‘Ausserdem lehrt die Zoologie dass aus einer Summe von reduzierten Individuen sehr wohl ein geniales Ganzes bestehen kann.‘
Robert Musil, Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften, Band I, p. 32, Rowholt (rororo), 1978.
[Amateuristic English translation below: “Besides, Zoology teaches us that out of the sum of reduced individuals may well emerge a brilliant whole.”]
[Re-posted from The Old Site, original dd. 18-03-2010. Ah, my Musil period ;-]
I’m tired. I could just go with the irony of this & make it easy on myself. Heroism is, after all, the easiest interpretation of human value. Heroism combined with some praise of the supporting sheepishness, insofar as it supports the survival of the heroic queen bee. This is after all the classical conservative worldview of the many that are merely the fuel for the engine of greatness that, from time to time, delivers a prophet or a sage or an enlightened philosopher or a paradigm-shifting artist.
But I won’t make it that easy on myself.
I won’t take the opportunity presented by a book about somebody that does not achieve greatness – being written by somebody that obviously did achieve an extreme form of great notoriety. Someone that is – for the intellectuals – a hero of the written word. Nothing short of the Hercules of language and the prophet of post-modernity. And so on and so forth.
I won’t because I am a cultural optimist and as cultural optimist I am committed
to an assessment of the current state of affairs as not being too bad despite how appalling earlier times were. Despite the heroism of the past and its sacrificing of hords of individuals whose faith was considered to be expendable in view of the greatness of heroes that were long gone but still had to be defended.
This optimism is in contrast to the prevalent cultural pessimism (specifically of elites that identify themselves with past heroism [the basic common element of all conservatism whether on the right or the left]). In the starkest of contrasts: cultural pessimists assess the current state of affairs as appalling despite the fact that earlier times have been marked by the best examples of heroic humanity.
(I should be able to find a witty chiastic way of summarizing the last paragraphs in a one-liner but, hey!, I’m tired and summarizing is bloody difficult)
Back to the quote.
In both cultural optimism & pessimism the whole is greater than the individuals. The difference lies in the sequence. Optimism means that the individuals of the past have combined (through noticed, unnnoticed and almost unnoticeable efforts of them that were really without significant properties) into continuously improving wholes. Progress that is, towards the progressively evolving present state of affairs.Pessimism has it that individuals of the present need to be humbly admitting their own nothingness in view of all past greatness in whose name they need to be prepared to sacrifice themselves (for God for the country and all that bullshit).
Not man but mankind learns!
That’s it: not man but mankind learns. And this to the benefit to the people who will live tomorrow and to the credit of the people that lived before. Naturally [i.e. without forcing the matter or in other words: as a matter of ‘flow’], without the effort of stress, the desire to achieve greatness, or wanting to serve or stand proxy for greatness.
That’s it: anarchism (but not the anarchism that falls in the footsteps of the authority of past ‘rebels’ or teachers; the anarchism that burns not one’s self in memory of a past goal but that burns the past thought into a creative movement of new thought).
Anarchism, it is something I need to update myself on. I’ll keep you updated on the updating of myself (knowing full well that I don’t tend to keep this kind of promises, so those reading this chronologically should not get their hopes up for I do not promise to keep the promises I make).
[but this one I did keep and therefore will keep]
[Whilst writing this I was listening to the wonderful broadcast ‘Mixtuur’ on klara.be, which is centainly worth the effort of going to a dutch website, starting the media player, navigating to the ‘Net Gemist’ section and launching the latest hour thereof.]
[Alas, the program is no more, but ‘Laïka’ is a worthy alternative.]