I’m not a communist anymore?!

Right, ok…where do I even start here?

I’m not even going to attempt to express this poetically or even vaguely nicely (I sort of did that in my last post, which perhaps wasn’t poetic as much as it was chaotic, although the two are sometimes synonymous); I just need to laisser this crap sortir already. I’ve had a personal shift of sorts, and although my last post concerned a less defined version of this very shift, I need to chronicle it more clearly for one final time before I can move on.

Great. 3 sentences in and I’ve already started sounding like I’ve just had a breakup. I guess it serves me right for letting ideology, of all things, define my character and shape my development for two and a half years.

Ordinarily, I would start from the beginning, from the psychological, even aesthetic, process which I underwent before reaching the phase of my life which started in early 2014 and ended a few hours ago. But I already did that while speaking as my hypothetical 26-year-old self. And in any case, such abstract ruminations are meant to be crafted elegantly into delicate, shapely prose, not splattered onto the screen in a colourful mess of realness. This is not the place for that.

So this is what actually happened in my life – which, in comparison with my ‘inner world’, I barely ever discuss. I was a communist for two and a half years, and during those two and a half years I did a lot. I met some people who have influenced me considerably, read more theory than I had ever read before, got a column in a newspaper, amassed a reputation at school as ‘that communist girl.’ But more than anything else, I moulded my identity. During those fragile years at the start of adolescence, during which everything seems so uncertain, Marxism was what gave me purpose, a sense of direction, a sense of self. Paradoxically for someone who does not believe in a non-grammatical ‘self.’

I’m not really succeeding at the no-abstractions thing, am I? Oh, screw it. Maybe I can’t think outside of abstractions. Another paradox.

Anyway. It’s quite scary how much of an influence Marxism had on me, psychologically, over those two years. For a while, almost everything I said, read or did related to it. I tried to construct a persona for myself based on it. I tried to be an ‘intellectual.’ I tried to ‘fight the system’, even if that just meant not handing in my physics homework and calling someone reactionary on the coach. The result was that my entire reputation was based around being a Marxist. People only saw me in relation to Marxism, because I only saw myself in relation to Marxism.

Now, although others’ perceptions of me have generally not changed, my own have. As the dialectic goes, there were some quantitative changes before the qualitative ones which inspired this post. I grew increasingly interested in language, and then in the arts, and then in science. At the same time, although I tried not to show it, the utter ineptitude and plain pitifulness of the left was eating away at my energy. I realised that perpetually forcing myself to rebel did not make me content, or even fulfilled. And I don’t want to waste my time on this anymore. I want to contribute. I want to take pleasure in things. I want to learn and adapt and take the future as it comes, and I want to be happy.

Honestly, some part of me wants to run as far away from politics/economics as possible and never come back after this. I already know that my career will absolutely not involve it and that my true passions, rather than veils for my disconnect and stereotypical teenage conflict, lie elsewhere. But I know politics is too important to ignore, as well. I’m not ready to commit myself to an ideology yet, and I may never be ready again.

So all I will say for now is this. Today, I renounced the socialist sclerosis to which I had been bound for two and a half years, and I have never felt freer. We are living in an entirely new society today, where political and economic divides are disintegrating as we speak. And it’s exciting – not because our predictions will come true, but because we can predict nothing at all, and doing so will result in more faith than sound sociology. As for me, I’m going to devote far more time to the things which genuinely lift my spirits, and when it comes to politics, I want to be completely open-minded for a while. I want to know how that feels again. There is plenty of intellectual merit to Marxism, and some of it will stay with me for a while yet, most notably dialectics, structuralism, and the notion of a scientific outlook on and study of society. But however influential it was, I am closing that chapter of my life. I’m not a communist anymore.

Advertisements

A Letter from my Future Self

 

Дорогая…ceбя? Меня? Я?[1] Ah, what does it matter, you don’t even speak Russian yet. Heck, it probably took you ten minutes to read that Cyrillic. Wow, I know you so well.

Or is it “I know me so well”?

What can I say; it’s difficult to think about the correct pronoun to use when addressing my past self, of all people, when the silvery frost seems to have crept into my brain cells as well as into every other nook and cranny of Mainz. The harsh continental winter is especially a shock to the system if two days ago, as I was, you were by the still relatively balmy waters of the Mediterranean. But that’s a globe-trotter’s life for you. And you did always call yourself a world citizen.

In any case, I can easily put up with the brutal coldness of December in Germany thanks to the sheer Malerhaftigkeit[2] of…well, everything. I am writing to you from a postcard-perfect situation: wrapped up in a skin-hugging bundle of fur and cotton, on a well-loved old chair surrounded by roaring heaters and flickering lamps, feeling warmth course through my gloved hands, my throat and my whole body as I raise the steaming cup to my lips and inhale its swirling, dark contents. The coffee is, of course, perfectly bitter. Outside the café, a Christmas market is in full swing, the air ringing with the sounds of ebullient song and tinkling laughter and general merriment. Large snowflakes drift lazily down to settle on the buildings framing the square, an eclectic mix of colourful little merchants’ houses, whimsical boutiques and cafés and Mainz Cathedral, itself an elegant hybrid of Romanesque, Baroque and Gothic features. This square might just be my favourite of its kind in the whole of Europe, simply by virtue of its unassuming, yet effortless beauty. Above all, this is a scene of quintessential European-ism; a European-ism which manifests itself in everything from the festivities to the architecture to the almost fastidiously brewed coffee. My Europhilia never waned.

On the table in front of me is a saucer, a fairy-size teaspoon, two cubes of brown sugar – not that I need them – and a rather worn-out edition of Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften[3], a 1200-page paving slab of a book that I have just finished re-reading, in German rather than English this time. Consumed by my studies (which only lasted 4 years, since I grew too bored of universities to do a doctorate), my writing and eventually my career in natural language processing, I had promptly forgotten about all of the literature which shaped me during my formative teenage years. During the most recent phase of my life, the lingering nostalgia and the simultaneous yearning for the future which  characterised my teenage years have become a distant memory which I preferred not to recall.

After all, while going through one of those mollifying periods during which everything and its progress seems certain, the last thing one feels any compulsion to do is remember a time when Dasein[4] itself seemed like a thick, sticky concoction of unanswered questions. My early 20s, when I was doing my degrees and starting work and collecting experiences as one might collect stamps, were a time of my life when all I wanted to do was power through my work efficiently, approaching every task in my professional or personal life as if it were a linguistic corpus I had to analyse. This is how I moved cities, shifted between relationships, and gained and lost friends with the functional passivity of a jaded side character in a Bildungsroman. But revisiting those epochal works of my teenagehood has awoken something in me. Not the same passion and burning determination that existed during those years; I don’t think that will ever return. Rather, a desire to fittingly close that chapter of my life. Because I don’t think I ever did that properly.

Let’s start with you. You’re 15 years old. You just came to the end of one of the most influential summers of your life. Perhaps it wasn’t so visibly influential – to everyone else, you just spent 2 months in bed, reading about sociology – but internally, it plunged you into the depths of profound confusion. Throughout your childhood, while the other children would play with toys, you played with identities: rummaging around in the box and pulling out an identity which caught your eye, working yourself up into an enthralled frenzy over it, whiling away long summer days and lamplit winter evenings in its company. And then, gradually getting bored of it and discarding it and letting it blow away like a petal in the wind, to be forgotten and replaced.

When you were 12, you discovered ideology. It was just like an identity, just like a toy, but it slotted more neatly into the ‘intellectual’ adult life you wanted to create for yourself. Adults never stop playing with toys; they just rationalise them and disguise them so well that they appear as structured, as deliberate, as the black-and-white paradigm of the adult world, and your toys were no exception. You spent 2 and a half years with this particular ideology: 2 and a half years as a Marxist firebrand, channelling your rebellious instincts and your fervent, all-encompassing hatred of ‘oppression’ (a word with a surprisingly fluid meaning) into every aspect of your life and relishing the psychological, personal aspects of being a revolutionary at least as much as the actual socioeconomic theory.

And then you got bored. There was no epiphany, no revelation, not even a process of reasoning which precipitated your change; you just got bored, and the ideology began to dissolve into the background as you preoccupied yourself with branching out and preparing for your interdisciplinary future. This is where you are now: at a daunting crossroads, unsure of what to believe, to whom to look or how to find where you fit.

11 years on, I would not advise you to do the impossible and abandon the toys, abandon the trappings of childhood which no human being has ever truly left behind. But I would advise you to adopt adults’ toys, instead of teenage ones. You are already aware of the benefits, even joys, of pragmatic, scientific, forward-thinking thought, and by all means keep that awareness – but remake it. Rediscover how it feels to strive to contribute to society, instead of perpetually seeking its destruction. Think of classes not as inimical, but as complementary: the lungs, brain and heart of a thriving social organism which overcomes its problems together. Redefine ideology, push its limits, make it your own. You have no obligations. You are free, and much more so than you think.

The seemingly endless stretch of confusion will open up into a sea of clarity, of possibilities. Not possibilities of utopia or dialectical totality, and not possibilities of fame and glory and living a ‘special’ life, but possibilities nonetheless. Maybe you won’t spearhead a revolution or become known across the world, but you’ll still watch the sun rise and fall in love and laugh and cry and live. You’ll still pursue your passions and see the world and experience this dysfunctional, idiosyncratic, beautiful thing called existence. And what more could you possibly need?

C.

 


[1] Dear…(my)self? Me? I?

[2] Picturesqueness

[3] The Man Without Qualities (R. Musil, 1932)

[4] Literally “being-there”; the Heideggerian term for “existence”

 

Charcoal.

A/N: I haven’t been doing any Arts Award work lately, so here is a romantic “fanfiction” I wrote on a bus in Paris in early 2015 for an art-obsessed friend of mine. We spent most of the Paris trip planning out each other’s love lives, as every single person with too much time secretly does.

(Names were changed.)

No one appreciates art anymore. It’s too slow for the world of fast food and rush hour and speed dating. And now, more than ever, it’s only a preserve of those who will allow their time to be slowed down enough to appreciate the “finer things.” Normally, Maja would regret this, would want art to be something the whole world – regardless of such arbitrary things as class and location and upbringing and social codes – can share. But in this unusually bright evening, where the sun painted the sky a deep, rich orange and London was a sea of glinting rooftops, she was glad to be alone in a room of the Tate Modern. Just her, her sketchbook and pencil, and the sculptures that now faced her. They were fine postmodern originals, the sort that were so abstract that one wonders if they were made in some other dimension external to known reality. The pencil flew across the page.

A scratching noise came from across the room. Maja tried to block it out; she liked to draw in silence. The noise persisted. Inexplicably, it really irritated her. Scratch, scratch, scratch…

“Could you stop making that noise?” asked Maja, her eyes still on the sculpture. The noise paid no attention.

Sighing, she stood up and began, “Hey, I’m trying to -”

She stopped. The noise was charcoal on paper. In the corner of the room was a boy, quite tall and slender, dressed in a blazer, dark jeans and a cotton printed scarf. His long, black hair fell over his face as he concentrated on his drawing. Their eyes met.

“Sorry, was I bothering you?” he asked. His voice was low-pitched, yet had a certain softness to it.

A blush crept up Maja’s cheeks. “No, no, it’s fine. I mean, I like drawing in silence, but you know, charcoal sounds nice too, I guess,” she babbled. Real smooth.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I wasn’t even aware that I was making a noise. I was just so-”

“Immersed in the drawing?” Maja blurted out.

“Yes!” The boy laughed. Maja noticed how nice his eyes were: large, oval and grey, framed by long eyelashes. Piercing. “When I draw, it’s like I’m somewhere else. Somewhere I can express everything I want to without being judged.”

Maja nodded; she knew exactly what he meant. “Yes. It’s like speaking another language, except rather than having to abide by someone else’s grammatical rules, you can create your own rules. You can interpret what you see in whatever way you want to. I think that’s what’s so attractive about art: whatever you create is unique, and presented in a unique way. You have total autonomy.” She blushed even more; why did she suddenly sound like a Sartrean aesthetics chatbot? And what was it about this boy that made her want to tell him all this? “Sorry I just, er, went off on one there.”

“No, no, I completely understand.” He gave a hint of a smile. “It’s nice to find someone so passionate. Most people just think I’m crazy for hanging out in art galleries and drawing everything that inspires me the way I do. I mean, it’s not exactly what most teenagers do.”

“Same here,” said Maja.

She saw him quickly add a stroke of charcoal to his drawing. She was curious. “Which sculpture are you drawing?”

“Um, it’s not exactly a sculpture. Well, it could be one metaphorically, but…” he stuttered, blushing.

The temptation was too great. She shuffled next to him, peered at his sketchbook, and gasped. On the page was a perfect charcoal sketch of…herself. Her long, straight hair, her coat adorned with badges, her chunky jewellery, the focused expression on her face as she lost herself in drawing.

“Sorry, this probably seems really weird…” mumbled the boy.

“No, it’s, I…” Maja was lost for words. “It’s beautiful.”

“I said I drew things that inspired me,” he said shyly.

They gazed at each other. The moment seemed to last for a century.

“What inspired you about me?” she asked.

“You looked like you were really into what you were doing, really passionate. That’s rare these days,” he replied. “I thought you might actually understand me. And…you did.”

There was nothing to say. Language couldn’t express the warmth she felt. She just smiled, and so did he.

“We should go out sometime,” he said.

She nodded.