Note-taking: Conceit and the umbilical cord of first mood

In Uncategorized on November 21, 2011 at 2:25 pm

Kierkegaard’s fiancée, Regine Malling Olsen (1823-1904) : “He immediately made a very strong impression on her… She still remembered that he talked continuously… but… she could not remember the content.”

“Along with success come drugs, divorce, fornication, bullying, travel, meditation, medication, depression, neurosis and suicide” confessed Joseph Heller. “And, simply, acting like an arse,” adds Ian Sansom. I read Catch-22 at school. It was my first engagement with polemics and paradox; or at least the first I could understand. Shakespeare enabled me to sit on the front row of class with my head on the desk gazing at my LED watch praying for the lesson to end without an ounce of guilt. Who didn’t want then to beat the livinge dayelightes out of thy boryng Bard?

Heller didn’t match his seminal work again. For him success became his Catch-22. It consumed him. Not unlike businesses or pop-stars whose stellar start obliterates later reflection. John Berger suggested that Dominic Strauss Khan’s brick-like descent owed much to heady-heights of power and gold-lined-hotel-rooms blinding judgement. Something else is lost in success. What is it though?

Søren Kierkegaard’s writing constantly appeals against this loss of connection to self, ramming home the value of concrete real experience. I am ‘packing’ the 1958 printing of his Journals. It is shedding its acid-soaked brown pages (something paper techies call ‘slow fire’ – maybe because the pages crumble as if in a flame and float free). Before it completely disintegrates Søren offers up a diary entry on the worth of note-keeping as being a flak-jacket against the woo-woo  of success:“…the more I recollect that a writer as spontaneous as Hoffman kept notes and that Lichtenberg recommends it, the more interested I am in discovering why something in itself entirely blameless should become unpleasant and almost revolting to me.”

Yes, well, he’s agonising over the turmoil of writing our thoughts near to when we have them. To twitter or not to twitter, with a small ‘t’. Pressing out our thoughts near to the moment of thinking is dangerous if not profoundly wrong. But, having pondered awhile on this dilemma: “…the aroma of the conceits and moods evaporated.” At this point it’s worth noting K was mocked in the streets for all his peculiarities. An oddbod. He is a tad unusual and maybe this is why his writing leaked so slowly into public consciousness. His truths are still taboo. We like the sedition in his text. He never got to enjoy his stellar position in the literary firmament. Something we suspect he knew would be the case. If we romanticise him we might like to think this was his desire.

He appeals: “…by making frequent notes, to let my thoughts appear with the umbilical cord of their first mood, and to forget as far as possible the use to which they might be put, since in any case I shall never use them by looking up my note-books…”.

The act of writing then is the key, not the poring over the words later on. His desire is for freedom, for knowing self through these records; and he is driven by the fear that these thoughts might never re-occur. He warns against conversation amongst the learned (and maybe successful) who know zillions of facts but have never thought for themselves: “It is almost like a reading from a cookery book when one is hungry”. It would be fair to say such depth cost him his love life. Plus he implies he did make the mistake of laughing at his own jokes (oh dear!). A crime if ever there was one.

“I have just returned from a party which I was the life and soul; wit poured from my lips, everyone

Flying on a different heading, Catch-22’s Captain John Yossarian offered his own take on success: ‘plotting an emergency heading into Switzerland on every mission he flew into northernmost Italy’ where he ‘could be interned for the duration of the war under conditions of utmost ease and luxury’. 

laughed and admired me – but I went away – and the dash should be as long as the earth’s orbit ————————— and wanted to shoot myself.” Success has this strange ability to make you enjoy it and seek it and then leaves a horrible feeling that you’ve just done something quite wrong. The shame of what though? If you’re not convinced of K’s turn of phrase he eviscerates us, our adoration and endless quoting with the following: “At every step philosophy sloughs a skin into which creep its worthless hangers-on.”


Worthless Hanger-On

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