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