourselves to open our eyes to what it tells us is there but in reality is not there at all. And once that nakedness is seen the next brave act would be to confront the emperor with the awkward truth of his real, pathetic condition. We risk stirring the emperor’s rage, but perhaps his shame will be so great that he will abdicate.

 

The world-view of the system, despite its globalising, empirical apparel, cannot tolerate any singular world-view that would be antithetical to its philosophy of dynamism. For this reason it demands separation and seems to move in a constant direction to ensure that borders will remain in some form or other. From the worldview perspective of the ideology/identity system, separations evolve into relativisms that are tolerated because they can maintain the spirit of separation and not alienate ideologies from the global empire in its entirety. But, relativism is also a step on the downward ladder to scepticism and from there to pessimism, which is always a numbing energy that invites a depressive fall into unconsciousness.

 

Of course the system ultimately fails again. It engenders a lethargy rather than a dynamism. But what the system calls crisis is essential to its own metabolism, and with the collapse, and the great misery resulting from that collapse, the system itself, driven by renewed needs and a renewed grasp of reality, will be able to catapult itself back into the dynamism that capitalism demands. A dynamism fuelled by the fantasy of perpetuity: continual growth is impossible within the closed system that is the Earth. And this is the ridiculous nakedness of the system. A farce that is no longer funny anymore, it has become emphatically dangerous.

KNOWING THE LIE – CONSCIOUSNESS (3)

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Self-consciousness for the Sapiens is knowing that one truly knows, which means that one has been able to look through the isolating veils of the ideological masks of reality in order to see the true human, collective condition. Real self-consciousness is to be able to see the meaningfulness of saying “I am a human being”.

Consciousness comes from a need for consciousness. The system is only questioned by the individual when the system ceases to satisfy the individual’s needs. From the dissatisfaction comes the need for knowing. It is impossible to imagine the existence of consciousness in a Garden of Eden in which everything is satisfied and nothing seems to be lacking. The Fall was a discovery, or perhaps merely a suspicion, of lack. If we are to define Homo sapiens according to our consciousness, then our species needs lack in order to define itself. Our reason for being is to discover, uncover, rediscover and preserve reality – but never to make it unmovable. Preservation implies a consciousness of past rather than a stagnation in what is, which is a prolongation. Preservation is not prolongation but discovery. Consciousness must move backward as well as forward. Discovery can also be rediscovery.

When we see truth as that which is uncovered then we see that truth is something that we can only stand before, it is not something which can be born or borne. There can be no bearers of truth; no possessors or creators of it. Truth is that which is contemplated but never owned. In this way truth is seen as a kind of public spectacle. We can say “come and look what I have uncovered”, but we mustn’t sell tickets for the spectacle or try to sell it, or claim any ownership of it.