If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.
–Haruki Murakami [of all people ;)]
The quote strikes a chord in me, the chord which feels strongly that, if not the place where I live presentlly, then the appartment block of my parents, where I used to until recently, is of a very similar, possibly identical resonance. The low highriser, a perfect clone of and with the other highrisers of the neighborhood rises from the curve of a ridge to overlook the lake, while its south side faces uphill towards the inscrutable density of Bireggwald, a morose remainder of our medieval forests. The highrise is eight or nine floors high and of a genuinely unremarkable geometry, sporting balconies like cubical breasts on its west wing and featuring an overdone roof-awning projection above the front door, reaching out one-and-a-half and four meters in either direction and surely a full 40 centimeters in thickness. Cantilevered into the lake-facing wall it‘s like a Damocles slab of concrete: might it not fall off at any moment to crush you beneath its white weight as you fumble to get out the keys? It is a sixties house, perhaps 70s, pragmatic to a fault but not ostentatiously ugly. It will not stand apart from any other building in its vicinity. The color is special only by its indistinction, a tone somewhere between Tuscan and Desert Sand, closer to yellow than red but so lightened that it must form no significant contrast with either white or light grey. So no intriguing medley of geometries. And very habitable.
Maybe then this minor monolith is not at all what gives rise to my mysterious psychic event but rather what happens when I use it as a perch, a mind‘s roost to look out of it onto the subjacent terrascape where city interlocks with lakeland during the dark of night. The ridges and shoreline are structured by dotted lines of light of habitation, the matrix of coexistence which, when gazed at for long enough, glazes over and becomes…more than an unconscious diagram, but rather a unified network of lifeforce. Light, electricity, living. Of which I can feel our highrise, rectilinear, concrete, warmth-retaining, to be an integral part of. And me along with it. A splendid supra-organic sense of wholeness, is the closest I can come to spelling it out.
This quote can put one in mind of the Internet: wild and rambling, full of anarchic characters and environments but, ultimately, enjoyed within the safe domesticity of our laptop screen. No harm will come of it if you don‘t stray from your few cubicles of space, if you don‘t go outside and cut through the vegetation, I mean hack. You can click onto this and that site, click your allegiance to world peace, turn around and stare death in the face, that is, watch a Syrian youtube clip… be an informed, true citizen of the world. But, seriously, you‘re sitting behind your sodding desk. None of which is to say that no grieveous legal harm might come off of internet surfing but the surreptitious daydream of being a swashbuckling cybernaut, an architect of a juster world via click-click-click is… we all know what it is, I suppose. The boundary is safe, you won‘t get gunned down, you won‘t be part of the grievously harmed or dead. Sitting safely in the West, you wish to partake of Area X vicariously and that is all. You wish to say you‘re Charlie only when Charlie is dead already. When he is shot or drowned.
We desire to be close to but not part of everything because then neither do we have to decide on any one particular allegiance, nor do we feel excluded, instead we end up with 562 friends, 28 scores of egophile selfie-uploaders, and an RSS feed feeding us the wilderness‘ unfiltered flow of… well… everything, which is also anything and which ends up signifying nothing. Yet so then again anyway, if you‘re Charlie, you don‘t have to get on with the difficult business of being yourself, inside the boundary, close but oh so out of touch.
Cheikh is dead. In the absence of a body, a dead black body with his face at the top, this is still beyond belief. I see the corpse now in many places for no reason at all. To my mind, I assume, he will become a wraith of all that can go wrong out of the blue, no, out of the light grey and idiotic hopefulness of an early year. These young days of the year, salad days, when you imagine anything could happen but forget to allow for death in the equation. Shit, it‘s like
a very bad movie, my mind suddenly imagines his dead body there, in undress, I don‘t have a clue why, lying on a park bench or sitting on the edge of a rooftop. It‘s stupid, just about everything concerning death is.
But what could it mean? That even in the vastness of the net, you do not click your way all the way to the edges, across the deep chasms and unending volumes of information. Instead you maybe stick to your little corner, your brackish waters of self-chosen ideology. Where, before ever being caught by any net, you marinate in the local ideology, the complex, hyper-linked, non-sensical ideology of somebody who got banned from Wikipedia for writing un-sourced, discriminatory, obscure entries. A somebody who joined with many other somebodies, on the net where even the tiniest of minorities is a respectable absolute figure, to perpetuate and ramify and just spread this particular ideology. For you to bathe in, the acid bath of monomaniac thought. A though which is not even one‘s own, this ideology, multiplying, blotting out one‘s one-time identity, a virus that in killing the host kills itself. But then an ideology, unfortunately, ultimately, needs a deed, even if just a single blazing day of bloodshed, to confirm its own existence. At which point that which is dormant becomes deadly.
And later, much later, too late, as O. Roy correctly points out, I think, there will be: disillusion, contrition and profound regret. Perhaps yet again suicide, this time to blow up one‘s past rather than to bring into being a splendid, unrealistic future. Bader-Meinhof, Al–Quaida et al. we are looking at you.
[p.15, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distration] This whole business about „changing one‘s life“ is unsettling. Sloterdjik P, genius philosopher that he is, has dedicated a whole 800–page tome to it, which I actually read to the very end, rare enough a feat for a staunch, silly parallel-reader . Its exhortatory tone „you must“ sticks out like a wagging, purple-glowing index-finger in the ego-palliative self-amelioration bookscape of today, where you and I and everybody owning a Kindle can download a book, 20 seconds flat, about how „to change one‘s life“. These latter self-help books however leave you under the velvety illusion that it is only you yourself who wants to effect this significant change of life: not your family, nor your offspring-desirous partner, not even high-handed society and damn sure not this book‘s author were the prime movers of your automorphosis. You were, you are. Which, the initial impulse, coming from yourself you take to be a good indicator that you might actually have the willpower it takes to make all those changes in your life. Well, that‘s at least how I‘ve seen matters.
But clearly, Sloterdjik would be appalled by any comparison to bestsellerish self-help dreck, rightly so, as his book digs through the philosophical and historical layers of self-amelioration Western style. And if I remember correctly, an unlikely scenario, then even the winsome contra-contemporary imperative of the title is not identical with Sloterdjik‘s authorial voice but ….hmmmm, let me try to recall…. ahh, yes, in reference to some medieval monastic call to betterment through asceticism. Or somebody wanting you to want: the coach. I thus recall to the best of my puny human cache. Given that this Sloterdjik manages to conjure approx. one neologism per page, recall tends to get murky.
The larger point is [by now a blurred stain, I‘m afraid]: whether soft-spoken or philosophically forceful, we are called upon to change.
No matter who picks up the book, massmurdering serial-rapist or compassion-radiating monk, he or she is called upon to change their life. And this reminds me of our culture‘s more general obsession with everything having to constantly change, alter its surfaces, redesign its layout, restructure its organizational hierarchy… not to achieve any one particular, collectively agreed upon aim but simply in order so as to… change. Like the feverish flow of status updates, the frenetic turn-over of images on the web, the plot-crazed storylines of modern-day TV[?!] drama. I believe, if changes become an end in themselves, you can kiss meaningfulness goodbye. I mean, your latest selfie, what the fuck does it stand for?
We need an interval of sameness, a calm interlude. Which is more or less the direction the quote heads right after the Rilke quote. Things as ends in themselves. One person taking a breather, a break and considering what it all means and if s/he thinks s/he is doing things in a way that is meaningful and creates more happiness in this world of ours. The task might be a bit more difficult then: you must know what to and what not to change in your life.
[p.50, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distration] Personally, I feel flush with humility when faced with the genius of word composition, of sentence mastery, as presented by true masters of the form, Wallace et al. You read the sentences and there it is, an alternate, beautiful, complicated, revelatory reality springing up around your imagination. Simply sitting there, head perched on upturned palms peering down into a valley of prose, you learn something genuinely new about life from the heights of the circling writer. And soaring on the most brilliant thermals there is also a sense of sheer sublimity, lexeme-powered ok, yet easily transcending not just the words forming in your head but the associated imagery, feelings, intuitions…. hovering gamely beyond it all. It‘s a paradox: behind or beyond the words, there seems to exist smthng transverbal. Or I might just overstate my case, confused as one can get, suffering from literary altitude sickness. These great novels certainly strenghten our mind and concentration as has been proven in, your guess is on target, scientific studies [does it matter which one? can’t one google such things now in .3 seconds? …making us knowledge-sloths…].
As for whim, it can carry you along a long way but, I think, there is a point where it falters in the face of cognitive labor. A bit like an amateur pugilist finally facing the truly golden gloves of a Pro. The thing about whim is that it cannot see beyond its immediate desires, it misses the long duree. Thus, on a whim, you might read the first one or two chapters of „Der Immune“ but then tire of it, its arcane ideas and outlandish helveticisms, the way the vignettes initially fail to cohere into a larger collage of a literary existence in 20th century Switzerland. However, you must, you should allow it some time to befriend your readerly competences, your capacity for thought, appreciation of history intertwined with [fictional] biography. Allow it time. And this time is reading and this reading can be toilsome and so effort must be put forth, activation energy!, that, on a longer time horizon than the imperious today, might repay your labors: exothermal reaction!