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Thursday, January 19, 2006

Thinking about blogs, Kundera, immortality and writing...

Today, while driving to an errand, I was thinking about Milan Kundera. That may seem somewhat odd, driving around Kansas and ruminating on an old Czech man, but that was what I was doing.

I had just finished writing a series of articles for a client that will soon be used in a blog. I was thinking about the sploggers who utilize blogs to sell us all Viagra. I then thought about my client, who certainly isn't the splogging type, but who sees blogging simply as a form of content distribution. I contrasted that perspective with how blogging is revered and embraced within a certain community as a means of personal expression toward others.

This led to Kundera. More specifically, it led my mind back to The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. Even more specifically, it led me to Kundera's discussion of what he terms graphomania.

It's the compulsion to write books. Kundera said books, specifically, but he was writing in the late 70s, so I think it is safe to extend his concept to other forms of publishing. That could include electronic publishing like this blog. In any case, I dug up this quotation from Kundera:

"Graphomania (an obsession with writing books) takes on the proportions of a mass epidemic whenever a society develops to the point where it can provide three basic conditions:

1) A high enough degree of general well-being to enable people to devote their energies to useless activities;

2) An advanced state of social atomization and the resultant general feeling of the isolation of the individual;

3) A radical absence of significant social change in the internal development of the nation (In this connection I find it symptomatic that in France, a country where nothing really happens, the percentage of writers is twenty-one times higher than in Israel.)...

"But the effect transmits a kind of flashback to the cause. If general isolation causes graphomania, mass graphomania itself reinforces and aggravates the feeling of general isolation.

The invention of printing originally promoted mutual understanding. In the era of graphomania the writing of books has the opposite effect: everyone surrounds himself with his own writings as with a wall of mirrors cutting off all voices from without."

So, is that what we are doing with blogs? I certainly believe all of Kundera's alleged causes of the practice are in place. I am not so sure his conclusions, however, hold entirely true. The interactive nature of blogging might be an escape from the wall of mirrors.

My favorite thing about Kundera, who is one of my favorite authors, is his willingness to play with paradox and contradiction. There's something fun about a fairly prodigious author lamenting increased publication. He's part of the problem he envisions.

Anyway, my thoughts on graphomania led to some thoughts about immortality. I was considering Kundera's observations in Immortality about the various levels of remembrance and immortality. I began to think about how graphomania probably fits into that desire to be immortal.

So, I started with blogging and ended with writing in general and am wondering how many of us who write can see those three conditions Kundera outlined as playing a role their impetus to either blog or write elsewhere. I am also wondering if those who write are, on some level, trying to feed their own desire to somehow be immortal.

I'd like to say, "I usually don't take a byline and I write to feed my family" and leave it at that. I don't know if that would really be intellectually honest, though. I might have a graphomaniacal streak in me and I probably do keep my subconscious' fingers crossed that all of these words will somehow add up to immortality.