Going Bonkers

Ilya Repin's depiction of Gogol burning the manuscript to the sequel of Dead Souls, which was, apparently, not very good.

Every couple of weeks I find myself reading a book or a website which convinces me that everything I do is completely stupid and pointless. The last such treasure I stumbled across was Stuff White People Like, in which I learned that I was a hipster—don’t waste your breath trying to convince me otherwise—focusing on the little things I did and thought which made me completely superior to all other forms of animate and inanimate matter. I burned through that sucker in a couple of hours, thirsting for page after page of revelation, staring into the author’s somewhat-less-than-stunning-and-ultimately-predictable prose as though into a mirror. Portlandia, my current favorite show, is a warmer and more amusing take on the same rough question—why is it necessary for me to distinguish myself from the rest of humanity?

I just decided to discard this entire post, and then tried to edit my book, and concluded that the first sentence I looked at was worthless, though I could not say why, and then I resurrected these words from the trash, wrote this paragraph, and concluded once again that I should just give up, because there is absolutely no point: what am I supposed to do when an intelligent person reads this and concludes that I am an idiot, and says so?

It might be nice if I could run through a gauntlet of such people: two rows of everyone whom we all consider to be brilliant, every last godlike artist, scientist, and philosopher, castigating us for our inadequacies. Maybe then I wouldn’t be so afraid of critiques; I’d be able to get things done without allowing these petty moods to get the best of me.

But it’s been some time since someone has come out and said that I’m a moron. The last was a ridiculous, rambling attack on a job ad I posted a few months ago on koreabridge, which I didn’t really care about because, after all, I don’t take teaching nearly as seriously as writing. Nonetheless, even the potential for an attack on my literary abilities frightens me into the defensive posture of already agreeing that I suck, long before anyone else has said so.

As I write these words I should stress that I’m not looking for any affirmation from my readers so much as a simple exploration of the bizarre thoughts running through my head at this very moment.

At the same time as I conclude, once and for all, that it would have been better if I had never existed at all, I am seeking my rehabilitation, similar in its ultimate pointlessness to the one that Gogol desired for Chichikov, who was supposed to become something resembling A Good Person in the uninteresting sequel to Dead Souls. For all its faults I started reading Bertrand Russell’s A History Of Western Philosophy for the thirtieth time (skipping ahead to Thales, whose conclusion that everything is water (called a scientific hypothesis by Russell, who reminds us that most things are made of hydrogen) is oddly reminiscent of an enigmatic line in Nabokov’s Speak, Memory, in which a dying relative’s last words are, you guessed it, “Aha, I see now, everything is water”, or something to that effect (at times these hidden connections (evidence for the muse, that every book has really just been written by one person, or dictated to us by psychic aliens) are all I’ve got going for me)) so as to convince myself that some things actually are good, that everything I do is not stupid, and that I should stop wasting my time debating whether I am up to the task of adding words to the universe and just shut up and do it.

But I cannot watch a stupid video, even a hilariously stupid video, without concluding that I am likewise stupid—and not even hilariously so.

This all comes back to the question of individuality. I am worthless. I am worthwhile. What is this I, really?—right now one of my friends is sticking out her tongue, rolling her eyes back, and pumping her fist as if to mimic the act of masturbation—but I is, first and foremost, the letter I use to start off most of my self-centered sentences. Two nights ago I went to my second Jaesa, or Korean Ancestor Worship Ceremony, translated far more coolly by google to “Sacrifice”, where we honored the memory of my wife’s grandmother, who was apparently a pleasant human being born into an age in which no one ever smiled while being photographed.

This got me thinking about atavism, a word I had been searching for in the back of my mind for a few days—that very old question of how much of who we are is really due to our ancestry? What agency do human beings really possess? Are we all really just genes? Yes! Absolutely! The answer is yes!

People say my son is handsome, and conclude that this can only be a result of the sexual union between myself and my wife, but really he is indebted to our parents for his handsomeness, and to their ancestors, and to all of the good genes that won out over the bad ones, thus eventually producing an aesthetically-pleasing human being.

I had nothing to do with his beauty, because I am just a single step in human evolution, and the idea that I could have had anything to do with how well our son turned out is merely a reflection of the illusion of personality and individuality, which I believe now to be an evolutionary safeguard against suicide. Human beings are smart enough to understand that the universe is meaningless, that there is no reason existence is better than nonexistence—and without this belief in the importance of the self, and its preservation, I think most of us wouldn’t bother with the struggle to be, because the eternal sleep of nonbeing is far easier.

So, truistically, obviously, in a manner befitting wide-eyed hippies and yogis both, I can declare here and now that it doesn’t matter whether you think I’m an idiot, because you don’t exist, and I don’t exist, either. The key to triumph is solipsism.

If I could realize this on a deeper level, and not just an intellectual one, I might be able to stop blogging and get to work—I have just under two hours before I have to go pick up my son from daycare.

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One thought on “Going Bonkers

  1. Jennifer says:

    I really really hope I’m the one making the fake masturbation motion. Cause I’m pretty sure that was me. At any rate, I think your thoughts are legitimate. At one point I concluded that absolutely every decision I made was inevitable because everything I was composed of – matter/environment – was beyond my control. So I got really bummed out and felt that nothing really mattered, because there was no free will. Yeah, that’s what majoring in philosophy will do to a person.

    I’m not the best person to cheer anyone up or dig them out of their existential angst right now. I feel like a trapped rat since canceling my plane ticket and until I hold another exit out of Korea in my sweaty palm, I will likely continue to feel this way.

    But know that there is more to you than your literary output or your child. And Harry’s appearance is hardly the most important thing about him. What you can affect and do have control over is the amount of joy he experiences, the amount of warmth and his education. I think he’s a naturally smart and happy baby, but you will have a real effect on how that continues in his life. That’s an awesome responsibility.

    Anyway, we’ll talk more soon. Especially since I’ll be working with you. That’s pretty cool.

    Take it easy on yourself. One moment at a time. I’ll try to do the same.

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