The Death of the Novel

Death-of-Literature-Skull-and-Book

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.

book-burning-inspired-by-fahrenheit-451-john-haldane

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.

Biblioteca-de-Babel-Erik-Desmazieres

Authentic History vs Anti-history

alienation

We are immersed in an anti-historical process that is unintelligible, incalculable and impersonal. To embrace all these terms, we can use the concept of, as Marx did, alienation.

In order to mitigate the effects of its own alienation, the anti-historical process has created identity-forming ideologies like nationalism and religion to operate as a nexus between the alienated individual, humanity, and the anti-historical process.

An authentically historical process, on the other hand, would be geared towards human progress through humanity itself. The process would therefore be personal because it represents what we all are and cannot help not being, i.e., human. It will also therefore be more intelligible and because of that more calculable and consistent. In a world designed for the well-being and progress of humanity concepts like freedom and justice become less ambiguous.

When one knows why we are doing things, satisfaction and happiness through purposefulness and meaning are much easier to find and the authentic historical path forward for us is revealed.

Idealism contra Pragmatism and the Authentic Nature of Philosophy

einstein-tagore

The homo sapiens is essentially an ideal animal. We live in a world of ideas and imaginings capable of envisioning not only the world at hand, but also the possible world that lies beyond us or ahead of us outside of the frame of our experience. As social animals, however, the ideals that must arise from our ability to imagine the future are subject to the pragmatic constraints of collectivity.

Pragmatism, therefore, has to be seen as a regulating agent rather than a driving force. The progressive drive and creativity of humanity comes through our capacity to idealise our world. Nevertheless, Wealth as Power and its great tool the economy, have created an anti-human historical process in which pragmatism seems to be a driving force. In our global-economy world, the economy is no longer an instrument for fashioning ideas, it has become the master that all ideas have to satisfy if they are allowed to become materially manifest, and what the economy demands is pragmatism.

With the Industrial Revolution the ideals of the Enlightenment were defeated by liberal pragmatism. If the revolutions of the 19th century were a triumph for freedom and democracy, they were also a victory for pragmatism and the economy which in turn stifles the progressive and creative human drive of ideas and the formation of the ideal. The material freedom offered by liberal or social-democratic pragmatism, restrains creativity and human spirit.

In Orson Welles’ famous Ferris-wheel monologue in the film of Graham Greene’s The Third Man, he relates the attributes the great artistic achievements of the Renaissance to conflict and suffering, in contrast with the mediocrity produced by peace. But the real analogy should be between the inspiring spirit of ideals in the Renaissance against the insipid pragmatism of a Swiss-style, economic reality. The Swiss didn’t just invent the cuckoo clock, as Welles’ character claimed, they manufactured a marvellous safe-haven for the financial system’s piracies.

Philosophy has been the driving force of European culture. Without European philosophy it is hard to imagine the development of the European arts as it is. Husserl called philosophy the functioning brain of culture; philosophy is necessary for a healthy spirit to exist.[1]

In order to properly understand and appreciate what Husserl is saying, we need to remove the idea of the philosophical from any chronological positioning and interpret it in an ideal a-historical way. What we understand as history is really an anti-human (and therefore anti-historical) process that has a more circular chronology than a linear one. Philosophy, on the other hand, has far more universal pretensions, and philosophical aims point to the whole of humanity, trying to guide it in a forward direction toward the infinite.

Of course, the problem with philosophy is that its philosophers don’t always live up to philosophy’s own pretensions, but Husserl is adamant in his attempt to inspire philosophical greatness: “the philosopher must always have as his purpose to master the true and full sense of philosophy, the totality of its infinite horizons … Only in such a supreme consciousness of self, which itself becomes a branch of the infinite task, can philosophy fulfil its function of putting itself, and therewith a genuine humanity, on the right track … Only on the basis of … constant reflectiveness is a philosophy a universal knowledge.”[2]

Constant reflectiveness is the key to universal knowledge, or in other words, universal knowledge is a never-ending process – a process that is always in the future moving, present-continuous condition of becoming. We are always becoming, we never are.

[1] Edmund Husserl, PHILOSOPHY AND THE CRISIS OF EUROPEAN MAN, 1935, p. 16

[2] Ibid, p. 17

Nationalism & Patriotism: TOTEM IDENTITIES & POWER (part 2)

In the firstpart of this article (https://pauladkin.wordpress.com/2018/11/18/nationalism-patriotism-totem-identities-power/) we argued that both nationalism and patriotism are part of the same anti-human historical process that began with the segregating cults of thetotem: “Throughthe totem, … the individual surrendered his voice in the community and allowedall voices to be concentrated in the singular decrees of the priest-kings.Community, as such, died with the totem that was set up to build it, and a newanti-human history was born that became a process of maintaining classdistinction and privileges for the few at the expense of the manipulation andexploitation of the many.”

Perhaps Marx would say that the class struggle began with this class creation, but, in the beginning, there was probably minimalconflict. Not only class consciousness, but any kind of consciousness was inits embryonic stages, and political struggle needs to be fired by a conscious desirethat transcends the mere physical needs for food, shelter and propagation. Inthe early days when the totem societies began to develop into the firstcivilisations, any vestiges of political consciousness were mitigated by themanipulation, and creation via that manipulation, of the social reality thatenshrouded the priest-kings with the veil of apparent truth.

While the Sumerian tablets mention internal strife and indicate that there must have been some early opposition to the flagrant grabbing of power in the creation of the first civilisation, the real struggle was carried out by those who had established their power already. Early progress has to be measured in the degree of success obtained in the maintenance of the enormous fiction of the totem; that monstrous, empowering lie. If there has been a motor, or a process through history, it has been the maintenance via re-modelling which has allowed the perpetual existence of privileged classes and the freedom for those classes to exploit the other classes of society. This condition has not changed in the last 5,000 years.

Identity is, of course, a process of separation. A separation that is needed in order to maintain the lies of the totem identities of the City-State. The City-State can maintain its identity only while it has enemies to compare itself with. For this reason, during the current process of globalisation which is really a process of centralising power and privileges for the ruling elite, we do not see any diminishing of nationalisms, but rather a strengthening of them.

Once the totem was established, the lies could be formulated to justify all sorts of behaviourin the name of the divine symbol of the new society. But if people questionedthese lies, or the exploitive and repressive measures they were suffering as aconsequence of them, they had to be forced into a submission to the belief. Andso, the high-priests took charge, not only of the temple economy, but also ofthe warriors that could defend it. As such, any opposition to the lie couldeasily be a death sentence and the classes without an army to defend them had to wonder if opposition was not a madness. If opposition is life-threatening, it is probably best to tow the line, even if by doing so life is mademiserable. The exploited labourer is told that his or her life can always beworse – or no life at all. If thinking inspires the dangers and miseries causedby Power’s brutal reprisals, then it is best not to think at all; to go withthe flow and be a good citizen. And its best to teach your children to thinkthe same way. Soon the oppression and exploitation becomes immersed in thegreat fog of normality in which things happen in a certain manner because thatis the way things are.  

But from the time of Sumer, the way things are is that the society is organised in a way that will produce an abundance that is enjoyed by the privileged class, while those producing the abundance with their labour are given enough to survive on and little else. In history, we can see a progression and emergence of a middle-class who were encouraged to think they were comfortable and free. But rather than being a process of egalitarianism, it was merely a necessary process carried out to ensure the supply of abundance to the privileged class who were consolidating their fortunes through the sale of consumer goods. In order for the privileged to accumulate the billions they have made it was necessary to have billions of individuals capable of buying the billions of products they were selling. And so, there arose an economic need for what we call the middle-class.

But let us not fool ourselves: the privileged who hold power have not had to succumb to democratic or revolutionary demands on them, but rather technology has allowed them to create new ways of making fortunes by selling new manufactured products. All the rest, in its essence, has not changed since Sumer and Urk.

Aside from Sumer other powers were born in different ways: the Egyptian class-system grew primarily out of a power won militarily for the power of the Hawk-god that absorbed the priestly functions of control after making military conquests. Of course, Egypt took the priest-king idea one-step further and its leaders became Pharaohs, king-gods. That the lie could be taken so far seems ludicrous, but, for the Egyptian it was either believe the lie or die, and then, as in Sumer, after a few generations the king-god system would have been understood as the way things are, because that is how they have always been.

Power and its privileges are the centre of all civilisations, but so is the subsequent retarding of thought. The Greek Commonwealth, and especially the richly artistic and philosophical culture of Athens is so special because it was a blatantexception to this rule. In Greece there were City States, but there were alsothinkers thinking some of the deepest thoughts that have ever been contemplated. To understand how Greece was possible, we have to remindourselves that, before Alexander, it was just a peripheral place, on theoutskirts of the real centres of power that grew in western Asia and Egypt. And,on the periphery, it was more possible that thinkingwould be allowed.

Rather than stimulating and benefiting from the natural creativity and inventiveness ofhuman beings, the privileged classes pulling the strings of power havegenerally wasted the inherent talent of human beings and because of this it could be said that civilisation has been an obstacle in authentic humanprogress.

History and Nature

World News - Sept. 1, 2014

What must be done? …

To answer this question pragmatically, we need to listen to science, and science is telling us that we have to alter our energy culture and control population growth if our relationship with the planet is to remain sustainable.

The underlying message here is that nature is an integral feature of history; a feature that cannot any longer be ignored in the unfolding of the historical process. From now on, human history cannot be told or understood without also understanding nature and our effects on the natural environment that we ultimately depend on for our quality of life and survival.

That we feel separated from nature in the historical process is an illusion. That the illusion persists, despite everything we know, is mainly thanks to the efforts of power to maintain the farcical image that places civilisation outside and above nature. Nature has never played a part in the explanation of history because, once it did, the exploiting classes that wield power would have had to forfeit many of its reasons for holding onto that power. Very much of wealth’s property, for example, was accumulated by claiming a natural right to property through someone’s labour, passed down through the ages via inheritance. The truth is, nature is not something that anyone can hold a natural right to. The natural rights are nature’s own.

In the Middle Ages as well as the Renaissance, nature was made by God and obeyed His laws, which was an easy way of saying that nature had to obey the laws of the churches and kings who represented God on Earth.

The Age of Enlightenment offered a new, clear explanation of history based on reason and liberty. But again, nature is largely ignored by the powers governing civilisation. Not even in the enlightenment was science allowed to have its say to explain the historical process. History gradually became something to say about the masses; a class struggle. When a revolutionary force grew, it still lacked the common-sense insight that inexorably linked the fulfilment of human progress to the world and its ecosystem, undoubtedly vital for our existence here. For the bourgeoise revolutions of the 19th century and the omnipotent force of capitalisms that accompanied them, nature was little more than an inexhaustible source of wealth that had to be exploited to the full. We are now experiencing the beginnings of the tragic consequences of that kind of thinking.

Now, things are different; we have ecology, a science that explains nature and our absolute dependency on its well-being. The damage done to the environment by our anti-natural and anti-human historical process is now evident … and it’s time to rewrite our history books and put that evidence into real consideration.

ON HUMAN HISTORY

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Human history: the study of that which has never been allowed to be. It would have to begin with a description or definition of what it could have been.

Human history is a fantasy tale: a story of constant distraction away from the human; the constant narration of other histories over the authentic human one, but often in the name of the human one.

An authentic human history would be one of displaying the constant undermining of the greatest potentials; the constant befuddling and confusing of the common human experience so that it always appears as something that needs competition and bloody conflict in order to achieve the tremendous meagre crumbs that we are told have been won.

It’s too late now to believe in a historical process for humanity. There needs to be an entirely original idea that goes beyond that of humanity itself as a species. It is time to begin a new, authentically historical process toward an evolved human species full of real human potential – it’s time to start writing the book of Sapiens History.

*

“What can mankind do?”: the question comes from André Gide at the turn of the 20th century. It should have been phrased, what can humanity do as humanity?

Once we see how depressing the answer is to this fundamental question—for as soon as we indagate in the idea of human history we realise there has never been one – we see an immediate need to rectify the mistake. It’s time, long overdue, to do justice to humanity and infuse it with an authentic historical process.

*

How much love for everything non-human: all these animals and plants; these rocks and landscapes, and yet … How much hatred we have for humanity itself. But of course we must hate it, because unlike nature and the non-human it has not been allowed to grow naturally. Humanity has forever been lacerating itself, uglifying itself, disdaining and hating itself.

ON THE STRUGGLES BETWEEN EMPIRES

Empires

All successful attempts to resist Power have eventuated in a succumbing to Power under another guise. After resisting Darius and Xerxes the Greeks were swallowed up by the economic tyranny of Athens. That brought about armed resistance from Sparta, who were victorious in a very debilitated way until all Greece succumbed to Alexander. He marched them all off in ordered phalanxes through Asia … already we must ask, where is the freedom here? … Alexander’s empires were replaced by Rome, which transferred itself into a monotheistic power by adopting Christianity, inspiring a monotheistic-power reaction in Asia via Islam. This was resisted by crusaders wanting to expand the freedom of their markets to the silk spice routes, the provoked a counter-resistance by Islam, who tried to liberate themselves from Christian aggression by pushing into Christendom, which …

It’s the same song over and over again: and there is always the same call to defend one’s freedom. Freedom from the usurper or the invader. But the lesson to be learned from this, is that the liberation is always only ever won at the price of another subjugation.

Power has never been defeated, it has only changed its appearance. Call it tyranny, empire, monarchy, dictatorship, communism, democracy – it is all the same thing: Power.

WHAT HEGEL SKIPPED

WHOOPS!!!!

 

Hegel’s dynamic vision of history, and his optimism was to see the historical process as a movement toward a grand totality. In order to draw a positive conclusion from the millennia of oppression and exploitation, and of the rise and fall of oppressive regimes and greedy empires, Hegel described history as a process of overcoming that preserves that which has been overcome. The paradox of that which overcomes and at the same time preserves was termed Aufhebung by Hegel. For Hegel, the overcoming elevates that which has been overcome into a grand totality in which the essence of that which is overcome is allowed to be preserved.

However, in order to get into this Hegelian dynamic something essential needs to be skipped over, for how can something overcome something else if we are all flowing within the same river? Before an “overcoming” can take place a division has to occur between what is going to overcome and that which can be overcome. This primal division was overlooked by Hegel. He skipped over the essential element of our human condition, our “humanity”. That is what had to be overlooked in order to allow any “overcoming” to take place. In order for the grand totality to be created, we have to overlook the fact that the real grand totality of humanity already exists.

This skipping over was, therefore, a de-railing of history as human-history, projecting us into a cyclical continuum of separation and then a re-constructing of the amputated parts. What came about from this was an anti-human historical process which is, therefore, a seemingly endless process of separations themselves struggling to build themselves into other re-unifications that splutter and splatter forward until a new process of de-railing pushes the cycle into a downward spiralling trajectory again. This cyclical process takes place, not because it is the natural process, but because the frame around which the cycle takes place demands the cyclical procedure in order to keep the process contained.

This self-interested frame, created by those who can overcome, determines the anti-human historical reality and is reality, but this does not mean that it has to be reality. The logical condition would in fact be for humanity to be framed by a reality that is made for humanity itself.

By de-humanising the historical process and driving it into profit-making areas for certain groups, humanity itself is endangered and human fulfilment is rendered impossible.

In order to put history on track, we need to re-establish what has been skipped over in the anti-human historical process – we need to re-establish humanity and relocate the human element in the picture.

 

THE URSTAAT

Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_The_Tower_of_Babel_(Vienna)_-_Google_Art_Project_-_edited

There can be no nostalgias for Golden Ages before the System, for if any existed we have long forgotten what they were like. The System is ancient. It emanates from Ur, the first city. An Ur which has evolved in a replicating way from Egyptian Thebes to the Thebes of Oedipus, from Babylon to Tokyo, from Rome to Washington via Seville and Tenochtitlan. The City is a mushroom phenomenon, engendering thousands of spores, each one with metropolis DNA, an anti-human genetics of wall-builders. With the City came the dreams of money and power, of the divisions of labour and the creations of castes and classes. A sucking-in mentality. The City is a magnet, to be successful it must process an expanding gravitational field, spread its spores, create an empire of mushroom allies, all copies of the original dream in a fairy-ring around it.

Innocuous mushrooms, or deadly toadstools?

All civilisations are bloodstained. Ours is a patricidal, incestuous, oedipal culture of competition and struggle. A struggle to suppress that which is growing old in order to feed a narcissistic love-hate relationship with the System that engendered us. The struggle to stand out above our brothers and sisters. A struggle that demands to be recognised and loved. That demands that we prove our worthiness, even to our long-dead ancestors.

Of course, it will be argued that without the cities there would have been no progress. Didn’t our expanding empires trample over the non-Ur peoples and their primitive Stone Age? Human creativity and production is a result of Ur. The development of art and science depended on the mushrooming of the Ur-concept.

But while this argument fortifies and defends the concept of Ur, it does not vindicate the abuse of the concept. For our Civilisation is in an abusive stage of Ur, in which production happens for production’s sake, and the vision of a great future for humanity is swamped by immediate needs, which is usually an immediate greed. In our civilisation the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Of course the poorest who have nothing cannot get any poorer than that. However, now there is more money than ever before, and the tiny minority who possess most of it are richer than anyone who came before them. This should not be surprising, it is what the System is designed for.

Wealth: the Great Factory of Fear

thescream

The basis of culture lies in the acquisition of universal principles. Universal ideas inspire great art and they pull us out of the day to day to open much richer, deeper and more fulfilling life potentials.

History is studied as one of the humanities and, as such, it is also associated with universal principles of humanity. Nevertheless, the actual historical process, seen from the universal point of view, is a great mistake. Our historical process has been constantly pulling us away from universality and from humanity. It has been a contradictory process in which our only unification has come through a sense of opposition to other human beings.

Independence, in our historically constructed world, is won by adhering ourselves to a group of humans we can supposedly identify with, opposed to the rest of the human beings that we don’t identify with. What suffers in this process is the universal culture and our concept of humanity itself. Humanity becomes lost in the shallow, but very muddy waters that are created by so many fusing scissions.

Oppositions create alliances. Our enemies force us make friends with their enemies. Lack of harmony creates tension-full sub-harmonies. Fear becomes an impulse for living. Or, more than an impulse, it becomes the vital driving force of the dynamics of life. Social, political, economic life is all pushed along by fear. The fear of being invaded, of losing what you are, of the power to express yourself freely, of losing your language. A fear of losing your job, your means of paying bills or the fear of not getting enough to pay for your shelter and your food. A fear of becoming seriously ill, of losing your mind, of dying.

Threats come from without and within. Society seems to take responsibility for finding solutions to threats whilst exploiting the need for such solutions. Any legitimate power is sustained by an apparent need for solutions: solutions to apparent threats.

The greater the threat the more powerful Power can be. And Power with a capital P is Wealth with a capital W. Civilisation is plutocratic by nature: it works in favour of money, designed to make the wealthy wealthier. Threat is a necessary tool for Wealth. While Wealth drives civilisations, there will always be social and cultural stress.

Wealth itself is not decision-making, it is a greed for decision-making that pulls all resolutions through its hungry mouth. In order to get the fortunes it needs, Wealth must perpetuate fear. It must create necessities that only the power of Wealth can resolve.

Civilisation becomes an accumulation of massive-infrastructures, for in order to organise the masses, a massive organisation is essential, whether through private or public means. The Society is enslaved by all the necessities we can imagine to have our individual strings pulled. There is no better ally to the dictatorship of Wealth than fear-fantasised necessities. Fears manufacture necessities, but fear-made necessities are false-necessities.