What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more’ … Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ‘You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.’
Nietzsche, The Gay Science.
What is it about Nietzsche and his infatuation with eternal return, an infatuation I seem to have acquired also?
I began this blog last July, having written myself into a hole with the novel I was working on. Writing the blog occupied the space I had dedicated to the writing of the novel, but with very different results. Thus it was that Blanco’s blog began as a displacement behaviour and quickly developed into a daily ritual. During the first few months I kept up a good pace, posting most days, and then in the new year the number of posts began to decline, although, reassuringly, the number of visitors did not drop in any substantial way.
Now almost a year has passed and I need to return to the novel that I abandoned when I started blogging. It is a case of the eternal return. Not a simple case (these things are never that simple), but definitely we have been here before. I need to pick up my tools and begin again the task I left off, as in a fairy tale.
Not that I intend breaking off from the blog altogether: no, I will continue to post, but perhaps at a less frenetic pace than when I first started out.
The blog goes on, and like everything else in nature, returns again and again to its starting place. Like Ariadne leaving her thread in the Cretan adventure, I follow the trail to the exit, finding only a sign that says ‘EXIT TO THE LABYRINTH’ (which is also the entrance to the labyrinth). The novel, the blog, the story, the labyrinth: it is all the same thing, and we keep returning here. If you wish to keep reading Blanco’s blog, you will find that this is all true.
Whenever I mention the brother, who is an actual person, and not a figment of my deranged speculation, I am reminded of Myles Na gCopaleen (aka Flann O’Brien, aka Brian O’Nolan) and his famous column in The Irish Times, which occasionally featured a character known as ‘the brother’. This character is used as a foil, or a useful source of handy sayings. He is the source of the timeless phrase ‘The brother cannot look at an egg’, for some reason one of my favourite sayings of all time, and one which I repeat to myself as a mantra in times of trouble, and sometimes intone out loud, to the bewilderment of my breakfast companions.
Anyhow, the brother – who is evidently, and I must say, gratifyingly, a keen reader of Blanco’s Blog – sends me two quotations from the ‘Wit and Wisdom’ column of The Week. How nicely synchronous of them to find stuff directly related to my posts of 24th and 27th February. The first quote is particularly gratifying, coming as it does from one of my favourite living writers.
“I’ve been fortunate that all the bad reviews I’ve had have been written by idiots. Isn’t it weird how it works out like that?” (Geoff Dyer in The Guardian)
“The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads. That sucks.” (Mathematician Jeff Hammerbacher in The Daily Telegraph)
I came across this diverting little ad (or spoof ad – I have no idea whether Voodoo Mama chilli sauce really exists: if it doesn’t, then it should) on Anthony Brockway’s always interesting blog Babylon Wales.
If you liked this, here is an even more hilarious real news report from Sky TV concerning Snoop Dogg (or Mister Dogg, as he is clepped in the clip) and one Ian Neale, a champion vegetable grower from Newport. Enjoy. And keep them coming please, Anthony.
The motif of the ouroboros appears in the ancient cultures of Egypt, India, Greece and Mexico, and was of particular interest to European alchemists in the early modern era. Conventionally it depicts a serpent or a dragon eating its own tail, from the Greek oura/voros = tail-eater. To the alchemists the symbol came to signify cyclicity, and thus, in a human context, self-reflexivity. In my beginning is my end. The idea of eternal return and intrinsic self-renewal. I am not quite a mystic, but many of my favourite poets were.
Now, the other day I wrote about labyrinths, another favourite topic, and quoted myself (although, ironically, I had forgotten from where): “an exit to the labyrinth marked entrance to the labyrinth”. Moreover, in the
catalogue to an exhibition on labyrinths that I attended in Barcelona last year, there is a short essay by Umberto Eco, in which, after discussing the difference between the uni-cursal labyrinth (in which there is only one route in and out, as in the illustration above) and the multi-cursal labyrinth or maze or Irrweg (in which there are alternative paths, all leading to dead ends: you can make mistakes, and may have to retrace your steps, but you will always be able to get out) he proposes a third type of labyrinth, the network, in which each point can be connected to any other point, which makes it possible to travel around for ever. And you never get out of the network: you keep going round and round inside.
This is all good, because leafing, as I am, through Marie-Louise von Franz’s excellent Alchemy, I come across the following:
“One must remember the Ouroboros, the tail eater, where the opposites are one: the head is at one end and the tail at the other. They are one but have an opposite aspect and when the head and the tail, the opposites, meet, a flow is born, which is what the alchemists meant by the mystical or divine water, which is described as the meaningful flux of life.”
So, both the ouroboros and the labyrinth have served as representations of energy, of flow, and of the questing human soul, or at the very least as symbols of regeneration. They are linked in profound and deeply sympathetic ways.
And then, as if to confirm the last happy thought, I come across this fabulous video, titled Ouroboros. It seems a good place to leave these thoughts hanging.
When you start doing something new, it makes sense to question why you are doing it. I started this blog two and a half weeks ago, a decision made on the spur of the moment, because I had hit a roadblock in a novel I am writing and wanted to create a diversion, or some form of prevarication or distraction – to see if any new ideas else came along, as they usually do. And to keep myself writing, rather than sink into the familiar mire of the pointlessness of everything that even a minor incident of self-doubt is likely to incite.
As if by magical coincidence, today’s news about Google+ insisting on its account holders using their real names coincides with a line of thought I was pursuing even as the news broke.
Thinking about blogging, specifically, and reflecting in more general terms on what we do and why we do it, I was leafing through old diaries, a useful resource for the blogger, and I found notes that I must have scribbled on a long plane trip three years ago. I was reading an article by Michael Greenberg, discussing his friend Lee Siegel, who writes about the Internet (there is another concern here, on the dangers of writing reviews of one’s friends’ books, which I will return to in another post). I discovered that Siegel has made the study of the internet his principal concern, and (as I later found out) for good reason. What he writes is largely dire and depressing: “You’re alone but you’re not alone, projecting yourself onto this screen with all these invisible people there, who, like you, aren’t who they say they are. When you change your identity, your language becomes corrupted. It becomes easier to tell lies. You think you’re chatting with someone, but who is it? As often as not you’re consorting with your own demons.” And there’s more: “it’s a triumph of capitalism . . . people learn to package themselves. They perform their privacy. We want to believe we’re expressing our individuality, but to stand out in cyberspace, to become viral” (he means popular, I guess) “you must be able to sound more like everyone else than anyone else.” Siegel’s book is called Against the machine: being human in the age of the Electronic Mob. The book appears to be out of print already.
Among other useful observations, Siegel is doubtless right in saying that “the Internet is possibly the most radical transformation of private and public life in the history of humankind.” It has caused a thorough reassessment of what it means to be an individual in contemporary culture. However while it is one thing for American or European critics to swing out against the internet and bloggers – and what Siegel sensationally calls ‘blogofascism’ (this tiresome use of ‘fascism’ as a suffix actually distracts us from the truth that genuine fascism – pace Mussolini – is alive and kicking, as recent events in Norway have so tragically illustrated) and the truly significant developments in the Arab world and Iran, in particular, would suggest there are many ways in which the Internet, and blogging, in particular, have provided a crucial link to the wider world when oppressive governments murder and abuse their people, and as a lifeline for individuals facing persecution and discrimination.
Siegel also writes nonsense in relation to TV programmes like American Idol or the X Factor. “Popular culture,” he argues, “used to draw people to what they liked. Internet culture draws people to what everyone else likes.” I would argue that the forces of capitalism that direct and control ‘popular culture’ have always worked on the principle that people are drawn towards ‘what everyone else likes’. My brief stint in the world of advertising would have taught me that, over three decades ago, if it hadn’t been bloody obvious anyway.
Siegel’s comments on the internet and blogging take on a different cast when one reflects that he was suspended from his job as correspondent for The New Republic when it was discovered that while working for the magazine he was posting commentaries – in the name of his alter ego, called ‘sprezzatura” – referring to his own (Siegel’s) brilliance. Does the phrase ‘consorting with your own demons’ ring a bell here? He specifically denied being Siegel when challenged by an anonymous detractor in the magazine’s feedback section. And (here I am relying on his Wikipedia entry) in response to readers who had criticized his negative comments about a well-known American chat-show host, Jon Stewart, ‘sprezzatura’ wrote, “Siegel is brave, brilliant, and wittier than Stewart will ever be. Take that, you bunch of immature, abusive sheep”.
There seems to be some justification, then, for his asking: “You think you’re chatting with someone, but who is it?” and to pose that tired old cliché about ‘our real identity’. Besides, what is this ‘real me’ that American cultural critics and self-help writers throughout the world are so hell-bent on revealing – and which the Internet is attributed such terrible powers in concealing? Actually there will always be a minority (predatory paedophiles, racists etc) who will abuse any system where greater freedoms of movement and communication are taken as a right: it is one of the defects of living in a modern democratic society (viz. recent events in Norway, again). But would we be prepared to sacrifice those freedoms for the sake of a few sick individuals?
Returning to Siegel and his attack on blogging, hasn’t he got all this about our ‘real identity’ a bit wrong? Having had his own mask pulled off, he wants no one else to have one, like a spoiled brat whose party prank went adrift. What is wrong with the wearing of masks? All of us do it all of the time, constantly removing and replacing masks at social events, in different relationships, even within the course of a single conversation. Not one of us remains intrinsically the same organism for very long, and besides, every cell in our body is routinely replaced, so that within a periodic span you are actually composed of distinct molecular matter. It is not necessary, as Western culture dictates (particularly in its insistence through religion and, subsequently, through psychotherapy) to be constantly striving to discover who is the ‘real me’ behind the mask: sufficient that we live a shifting, amorphous sequence of roles, one often leading into another, one more appropriate to a particular setting than another, but none of them in place merely to obscure something else, none of them out to prevent the ‘real me’ from struggling free in some kind of monotheistic melodrama in which the individual is God, and in which truth is absolute and inviolable. So I am happy to be Ricardo Blanco, even if at times he merges with the person known as Richard Gwyn. But Blanco also reserves the right within that broad persona (the Latin for mask) to give expression to his love of play and of carnival, to reveal from time to time his countless others, to give them free rein upon the earth, to send them forth to multiply merrily in the vaunted and limitless pastures of cyberspace.