Blogging, Graphomania and the Age of Universal Deafness and Incomprehension

On my recent travels, I reread The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera, originally published in 1978. That, dear readers, is two years before I was born — which makes his prescience all the more astonishing to me.

Kundera is a Czech-born writer-in-exile, living in France since 1975. The book addresses Communism and sex and lots of other things you can read for yourself in the Amazon reviews. What I found most interesting were his insights on writing, which I believe reflect the blogosphere in a way I don’t think even he could have imagined.

Kundera, as an author (and then in the ’70s), looks primarily to books when he discusses the phenomenon of writing. He writes,

We write books because our children aren’t interested in us. We address ourselves to an anonymous world because our wives plug their ears when we speak to them. . . .

Graphomania (a mania for writing books) inevitably takes on epidemic proportions when a society develops to the point of creating three basic conditions:
1) an elevated level of general well-being, which allows people to devote themselves to useless activities;
2) a high degree of social atomization and, as a consequence, a general isolation of individuals;
3) the absence of dramatic social changes in the nation’s internal life. . . .

But by a backlash, the effect affects the cause. General isolation breeds graphomania, and generalized graphomania in turn intensifies and worsens isolation. The invention of printing formerly enabled people to understand one another. In the era of universal graphomania, the writing of books has an opposite meaning: everyone surrounded by his own words as by a wall of mirrors, which allows no voice to filter through from outside. (126-128)

He then takes a detour back to his story, but winds his way to the following conclusion:

The irresistible proliferation of graphomania among politicians, taxi drivers, childbearers, lovers, murderers, thieves, prostitutes, officials, doctors and patients shows me that everyone without exception bears a potential writer within him, so that the entire human species has good reason to go down into the streets and shout: “We are all writers!”

For everyone is pained by the thought of disappearing, unheard and unseen, into an indifferent universe, and because of that everyone wants, while there is still time, to turn himself into a universe of words.

One morning (and it will be soon), when everyone wakes up as a writer, the age of universal deafness and incomprehension will have arrived. (147)

I have often heard, and have generally considered myself, the blossoming of blogs and publication on the internet as a return to democracy via a return of voice to everyone (and anyone). But is Kundera right that we are instead merely reflecting (and thereby increasing) our own social isolation, general comfort and fear of disappearance? Are our voices not contributing to an outcry of freedom but rather a deafening blather, creating incomprehension? When you get right down to it, why do you blog — are you lonely or bored? Is no one else listening? Why is your story worth telling?

I don’t have any solid answers here. I’m more interested in your thoughts on this. Discuss.

— written by poetloverrebelspy

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4 Responses to Blogging, Graphomania and the Age of Universal Deafness and Incomprehension

  1. Dana says:

    I think that both you and Kundera are right, as do many of the other bloggers I have seen debate this issue. Blogs and internet writing can be a really powerful tool, allowing people from all over the world gain exposure to ideas and opinions different from their own. On the other hand, people can also choose to make use of the internet in ways that isolate them further in their own comfort zones, by purposefully not reading anything that challenges them at all. The mere existence of the internet is not going to make people change their personalities; the people who enjoy the multiplicity of opinion on the internet do in real life as well, and those who isolate do so in real life, too.

    I blog mostly as a thought exercise. I didn’t feel any need to do it while I was in (undergrad) school, because I was having to think and write and discuss at the time anyway. But when I moved to Japan, it was an excellent way to record what was happening, and when I got back I realized I should keep it up, because it made me take more notice of the world around me. I like the way the sense of audience makes me consider things more than I necessarily would just writing for myself, and it also provides a small sense of obligation that encourages me to keep writing.

    I suppose it does require a little arrogance to assume that people are out there reading what I write, but since I feel that I’m writing more for me than them anyway, I’m okay with that arrogance, if that’s what it really is. This goes back to my ambivalent feeling about comments, actually. I think I did some of my best blogging, and had the most sense of contentment with it, when I wrote without a commenting feature. Waiting for comments makes me more self-conscious, more anticipatory, and sometimes can end up making me tailor what I choose to write in an effort to appeal more to my commenting audience, which makes the whole exercise less about me and more about the audience, which is not how I am prepared to approach this whole thing. But comments are so standard now, I’ve resigned myself to them. I don’t think they have as much effect on me as they used to.

  2. poetloverrebelspy says:

    Great comment, Dana. Thanks.

    I also got started because family (the wives plugging their ears) actually WANTED to hear about what was going on with my travels and whatnot and asked me to write (and still do). But what was once private mass emails became a public blog, gained a wider audience. Because people at large might be interested? Because reading a blog is less of an imposition than a 20-page email? Because it’s easier to update and add photos there? I’m not really sure.

    Hardly anyone comments on my other blogs because there’s rarely something to comment on, I guess. Here the comments are a continuation of the discussion. And everyone maintains politeness (probably because we don’t have a million readers — yet ๐Ÿ™‚ ).

    I think being a good writer makes a difference, too. I read months of a blog on personal finance yesterday because the writing was good. Add decent writing to topics people are passionate about and you have something that usually holds my attention (and that’s why I’m here, right?).

  3. […] speaking of writers, over at Geek Buffet there was a post that quoted Milan Kundera as saying, “One morning (and it will be soon), […]

  4. Ashish says:

    First of all, great post. Though at the moment i have not yet formed my opinions about excessive blogging ๐Ÿ™‚ (maybe i already have and now just waiting to find a reasonable argument), i find that in case of fight for democracy or fight against corruption in my country (btw that country is India), blogging has become a sort of channel to vent your anger and after that having the false sense of satisfaction that you have played your part. So in effect, this renders the whole movement blunt because after initial period, most of use move on to our normal routine satisfied. It has happened in India recently, and the i can see the recent fight against corruption and corrupt politicians dying slowly.

    But that is not the reason why i am writing this. The thing is that I was reading this book ‘the book of laughter and forgetting’ and after reading the para about graphomania, i found myself correlating graphomania with excessive blogging. So i did an instant google and clicked on the first relevant link. And i was really surprised to read this post and the mention of the same book.

    Funny .. isn’t it ๐Ÿ™‚

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