Saturday, February 26, 2005

Post Number One: The Unbearable Lightness Of Being

Of introducing the reader to the spirit of my thoughts.

It is generally assumed that each epoch is marked by what is perfectly described by the German word zeitgeist, a word that unluckily lacks an appropriate translation in other languages, and that I can approximate with the expression "spirit of the time". It is an impalpable but nonetheless very real essence of each one of the many subsequent eras of human history on this small rock we call "Earth". In precisely the same way each epoch possesses a zeitgeist, so each person's thoughts, I am convinced, are defined by a unique geist, a "spirit" (please note that the German geist shares the same roots with the English ghost). Most people tend anyway to uniform their own thinking to that of the society they live into, and by doing so they strengthen the spirit of the society itself, in what is known as a positive feedback, a loop that feeds itself endlessly. Because we must not forget that a society is a collection of individuals, and its common sense derives from that of the individuals that constitute it. On the other hand, a collection of individuals becomes a new singular being, in the same way a collection of cells apparently independent from one another happen to become a human being. So, being part of a society implies being shaped by it, as much as bringing one's own uniqueness into a society implies enriching it.
Some societies acquire a strong power over the individuals that compose them, and in modern world it is quite the norm that the specific indivuality of a human being is erased by the society through what I call intellectual brutality, a form of brute force that attempts to smooth out the edges of difference and transform unique beings in extensions of the society. This form of brutality is what endangers the survival of the society the most, but I will dig further into this specific matter later on in my thoughts, because in this moment it would take us too far from the precise purpose of this first entry in my newly created "blog".
I am one of those individuals who oppose resistance to the intellectual brutality of the society I live into. I live in a boot-shaped country called Italy, or Italia in my own native language (and I'd like to catch this occasion to apologize for the inadequacy of my English which happens to be not my mothertongue, unluckily). Italy is part of a relatively small continent normally referred to as Europe, which is also generally considered the Cradle of Western civilization. On the other hand, these names, I believe, are generally misinterpreted as if they defined something real and concrete, rather than ideas. The place we refer to as Italia is not divided by the rest of the world by anything real. An alien looking down from a spaceship on low orbit, would only see land and sea, and nothing geographically evident would induce him or her to believe that Italy is a different place from France. On the other hand, human beings living in Italy have developed their own social common sense, their social geist which differs from that of the human beings living in France. This difference, however superficial and of scarce importance in terms of distinguishing a French from an Italian individual, is taken very seriously by many humans. One of the most important characteristics of the Italian social geist of the late twentieth-early twentyfirst centuries is the intensity of its brutality against the the individual uniqueness of its constituents. This translates into a massive campaign to uniform each person to the whole, boycotting any form of cultural and intellectual difference. Most of my readers might find a reflection of their own condition in this description of the place called Italy, but I am convinced, after traveling to places that carry different names (France, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Scotland, United States of America, Switzerland...) that the effort put out by the Italian society against its individuals to erase their uniqueness is more intense than that achieved by other societies. This means that it takes a greater effort to be unique in this place than it would suffice elsewhere in the world. This is not to say that there aren't other countries where the intellectual brutality is more effective than here, but rather than most of you who live in any of the countries I listed above, I believe, thrive in a less brutal environment.
Among the most important features of the Italian society, there is a rather grotesque dependance on Lightness. I catch at last the occasion to tell every reader that the title of my blog, "The Unbearable Lightness of Being", is borrowed by the title of a magnificent book by Milan Kundera, a Czech writer, which I strongly suggest you all to read as soon as you can. With the word Lightness, I refer precisely to what Kundera meant in his book. Assuming that not all the visitors of my blog ever had a chance to read it, I will provide my interpretation of Kundera's thought.
Lightness, as opposed to Weight, is the "emptiness", or better, the "superficiality" of Being. Being is intended as one's "Life", "Essence", although such words describe the concept with great inaccuracy. We live in a world, and I live more specifically in a society, which considers the lack of "Weight" a positive thing. Consider the ephemeral nature of our most popular forms of entertainment: TV shows, discos, pop music, alcoholics... What do such things have in common? Basically, the lack of "depth", the absence of "content". Take one of those Reality Shows that receive so much appreciation from the public. Is there any ethical value in a Big Brother episode? Is there any room for ethics, politics, philosophy in any of our entertainment forms? I am ready to bet that most readers here would raise an eyebrow and wonder what kind of obvious statement I am making here, for what kind of entertainment would succeed in its scope if it had any philosophical, political, ethical value to be pondered about (please note the word ponder, from the Latin ponderare, " to weight"). Entertainment has to be light. Right?
Not really. It is actually part of a zeitgeist, whether to consider entertainment as light vs. heavy. In the Nineteenth century, for example, the entertainment provided by the music of Beethoven was anything but "light". Beethoven thought that heavy, ponderous thoughts were entertaining, and lack of depth wasn't. It's not something specifically limited to Ludwig van Beethoven (whose music, by the way, I strongly suggest you to listen), but it's how the European society felt in those decades. Lightness, or lack of depth, has come from the United States, where it marks the definition of entertainment. I believe it is an outcome of a generally poor social backgound in philosophy and other "humanities", as they call them, typical of certain areas of the United States (which happen to be a large and vast country where no norm is such throughout the nation). Italy, and its society, has been intensely affected by this lack of depth, and it's lost its grip on "Weight", on everything that implies depth of content.
Lightness, states Milan Kundera, this ephemeral nature of our living, can become tougher to bear than the heaviest of rocks. I am not here trying to write a review of Kundera's book, so I will not dig any further in his ideas, but will rather state my own.
I have always felt an inner uneasiness with the society around me, and I only recently discovered that what caused my unease was that I was unable to bear the Lightness of Italian Being. To me, Lightness is a negative concept. It is not resonant with my inner self. It is too empty, like a beautifully crafted gift box that contains nothing. Therefore, my thoughts on various issues, which I will post later in what little spare time I still have at my hands, will be better understood if the reader will keep in mind that I need weight, for I cannot bear the Lightness of Being.
This introduction should have by now achieved one of two outcomes:
1. The reader has fled in terror, rushing back to ephemeral forms of entertainment and ascribing me among the dangerously insane to be avoided like plague;
2. The reader is resonant with my thoughts, and perhaps has even perceived the undescribable effect of the Lightness of being and realised it nauseates him or her.

In the first case, I presume the reader hasn't come to this point so I shouldn't spend words on him or her.
In the second case, you are welcome to share your thoughts with me, comment this and my future posts, and even express disagreement with them.
I close this rather long first entry by wishing any of my readers a good day and sending a warm invitation to come back in the future. Goodbye for now.