Posts Tagged ‘Literature’

Reality Beats Fiction Always. Time to Learn This Again!

October 8, 2015

Let’s hope Angela Merkel gets the Nobel Peace Prize for her courageous stand to accept hundreds of thousands of war refugees. This is political dynamite, she handled it as well as possible, as a teacher of the highest values. A rare case of a Western “leader” displaying courage and creativity.

Meanwhile the Nobel in literature was given to reality. Svetlana Alexievich, a Belarussian journalist, born in Ukraine, a prose writer known for deeply researched works about female Russian soldiers in World War II and the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, won the Nobel Prize in Literature on Thursday “for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time,” the Swedish Academy announced. (The other day the Nobel was implicitly given to history, 23 centuries old. If they recognize history, the Nobel folks may as well recognize reality.)

Ms. Alexievich,67, 14th woman to win the literature prize, is a rarity: her sparse work is mainly nonfiction.

Work Makes Free: the Murderous Nazi Thieves’ Outrageous Slogan. The Reality of Nazism Ought To Have Beaten To Death The Soft Fiction Of Deluded Humanism

Work Makes Free: the Murderous Nazi Thieves’ Outrageous Slogan. The Reality of Nazism Ought To Have Beaten To Death The Soft Fiction Of Deluded Humanism

Yes, in World War Two, short in skilled personnel, the USSR used women in combat. Some even commanded tanks. And it’s mostly with tanks, better tanks, but maybe at the cost of twenty million soldiers killed in combat, that the Soviet Union beat Nazi Germany. I remember reading an Italian non-fiction book. After hard fighting in Ukraine, the author was stunned to see a beautiful Russian blonde dead in her punctured tank (not her tank top, her T34 tank). Take that, fiction authors! Where is your reality?

What’s literature? “Litera”, original Latin for “letter” came to mean ‘document’ and ‘letter, epistle’. “Literatura” is ‘writing formed with letters, book learning’. Nothing there said it has to be fiction. However in French literary circles, ‘literature’ has come to mean ‘fiction’. I view fiction as, mostly, an inferior sort. It is to reality what pornography is to sex. And not even that.

Any fiction is inspired by reality: after all, reality is where minds come from. However, confusing fiction with reality can be a trap. The authors of fiction who are known made their work marketable (otherwise they would not be known). But marketing is not enticing with thinking: it entices with seduction. Marketing perverts thinking, it’s sugar for canned minds.

And a canned mind, is not a kind mind. Or, more exactly, a canned mind is as good as the can it is in. Beware of cans, especially of the mental type: after a while, they turn bad, and fester with live toxins.

In contrast, by evoking reality, one can dare to go where the market does not want to go, and where the market cannot go. Facts are facts, they are not made to be comfortable. Facts are, all too often, not something one wants to buy. Why? Because we have turned into a society which confuses market and civilization. We ask, we tolerate to have the “markets” of everything and guide us.

It was high time the Nobel literature committee recognize that being able to present reality, especially reality in all its harshness, is more important than presenting someone’s fiction as if it were reality (as novelists are wont to do with wanton abandonment!) In one case, sticking to reality, one tries to stick to what is, and in the other, confusing reality and fiction, one admittedly do away with reality, at the outset, and replace reality with what can be sold to the little minds of the shoppers, avid and standardized.

Humanity has to be educated. This is what literature is for. Literature is not just intellectual masturbation. Too much sugar for too long makes one sick, and it’s a modern disease (one aspect is called diabetes, and kills, ages and degenerates its victims). Sugar drinks ought to be rejected. Similarly all too easy, all too comfortable fiction. Bring forth reality, the maker of worlds.

Considering reality, in full, is uncomfortable.

What do people foresee if the West Antarctic Ice Shield (WAIS), the Wilkes Basin and the Aurora Basin all collapse at the same time? Sea level may augment as fast as one meter per year.

I speculate: that’s 30 times faster than the most recent peer-reviewed scientific papers by specialists.

I speculate, but in full cognizance of striking elements of reality, catastrophes such as the sudden flooding of the Black Sea region, or flooding of the Mediterranean Basin, or the collapse of the Hudson Bay ice shield, or the Younger Dryas’ sudden collapse of the Gulf Stream current, and so on.

What I foresee is a quick adaptation of most values, as Homo Sapiens will present the largest biomass which one could possibly exploit. How quaint today’s fiction will then seem!

Knowing the world feeds the imagination. Knowing only fiction literature is getting to know only the minds of the fashionable and marketable, and how they learned to seduce the commons. Yet, reality is not common. The wise needs more: reality in full.

Patrice Ayme’

Against Literature, Yet For Modiano

October 9, 2014

So Patrick Modiano got the Nobel Prize in literature, the 15th French to be so honored (Sartre declined it). Was it about France? Living in an imaginary world, full of imaginary friends?

I do not know Modiano’s work (but I have seen him try to talk on TV, many times in the past). Actually I do not know literature. Not anymore. Generally, it bores me to death. I used to read a lot, in my zeroes, including Dickens, Moby Dick, Hugo, Dumas. Later I did Voltaire, Moliere, Corneille, Shakespeare, lots of Latin authors (sometimes in the original, although that was time-consuming, somewhat pointless).

Rosny Aine’’s War of Fire (Guerre du Feu) and Victor Hugo made a lasting impression. But not as much as Caesar. Some other famous authors I found completely indigestible. Then came my teenage years pass: I grew up. My focus of inquiry turned to the real world. I found that wild baboons had more to say that was authentic, than self-admiring tycoons of letters parading in Paris’ smoky saloons.

What’s wrong with literature?

I watch French literature shows on TV, where famous authors come, and are interviewed. Some are well connected cuties, like Amelie Nothombe, who just made an entire book about drinking drugs, to great applause. She is a scion of an originally aristocratic English family whose father, somehow, ended as Belgian ambassador to Japan (thus the grandson of Britain’s Queen Victoria ended as Kaiser of Germany while his cousin was Czar of Russia). She sold millions of books, and she is as interesting as a door knob with a black hat.

So I watch those literature shows the French are obsessed with, and the scenario is always the same. Some guy (it’s most often a guy, barring the occasional cutie) comes and starts to speak about some fictitious character(s) whom he invented with letters, as if that creation had really existed.

Others swarm around, mouth gaping about the pathetic inventions, feeble echoes  of a distant real universe, evoked by the great man, as if it had all really happened. They are exactly like little children with a bedtime story.

But all I see is some guy telling me about some people in his imagination, in his imaginary circumstances doing his imaginary things. I see the guy, I see him, I see his limitations, I see that he says what he says because of who he is. Generally somebody whose reality is far more mediocre, far more mundane thn the real reality out there.

Mundane is a problem. Mundane comes from the Old French mondain “of this world, worldly, earthly, secular.” Mondain has come to mean, in modern French “from the upper reaches of glittering high society”.

Methinks that the confusion between this very limited imaginary make-believe and the real world, contributes a lot to the gathering failure known as France, or, for that matter, the gathering failure of the West.

What do I propose instead?

I propose that those who sell (lots of) books are not necessarily the top intellectuals. Pure imagination looking at its own navel goes only that far (as Buddhism has amply demonstrated).

I propose that literature is not philosophy. Reading, and writing, children fables, is different from scathingly critical thinking (which top philosophy, or physics, has always to be… I am not talking about perfecting blue LEDs here).

In the particular case of Modiano, I should not be that critical. Like  J. M. G. Le Clézio, here is an author that has deeply inquired about reality… Instead of just petting the masses.

Patrick Modiano’s Nobel, is, to some extent an acknowledgment that literature stands to gain much by interrogating the cold, real facts of the Dark Side of man. Modiano’s work is much about what happened during the more than four years during which France was occupied by the Nazis. He actually hunted down some facts, and the tragic fate, say, of a girl assassinated in Auschwitch (Dora Bruder).

The period, Nazism, was a great revelator of human nature, in all sorts of astounding ways, and has not been tapped enough that way. So, be it only for that, it’s excellent that Modiano got recognized (it’s not his first prize).

Modiano evokes a Nazi collaborator, who is also a Jew. No doubt it’s fun to ponder the facts. But reality is much more striking. A Jew like Hannah Arendt ended in her adviser’s bed, the extremely prominent and nefarious Nazi Martin Heidegger (himself a devout Catholic married to someone else).

After the war, Hannah and Martin made friends again. Hannah, by then famous, and an authentic resistance fighter, condemned whole sale the Jewish Councils for having collaborated with Hitler. She was right. But she was hated for it. She also did not get the Nobel, although this was a very important perspective upon human nature.

I have myself spent a lot of time mulling over the Nazi period, as it is an excellent teacher (so is the reaction of the Politically Correct about those who meditate on Nazism).

I do feel like imagining what went through Edwin Rommel’s mind, went he went from Nazi, mass murdering, war criminal monster in 1940, to somebody who, by 1944 stood in opposition to much of what he had fanatically propped up earlier.

However, I don’t feel as making up imaginative explanations I do not have a good evidence for.

Although I have read several dozens of thousands of pages on the subject, all of them claiming to depict reality, I have never opened a book of Modiano.

I have the same problem with Greco-Roman history. I enjoy the historians, and the original documents. But I cannot stand the fictionalized histories purporting to depict what happened. (I tried to read many of those.) The problem? They come short. They make palatable the unpalatable, thus losing the main point. “Presentism” degenerates not just history, but what history can teach about reality.

I have seen several movies purporting to depict Hitler. But I have the real books and documents where one can see Hitler thinking, for real, and that is much more instructive. Hitler thought of himself as an artistic genius (quite a bit like Nero), but others also thought he was a genius, and a kind one (!). Reading him in context explains why his monstrosity went undetected by the deliberately naive.

No novelist could depict Hitler for real, be it only because readers and critics would detest it, call it names, and the novelist will get no readers to speak of. Thus would not become a novelist, and even less, a Nobelist.

Novelism, Nobelism, literature, are all about marketing, in the end. It’s about the next best new (novel) thing which sells so well that a few old guys in Stockholm notice it.

Evidence, the real world, teach. Teach wisdom. Adulating marketing teaches the folly of the herd.

Littera” in Latin originally just mean “letter”, and, from that, a writing. Confusing whatever is written with reality is a disease. However, writing whatever as a possible imaginative path to reality, is a wisdom. A wisdom which, confronted to reality, always comes short. The trap of literature is to make feeble, marketable imagination, a fashion show, in other words, into all the reality that matters.

The Nobel Prize in literature will never replace the non-existent Nobel Prize in wisdom. But then, of course, only the wise can judge the wise. To the ant, the baboon is rather dumb to crush it under foot. There is nothing more unfair than mental capability, that’s why some try to compensate it, by offering bananas.

Patrice Ayme’

 


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