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A response to Abe, on Dostoyevsky, Service Workers, and Art 2020-12-24 17:32:10

(Originally written as a response, but better off as its own post: https://adagia.org/post/26) 

I'm back, homies!

Man, it's crazy but I finally finished The Idiot. It took what, six months? I don't even remember when I started it but it was a while ago - it was a few books ago too, think I read at least 8-10 other books in the same period. 

It's not his best novel by far. It's got all of the Dosto hallmarks, but the story was just too damn long. It was a telenovela. A Victorian-era telenovela set in Russia.

It made me truly appreciate the progress we've made as a society. That we are no longer THAT society. Oh it had its charms, but it was also so very stale. Stale and phony. It seems almost as though every era is dominated by a social strata made up of fakeness and pretense. The authentics are few and far between and they are reviled and revered at the same time, like dangerous animals in a zoo, ultimately discarded when they inevitably implode or just...disappear some day. 

Of course I also consider myself an authentic. I think that's the tragedy Dostoyevsky knows so well. We all consider ourselves to be special but we're actually helping plug the gaps, or better yet, stich the fabric of a society where, as usual, pretense and inauthenticity reign while frustration and despair are simmering beneath. 

And what you said perfectly exemplifies this, I know because it was the exact same for me - still is, actually. I just don't think you went far enough looking at this...

"Back in those years I really liked the image of a service industry worker. I was absolutely in love and in admiration of people who worked what society would call dead-end jobs at bars and diners and cafes. They were my heroes. And I adored the lives they led even though I knew that it wasn't in their long term interests or brought a lot of downsides like financial hardships."

Because we see those type of people as "the authentics", they may suffer but they are free! How can they not be if they so obviously prioritize the present while shedding the chains of consequence (the future)? 

This is why poverty and hardship are so fetishized in art, there's a part of you that 1. understands that those hardships make a person feel alive, really alive, every single day - because their life is survival based, and 2. in spite of their hardships, those people are largely free from the bullshit, pretense, and all the fake shit the rest of us deal with on a daily basis: fake smiles, empty chit chat, jobs and people we hate. 

It is a tempting tradeoff. Stability for freedom. And art is freedom. 

It makes me think that if I could live like that maybe I'll write something more real and more powerful or heartfelt, and I won't feel like a hypocrite talking about the fakeness of society if I'm living in a tent under a bridge. And maybe that's the beauty of what we want to do - that we can create those characters and live vicariously through them. And that's also art...and maybe the tragedy is that we don't. 




More from Gabriel Greco

It's interesting that while writing that comment to you I was imagining that you'd consider the pains of people in Dosto land and their tragedies as important or authentic. So I find it fascinating that you consider their issues so trite. 

I didn't get around to putting this in the comment but something in my head was I thought* that you were fetishizing past tragedies while ignoring contemporary ones (corporate slaving and dying in droll existence). 

* -> if this isn't what you're doing then that's my misinterpretation. 

What I was thinking was that although you might consider past tragedies as more important/authentic than today's.. i doubt that if you were the one feeling it back then then you would think oh yeah you're right. I'm glad to be suffering as I am rather than your way

I think tragedy is always tragedy. No matter the time. So instead of lamenting about trying to be in the right time with the most authenticity I'd rather just be on the correct side of authenticity. The correct side of tragedy --> as in not in it.

I liken this thinking of comparing which era had better tragedies/authenticities/etc as similar to the thinking of whether our world is a simulation or not.

It's an interesting bar conversation but I think it has little practical usefulness beyond that and it can actually tragically rob people of their mental bandwidth and ability to take real action.

Anyways, it's similar to this fetishizing of service workers in this case. I think the people who write about them from our perspective can only say they are more authentic or heroic since we actually aren't them. If we were them then we would know that they and their circles are just as equally fake and inauthentic as ours. 

Also I've re-read parts of The Idiot since I asked you to read it as well. And on this third re-read I didn't find it as good. I was less immersed into the characters. Felt their emotions less. What are you reading now?
2020-12-24 20:36:02
One more thing. How is our society now less stale and phony?

When reading this ->

It made me truly appreciate the progress we've made as a society. That we are no longer THAT society. Oh it had its charms, but it was also so very stale. Stale and phony. It seems almost as though every era is dominated by a social strata made up of fakeness and pretense. The authentics are few and far between and they are reviled and revered at the same time, like dangerous animals in a zoo, ultimately discarded when they inevitably implode or just...disappear some day. 

It sounds like you are talking about your views on contemporary society just as much as 19th century Russia lol
2020-12-24 21:03:17
I don't want to add to your long reading list unnecessarily, but I think you might find Seth Godin's latest book The Practice: Shipping Creative Work an interesting read.
2020-12-25 15:42:47
I'll read it. Thanks for the recommendation. My reading list is actually quite short lol.
2020-12-25 15:49:15
What I mostly considered trite were just the issues of the main story, the love triangle of the Prince, Natastya, and Aglaya. It's literally a soap opera; women who can't make up their minds, men who can't make up their minds, what do people around them think of them, who is conspiring, etc. It's trite specifically because of the high drama these situations create, when, in our modern era, a swipe left or right would eliminate just about all of it...ha-ha.

My favorite part in the book I think was near the beginning, the Prince's story about Marie and the village children. Or of the doctor lured to St. Petersburg with fake promises who loses his wallet. There are some interesting stories within the story that I enjoyed more than the main story.

And yeah, maybe you misunderstood there, if anything I was trying to say that much is still the same actually. That's what I wrote here:  It seems almost as though *every era* is dominated by a social strata made up of fakeness and pretense. Definitely including our own.

"If we were them then we would know that they and their circles are just as equally fake and inauthentic as ours."  I'm convinced of it. You can be in any circle from lowlife to academic to billionaire and the basic structure will be more or less the same: bullshit first.

I think rather than going crazy on this comment thread we can get a pretty good convo going with a discussion on authenticity and tragedy. I wasn't so much conflating the two although I can see how you might see it that way. Obviously the Prince is an authentic and ends up tragically, as is Nastasya and her fate.

By the same token, as much as we might all prefer to land on the untragic part of life, is it really avoidable? Some is, but not all, for sure. Maybe that's where the whole JBP ideal comes in, with keeping one foot on the side of order and one in chaos, to maintain a balance that allows us to live meaningfully. Neither too much suffering, nor too much ennui. 

I'm now reading When Nietzsche Wept, by Yalom. Pretty good quarter of the way through.

therealbrandonwilson
I can't trust people who tell you in 200 pages what they could tell you in 20. Cut him off after The Icarus Deception.

2020-12-27 00:00:40