“Et ne fut jamais au monde deux opinions pareilles, non plus que deux poils ou deux grains. Leur plus universelle qualité, c’est la diversité.”
Michel de Montaigne, Essais II, chapitre XXXVII, p. 569, Gallimard, 1965.
[Amateuristic English translation: “And there were never in the world two opinions that were similar, not more than two hairs or two grains. Their most universal quality, is there diversity.” (the two hairs and two grains stuff you’ll have to google together with “Cicero”)]
[Re-posted from The Old Site, original dd. 19-02-2010. I’m getting to the end of the recycling bin so there will be new material soon.]
Back to basics 😉
One of the remaining problems in modern culture is that we are thinking in terms of success. The problem is not so much with the sensation of success. Not at all, it is an enjoyable sensation and nobody should be cut off from it. No, the problem is that we want to make a snapshot of it. We want to frame it and put it on our walls.
Frame it such that we can point to it lateron in company and demonstrate ‘how much success we had’. Because we’re afraid nobody will believe it. We’re afraid nobody will believe we had any success. At bottom we are damned scared of not believing ourselves we had any success. We despair of times, of which we know they are always lurking behind the corner, in which we’ll only see how pitiful we are. We will try to remember that we had some success; that we’re not competely and utterly hopeless; but we know there is a chance that we won’t believe it ourselves.
And that’s why we think in terms of success. Why we quantify our success. Why all of our success is so similar to jealousy. What we know we need (or better what we think we know we need) is a measure of success that can outlast the success itself.
That’s the problem: we want to compare, we need to quantify and therefore we need to simplify things in a limited set of dimensions (money, recognition, popularity and all of the things that are so characteristically important to all of the phonies). We simplify and thereby kill the wonderful diversity of ideas. Simplify into a couple of sides until anything has two sides and everybody is either on one side or on the other.
It is a little bit tragic and it is also quite comical. As we advance we think more thoughts, ideas pop up that were literally unspeakable and unthinkable before; but instead of enjoying the plentiful, we all jump on a couple of shiny objects that give only a little pleasure but that are the elements of the big competition. Not a kind of competition where you enjoy yourself trying to win and where, if you lose, you congratulate him, or her, that defeated you and you have a drink and you discuss what happened and you agree to try again next week; no, a kind of competition where you have participate, as a rat in a rat-race, and where you hope that, if you lose, at least the people you know best also lose because you couldn’t face the world in all of the humiliation of having been worse than your peer.
A friend of mind asked me recently what the moral of a story of mine was. I think it was something like what is here above. I think it is Montaignistic. There are enough things out there for everybody to find something that fits them. But we lack the confidence for going off and doing it in such a specific way, lastingly (because we start to do it in a specific way but we lose heart quickly). We want to have a kind of ‘objective’ way to establish that we’re doing good. Feeling that we’re doing well is not enough; there just has to be some externally observable fact that testifies, certifies, qualifies, and accredits the fact that we’re doing well.
By this dark force we’re driven to a few kinds of things in which everybody can be theoretically successful [driven to The American Dream if you will] and we forget that 99% of us simply have neither energy nor talent to practically pursue such theoretical goals.
Maybe it is because I’ve been reminded recently of the Kierkegaardian absurdity and maybe I’m rediscovering something that I would have to call ‘spirituality’ even if I’m going to eternally hate that term. But the truth is that to feel somewhat successful you cannot be successful in the eyes of others. Only losers can feel success, as the winners can only feel that they’re winners. Or something paradoxical of that style. I know: not convincing but still: if to be regarded as a winner is what is required to be a winner then we’re all condemned to make everybody else a loser. I won’t have it like that so you can all go fuck yourself in the behind but I’m doing very well, thank you!, even if I know full well that my achievements are mediocre at best.
[Whilst writing this I was listening to Keith Jarrett, Paris/London Testament, EMI.]