Wednesday, April 24, 2019

On The Proliferation of Mass Graphomania

Milan Kundera in 1980
Milan Kundera, in his fascinating novel The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, talks about the proliferation of mass graphomania in the modern world. Here’s an excerpt (Part 4: “Lost Letters”; Page 106):

Graphomania (an obsession with writing books) takes on the proportions of 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 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. Bibi was absolutely right when she claimed never  to have experiences anything from the outside. It is this absence of content, this void, that powers the motor driving her to write.)

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.

The proliferation of mass graphomania among politicians, cab drivers, women on the delivery table, mistresses, murderers, criminals, prostitutes, police chiefs, doctors, and patients proves to me that every individual without exception bears a potential writer within himself and that all mankind has every right to rush out into the streets with a cry of “We are all writers!”

The reason is that everyone has trouble accepting the fact he will disappear unheard of and unnoticed in an indifferent universe, and everyone wants to make himself into a universe of words before it’s too late.

Once the writer in every individual comes to life (and that time is not far off), we are in for an age of universal deafness and lack of understanding.

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