Forecast for the Future

"Every individual without exception bears a potential writer within himself. The reason is that everyone has trouble accepting the fact that he will disappear unheard of and unnoticed in an indifferent universe, and everyone wants to make himself into a universe of words before it's too late. 

Once the writer in every individual comes to life (and that time is not that far off), we are in for an age of universal deafness and lack of understanding."

- Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Monday, March 24, 2008

Litost in an Age of Universal Deafness and Incomprehension

I'm reading The Book of Laughter and Forgetting right now. Published in 1978, this book has some interesting insights into the road down which Western human society travels--not to mention plenty of observations which seem to all too clearly resonate with my own personal life. As I sit here each day, attempting to flog words out of the daily doings of my life actions and wondering where I'm going and why, this passage stuck out to me as particularly germane to both my current standing in life as well as to the greater world at large:

The irresistible proliferation of graphomania among politicians, taxi drivers, childbearers, lovers, muderers, thieves, prostitutes, officials, doctors, and patients shows me that everyone without exception bears a potential writer within him, so that the entire human species has good reason to go down into the streets and shout: "We are all writers!"

For everyone is pained by the thought of disappearing, unheard and unseen, into an indifferent universe, and because of that everyone wants, while there is still time, to turn himself into a universe of words.

One morning (and it will be soon), when everyone wakes up as a writer, the age of universal deafness and incomprehension will have arrived.

Ok, also, my place in the world, constantly: litost.
Litost is an untranslatable Czech word. Its first syllable, which is long and stressed, sounds like the wail of an abandoned dog. As for the meaning of this word, I have looked in vain in other languages for an equivalent, though I find it difficult to imagine how anyone can understand the human soul without it.

Take an instance from the student’s childhood. His parents made him take violin lessons. He was not very gifted and his teacher would interrupt him to criticize his mistakes in an old, unbearable voice. He felt humiliated, and he wanted to cry. But instead of trying to play in tune and not make mistakes, he would deliberately play wrong notes, the teacher’s voice would become still more unbearable and harsh, and he himself would sink deeper and deeper into his litost.

Litost is a state of torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery.

This is the kind of shit I regularly lull myself into believing that I must be fated to submit to. But really, it's just more of the sturm und drang that we all go through, all the time--and I do a magnificent job sometimes of allowing me to put my hands around my throat and drown myself under the great emotional torrents of fear and miseries.

It is worthwhile to understand a little better exactly what is going inside my head when it happens, because it's not a pretty sight to see a man (or woman) sabotage whole parts of their lives upon learning of a failing or inadequacy; this form of sado-masochistic "litost-ownership of suffering" is cruel to experience and perhaps crueler still to witness, and any knowledge that can be acquired to help prevent against it happening should be sought. But--danger always lurks in peering too deeply into the deep, dark pools of human despair and anguish, and if you aren't strong enough you can get sucked in and enveloped by the terrible blackness, swallowed and consumed until you no longer see light... at which point self-fulfilling prophecies can take hold and enslave beleaguered souls in the strength-crippling darkness. I have been here, there, and everywhere with litost, and as my chief tormentor I fear it more than just about anything--but I know firmly and surely that it is not my master and at all times I possess within my not just the capability but also the strength to overcome it and regain steady control over a life that is mostly great and not bad at all.

Whew. This is either a moment where I am simply re-affirming a conviction outloud that I feel truly empowered, or else one where I'm merely trying to convince myself that the creeping darkness around me is not as bleak as it seems and that I can in fact escape it. Either way, I have to just keep saying it, because I can make it and I know deep down that I just have to hold steady. And yes, this is about as rock and roll as life gets.

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