Juli 12, 2010

Letting Go and Creating an Alternative Narrative

I recently rediscovered the Zen-inspired message to let go of your sorrows, grudges, and plans from the past. I was touched, as I think it is a relief to get rid of pressures that indeed do not (have to) have anything to do with the present or the future. Yet, I wondered, what does it actually mean to let go? It means to put your past attitudes behind you, but you cannot actually let go of the things that bothered you. They do not simply vanish and they should not be suppressed. Instead, you create an alternative narrative to fit them into the story of your life.

When talking about reevaluating your past, the relationsship between parents and their children immediately comes to mind.

"Children may be 'episodes in someone else's narrative', as Steedman proposes, whether they like it or not; when children turned adults become the authors of such narrative, however, it is a different story, and the tables are turned. [... T]hey make someone else into 'episodes' in their own narratives. The ambivalences ... express an unresolved tension between relational and autonomous modes of identity" (Eakin, 1998 175).

I do believe that identity has to be defined in relational modes. Yet, everyone has to take up the role of narrator, believing in her power to influence her lifeworld, too. So when this sort of autonomous narration is approached, how do we get rid of the relations that detain us? How do we overcome the traumatic experiences of our childhood that were inflicted upon us by our parents?

I assume that it is exactly by becoming the authors of our own narratives, by evaluating our parents' actions with regard to our own personalities. Thereby, letting go of our past does not entail putting the past out of our minds, but putting it into a different - our own - perspective. This certainly means that we understand our own perspective as more valuable than our parents' perspective. Maybe, a compromise is possible if both parties are sincerely interested in it. Otherwise, it is necessary to reevaluate ourselves against others. This reevaluation is the actual process of overcoming, of letting go. I guess, what we actually put behind us are the others' evaluative standards, which we once valued above or as high as our own.

Paul John Eakin, "The unseemly profession - Privacy, inviolate personality, and the ethics of writing," Renegotiating Ethics in Literature, Philosophy, and Theory, eds. Jane Adamson, Richard Freadman, David Parker (Camden, New York, Melbourne: Camden UP, 1998)161-180.

Juni 15, 2010

Wo die Zukunft liegt

Dieser Tage gehen sehr viele junge (deutsche) Menschen hinaus ins Leben. Ich hatte das Vergnügen einige von ihnen vor, während und nach den Abiturprüfungen zu sehen und zu sprechen. Dabei ist mir ungewöhnlich deutlich klar geworden, wie lange es her ist, dass ich dieses Gefühl hatte, die Welt läge vor mir, offen, um sie zu entdecken. Ein Satz aus der großartigen Stieg Larsson-Trilogie stieß mich noch zusätzlich darauf:

"In drei Monaten wurde sie 45, und die viel diskutierte >Zukunft< lag immer mehr hinter ihr" (Stieg Larsson, Verdammnis, Heyne, 157).

Nicht, dass ich schon ganz so alt wäre oder dass ich nicht mehr nachvollziehen könnte, wie sich die Bald-nicht-mehr-Schüler fühlen. Zudem habe ich nicht unbedingt alle Türen chronologisch geöffnet und hinter mir sorgfältig wieder geschlossen. Trotzdem wird es immer mehr zur Anstrengung, wieder nicht genau zu wissen, welche Klinke ich herunterdrücken sollte. Es wird andererseits auch immer mehr zur Genugtuung, zu wissen, dass viele Flure, die ich bereits entlang gelaufen bin, zu ähnlichen Zimmern führen.

Ich habe sozusagen bereits das richtige Gebäude und immerhin das richtige Stockwerk für mich erreicht, während die Abiturienten sich größtenteils noch auf dem Hof herumbalgen. Aber ich hatte ganz vergessen, wie leicht und frei und aufregend es war, dort zu stehen und mich umzusehen, nicht sicher, ob ich überhaupt in eines der Gebäude gehen würde. Allein das Zusehen hat schon Spaß gemacht und mir vor Augen geführt, wie wichtig es ist, gelegentlich einen Blick aus dem Fenster zu werfen.

April 03, 2010

Feline Meditation

Looking at these cats on the threshold of a temple I suddenly realized that religion can be integrated into everyday life without causing conflicts and disputes or even the slightest oppression. It is only a question of how serious one takes these issues. I guess that in addition to this, a religion that offers advice in a more general way - for example on the topic of how one can gather knowledge through meditation - without really organizing the answers in specific ways is easy to integrate into one's personal way of living. If religion is available at home and at every street corner and everybody is somehow involved, then a dogma is difficult to uphold.

Maybe it would be better - since religion is not in the process of vanishing from the postmodern world, but on the contrary thriving anew - for everybody to get religiously involved simply to introduce more democracy into religious practices. Religious contemplation or meditation would certainly become the object of public discussion and public interpretation if everybody actively participated. And if the Lord's houses were simply part of town - where cats could dose off in the sun - they would certainly be more accessible in every way. It would be easier to want to contemplate the questions of how to live one's life if this could be done in an everyday and not a sacred atmosphere, wouldn't it? Seeing cats meditate can take the pressure and seriousness out of such issues.

Februar 10, 2010

The Arbitrariness of Postmodern Theory Is Reminiscent of Religious Concepts

A certain postmodernist fragmentation of narrators is often assessed with regard to novels written in the second half of the twentieth century (cf. Busch, 2007). Postmodernist narrational style is usually conceived as “steeped in relativism: plurality, an awareness of the ‘constructedness’ of truth, the multiplying interpretations that emerge from a single set of facts” (Smith, 2005, 3). Narrators are interpreted as having no coherent narrative point of view and as questioning the production and the narration of meta-histories (cf. ibid. 13,f).

Yet, by employing techniques of postmodern theory, the very relativization inherent in them can be disclosed as relative to the points of view of the interpreters. It makes no sense to talk as a literary critic or to talk about narrators in a novel if no coherent idea of an individual exists in order to evaluate the interpreter or character. Postmodern critique thus often reveals to be even more traditional than the realist philosophy it opposes. If the individual is simply taken as something that is worthy respectively important in itself (without a relation to some kind of universal standard), this reminds us of spiritual or religious understandings of a soul.

And without such a pre-condition, the whole discourse of postmodern theory (apart from the simple critique of existing concepts) would make no sense at all. If everything can be deconstructed, nothing seems more important than anything else. Why talk about postmodernist literature? Why talk at all? Without a standard to guide the scholar to an assessment of the individual as central to the human world, this centrality is necessarily arbitrary. Any idea rests arbitrary and thus reminds us of an almighty entity arbitrarily creating the world.


Busch, Hans Joachim, ed. Spuren des Subjekts – Positionen psychoanalytischer Sozialpsychologie. Psychoanalytische Sozialpsychologie 3 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2007).

Smith, Shawn. Pynchon and History – Metahistorical Rhetoric and Postmodern Narrative Form in the Novels of Thomas Pynchon (New York and London: Routledge, 2005).

Januar 15, 2010

Communication as Partnership vs. Individuality

If you want to achieve anything in this world, you depend on communication. It is simply naive to believe you could do things on your own. On a deeper level of your existence you of course depend on your communicative environment to develop enough of an individual personality to simply be able to think and act. But also on the level of the surface of cultural and social relations and meanings that build the reality you live in communication is essential. Moreover, it cannot be individual.

Let me take dancing as an example again. Especially in forms of dance which allow for a lot of improvisation, like swing in general or lindy hop in particular, it is vital that you develop means of exact communication. Of course, these ways to communicate cannot be individual. A dancing couple might have some specialities and you will certainy get used to the exact way your regular partner communicates. Still, individuality in the common sense means something that appertains to you personally.

This idea of individuality is actually meaningless. If you watch the linked video clips of dancers you will immediately understand that an actually individual style would break the communication. It is impossible to achieve anything on your own as the meaning that you will assign to whatever you want to achieve depends on your culture and society. Moreover, your action is only meaningful within a framework of communication partners. Without these partners, your life would immediately lose this meaning.

It is possible to abstract from the immediate influence of others - otherwise your actions would not be your actions but simply effects of changes in the multitude of communicative partners creating their version of reality. But this abstraction can never lead you away or show you a way outside of the relationships you were subjectivated into. You need partners to create meaningful actions and at the same time you need an audience creating a reference frame in which this meaning is interpreted and backed up.

Let us suppose there was an individual all alone - not getting into contact with others. Besides the fact, that she could never actually develop an individuality, the very meaning of individuality would be lost. It can only make sense within a reference frame in which it is contrasted with communicative relationships. To be special means to be different from others. Without these others difference could not be conceived.