Thoughts from the Loo

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Sunday, November 21, 2004

[E][A] On Graphomania

My current book for the metro is Milan Kundera’s “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting” (“Kniha Smichu a Zapomneni”) from 1978. It’s interesting that the English translation I am reading was done in 1995 from “the authentic French edition”, as Kundera put it, not from the Check original. Anyway, instead of a review (which I might yet attempt), I am noting here several thoughts the author had about writing:
That conversation with the taxi driver [who said he was writing a book but his children weren't interested in what he was doing] suddenly made clear to me the essence of the writer’s occupation. We write books because our children aren’t interested in us. We address ourselves to an anonymous world because our wives plus their ears when we speak to them.
The paragraphs that follow this might very well be applied to weblogs and bloggers who write them (except, perhaps, the bit about there being no dramatic social changes), and therefore, to myself:

You might say that the taxi driver was not a writer but a graphomaniac. So we need to be precise about our concepts. A woman who writes her lover four letters a day is not a graphomaniac. She is a lover. But my friend who makes photocopies of his love letters to publish them someday is a graphomaniac. Graphomania is not a desire to write letters (to write for oneself or one’s close relations) but a desire to write books (to have a public of unknown readers). In that sense, the taxi driver and Goethe share the same passion. What distinguishes Goethe from the taxi driver is not a difference n passion but one passion’s different results.

Graphomania (a mania for writing books) inevitably takes on epidemic proportions when a society develops to the point of creating three basic conditions:
  1. an elevated level of general well-being, which allows people to devote themselves to useless activities;

  2. a high degree of social atomization and, as a consequence, a general isolation of individuals;

  3. the absence of dramatic social changes in the nation’s internal life. (From this point of view, it seems to me symptomatic that in France, where practically nothing happens, the percentage of writers is twenty-one times higher than in Israel. Bibi [a young woman intending to write “a book about the world as she sees it”] is, moreover, right to say that looked as from the outside, she hasn’t experienced anything. The mainspring that drives her to write is just that absence of vital content, that void.)
But by a backlash, the effect affects the cause. General isolation breeds graphomania, and generalized graphomania in turn intensifies and worsens isolation. The invention of printing formerly enabled people to understand one another. In the era of universal graphomania, the writing of books has an opposite meaning: everyone surrounded by his own words as by a wall of mirrors, which allows no voice to filter through from outside.
[Quoted from Milan Kundera: “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting”, translation by Aaron Asher, Faber and Faber, 2000; used without permission]

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