As a puzzle can have several logical solutions, so movie or a book, a system of statements and objects, can have several interpretations that ‘solve’ it.
Remember – the artists you have heard about, whose names are on the lips of literary history, are for the most part those who have been promoted massively. This is the machinery of the canon.
Types of poem – a story, an aphorism, an apology, a thank you, a celebration, a memory, a machine for – disturbing, reinforcing, calming – a cryptic object, a puzzle, an object of conspicuous reference, a song, a praise, a lament, a memoriam, a riddle, a marker of occasion, a cry of – fear, love, undetermined – a conversation with – self, other, influence, nothing – a look into the void, an evoker of images, a vault, a tissue, an ice pack, a pet, a project, a cuddly toy, an aspirant object, a thing original, a thing thought original, a mantra, a thing, a sculpture, a picture, a cry of pain, a cry, a hand, and countless more.
Do you know any precious rhythms in those around you? Patterns that are unique to the person? Never repeated by anyone else, they define the moments of a life that have seen lonely practice; a laugh, an improvisation on guitar, a facial expression, a method of moving the conversation. Perhaps they move through us like memes, but we know them to embody our friends. Are the memes passing through us, or we through them? I know one set of improvisations, made by a loved one, which are unique in the history of the universe. I would bet my life on it.
The insidiousness of a certain stance we take, where we act amongst ourselves as if we were being watched from afar by some audience we wish to perform for, but who is none amongst these who are here. Hard to escape, to act to others on their own terms, to listen, and respond. To have a mindful connection.
But an act is always connected to others – laughing when alone, smiling alone – these things are so wound up in finding something funny, something enjoyable, that laughing, smiling is finding something funny. So maybe the kind of performance is the thing – a performance that knows it is a performance, between two people who care, in the deep sense, each having the other as something that matters.
It strikes me that Nietzsche was as wrong as it’s possible to be when it came to slave morality. As I understand it, he says that ascetic paragons had to twist the masses into a position of admiration by framing the strong and noble as violent and stupid, as damned, as striving for the wrong ideal. He performs sleight of hand to hide the obvious abusers, the ‘nobles’, the strong and unthinking behind an intellectualist justification for their rightness of behaviour. He also ignores the brightness of people, the possibility that people could see real value in what the ascetic was saying, how they were living.
But worse, the real slave morality was that of the nobles, be they ‘religious’ or not, who by force of arms made sure that their moral world would not expand beyond a well defined and authored range of experiences and even statements which they couldn’t abide, slave to their emotion and honour. Few oligarchic or autarchic civilisations have been able to stomach the deviant. At first glance, it takes a democracy, a republic, for the wideness of human experience to have its place in the open, to redefine the statements of morality, and of possible experience, to include all relatively harmless forms, slow a process though it may be. Nietzsche was a great thinker, but a very narrow one, who could not see beyond a recieved or resurgent classical imperialism. He might have phrased it like this – when we look back to Rome, is it the empire, or the Republic we see as worthy? Is it Sparta, or Athens? I imagine I know what his answer would have been.
It requires force of arms to enforce a morality. So it may have taken advisers of the state to create a more moral citizenship (in the modern sense), some of whom, with foresight, may have wanted to ‘clip the wings of the eagle’ as it were, probably in a very straightforward way, some of them being military themselves. But this underestimates the brotherhood and intelligence even of the brutish, who after all must retire in their earned acres, and wouldn’t want to be murdered just when they thought they could relax.
As political or social life seems to close in, never stop reasoning, putting forth the case for thinking and caring. A climate of opinion cannot help but alter the land about which it gathers. Living in one way, being seen, saying the right thing – all these things are sparks to ignite clouds of change in some, fires of resistance in others.
When we seem to be losing the political fight, we should double down on the cultural fight. This way when the political fight intensifies, we start from a firmer base. The cultural fight is harder to reverse, harder to redirect and mollify. It is, after all, about letting people reason for themselves. And once they can do this, it is very hard to make them stop.
What does ‘free speech’ mean today, considering the fact that anyone can amplify their voice to speak through various means available at the fingertips? It means freedom to be a dick to others without them complaining. You use this slogan today, you demonstrate a kind of unworried love of the status quo, or an outraged commitment to it. Because it does not hurt the abused to say something that frees, that liberates.
And of course there is this two-faced nature of the whole thing. I might say, for example, trans people deserve all the same rights and considerations as anyone else. Then they might deny some basic scientific facts and say – don’t be offended, it’s just free speech. When I proceed to say – I wasn’t offended, you shouldn’t say these things as they are demonstrably wrong, they double down, outraged, offended, shouting ‘free speech!’. There is only so much self-consciousness to go around, it seems.
It’s like a kind of free speech machine, that would break down all intellectual culture into a kind of mulch. No right, no wrong, just free speech.