Benign Flame -Saga of Love


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I love how certain posters have completely ignored the comments of those who have tried to give some kind of context, such as those of iconoclastodon and Drew Johnson. It's as if this were a conversation where certain people kept pontificating regardless of what the other person was saying, as well as making judgments without all the facts. If you're going to use Kirsch's piece to declare that the Internet is full of "idiots trying to shout one another down," one must also consider that Gessen was one of those idiots.

Warren Ellis. Envy isn't the cause of the ire, it was an angry response to the over-the-top critical praise of a silly book with shallow characters. The discussion the Internet's reaction to Gessen as an example of "the way we live now" as well bringing in Rousseau, Hegel, and the phenomena of fame only works if one takes the Gessen experience out of its proper context. This article is beautiflly crafted What Mr.


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Kirsch is writing is ironic. The desire of recognition does , at times, motivate the writer to write. But that is not what creates masterpieces that transcend time and place. For a creative work to survive the onslaught of time, it needs somehing more than ambition. Something that we can possibly but vaguely call skill and dedication. Fame is temporary but recognition is eternal. The concluding sentence of the essay captures this irony of ambition most poignantly. Loved reading it! Once, in a dream, I saw a man With haggard face and tangled hair, And eyes that nursed as wild a care As gaunt Starvation ever can; And in his hand he held a wand Whose magic touch gave life and thought Unto a form his fancy wrought And robed with coloring so grand It seemed the reflex of some child Of Heaven, fair and undefiled - A face of purity and love - To woo him into worlds above: And as I gazed with dazzled eyes, A gleaming smile lit up his lips As his bright soul from its eclipse Went flashing into Paradise.

Then tardy Fame came through the door And found a picture - nothing more. And this is Fame! A thing, indeed, That only comes when least the need: The wisest minds of every age The book of life from page to page Have searched in vain; each lesson conned Will promise it the page beyond - Until the last, when dusk of night Falls over it, and reason's light Is smothered by that unknown friend Who signs his nom de plume, The End. Prose Home Harriet Blog. Visit Home Events Exhibitions Library.

Newsletter Subscribe Give. Poetry Foundation. Back to Previous. Prose from Poetry Magazine. Literary Fame in the Time of Flame Wars. Is the Internet really going to change how literary reputations get made? By Adam Kirsch. Writers write in order to be recognized. To be recognized as good writers, yes—but that is not enough of a goal to explain the frenzy of literary competition. If writing were simply a skill, demonstrating that one possessed the skill, even in supreme measure, would be as technical and trivial an achievement as something in athletics.

It is because writing is a communication of one's mind and experience—one's being—that it promises to gratify the original desire of spirit: to have one's being confirmed by having it acknowledged by others.

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Writing makes others the mirror of the self. But the Gessen affair, in which the writer seized on this promise of literature with such naive directness, exposed its true strangeness. Why, after all, should writing well—an aesthetic achievement—be the price of being recognized, a universal human need? Why shouldn't a writer who simply expresses that need as clearly and urgently as possible be rewarded with the recognition he demands—regardless of whether he has created a beautiful linguistic object? Isn't there something trivial, even monstrous, about a system that makes artistic gifts—which are randomly, amorally distributed—the only means by which recognition can be purchased?

The economic metaphor is not accidental. As far back as we can see, the economics of literary fame have been based on scarcity: there is not enough recognition to go around, so every human being's just claim cannot be met.

Benign, Mild, Moderate Narcissism

Beauty is the currency, as arbitrary as gold or paper, in which recognition is bought and sold. We grant great writers the dignity of having really been, the posthumous recognition that we call immortality, because they please us with their arrangements of words. Because of how well they wrote, we remember not just their works but their letters, travels, illnesses, aspirations—we feel with and for them. But we do this as irrationally as the peahen rewards the peacock with the biggest tail feathers, which have nothing intrinsically to do with reproductive fitness. If the scarcity of recognition is a symptom of the world's fallenness, then literary ambition is a form of complicity with fallenness.

In other words, it is a sin. Because there is not enough money in the world, people steal; because there is not enough power, people do violence; because there is not enough recognition, they make art. Gessen's case, however, suggests that the transformation is not going to be a benign one. Michel Houellebecq titled one of his novels The Extension of the Domain of Struggle , and portrayed post-sixties Europe as a place where the competitive principles of capitalism had been extended to sexuality, with disastrous results.

In the same way, the Internet brings the atomized, absolute competitiveness of capitalism to the struggle for recognition that is literature. Online, there are no mediating institutions—no editors, magazines, publishing houses, or critics with the power to confer or protect literary reputation. This ought to be a paradise—a Rousseauan state of nature, uncorrupted by authority and custom, where all readers and writers are free and equal.


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In fact, Gessen's experience suggests that it is more like a Hobbesian state of nature, where everyone is at war against everyone else. Just look at the way his readers address him online: "The problem with American literature today is you"; [you are just] "some overrated pretentious writer whose books will end up in the bargain bin at Costco"; "[your book is] like one of those unbearable leg cramps you get in the middle of the night. Once it's over you kind of want it back just to see if it really was as bad as you remember.

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But this self-abasing display of good intentions, typical of the guilty rich in an economy of scarcity, could not bridge the gulf between the novelist and his foes. There was no ignoring the fact that, for all the abuse he took, Gessen was always attacked by name, while for all their fury, the commenters were always known by their handles. This was an uprising of the have-nots against a have, and like most such uprisings, it could only be a riot, not a revolution. When the dust settles, the published writer is still recognized and his detractors are still anonymous. The Internet has democratized the means of self-expression, but it has not democratized the rewards of self-expression.

Night of Fire by Colin Thubron

Now everyone can assert a claim to recognition—in a blog, tumblr, Facebook status update. But the amount of recognition available in the world is inexorably shrinking, since each passing generation leaves behind more writers with a claim on our memory. That is why the fight for recognition is so fierce and so personal.

Yet the bloggers who were so indignant at Gessen's attempt to engross more than his share of recognition did not direct their indignation at literature itself. They did not want to dismantle the prestige of "being a writer," but to claim it for themselves; they did not want to end the economy of scarcity but to move individually from the camp of the have-nots to the camp of the haves.

In this they are like the snobbish narrator in Proust, whose fascination with aristocratic titles reached its height at just the historical moment when titles became completely meaningless. They are not revolutionaries but social climbers. If that is the case, then the best strategy for writers in the age of the Internet may be to ignore the Internet and look down on it. If print is a luxury, make it a rare and exclusive one; if literature is antidemocratic, revel in its injustice.

Make sure that the reward of recognition goes to the most beautiful and difficult writing, not to the loudest and neediest. Above all, do not start a blog, for the non-writers who wish they were writers will only despise you for choosing to meet them on their own ground. As one of the commenters on Gessen's blog put it: "get off the Internet as soon as you possibly can.

Every second you stay online It used to be that the poor could look forward to the Kingdom of Heaven; so, too, those who go unrecognized in this world could at least be sure that they were recorded in the Book of Life, where no name was omitted. Their patron saint is Doctor Astrov, the worn-out idealist in Chekhov's Uncle Vanya , who retains a glimmer of hope in the future: "You know, when you walk through a forest on a dark night and you see a small light gleaming in the distance, you don't notice your tiredness, nor the darkness, nor the prickly branches lashing you in the face," he explains.

But even Astrov doubts if the millennium will bring him what he, like everyone, most desires—recognition. No, Nanny, I'll wager they won't! Imagine it this way. The Internet, which seems so immensely sophisticated to us, turns out to be just the first primitive stage in the evolution of a global, networked mind.

In time—a thousand years or a million, it doesn't matter—what was once humanity becomes a virtual entity, inhabiting every place and no place, singular and plural at once.

These contradictions are simply a way of saying that we can't imagine what it will be like—just as mystics used to define God negatively, for want of any positive knowledge. Nor will that future mass-mind be able to imagine what we are like. It will be as divorced from its past as we are from homo erectus , and it will pursue the mystery of its origins as avidly as we try to dig up Neanderthal burial grounds, or theorize about the lightning strike that brought amino acids out of the primordial soup.

But some day, on an unfathomably antique, all but forgotten level of its memory archive, the mass-mind will unearth the archaic structures that make up our Internet.

Lost Stars

It will decipher these traces of its own past as eagerly as our scholars go to work on Greek papyri recycled as mummy wrappings. Our scholars, when they decipher old texts, are less satisfied when they find yet another copy of Homer or the Bible than when they stumble across the provision lists of a Sumerian king, or the private letters of a Roman legionary posted at Hadrian's Wall. Literature tells us the way people thought they were and wanted to be seen; but these random, personal, undeliberated traces of ancient lives show us the way they really were.

Evidence, not eloquence, is what we need to understand our origins. So too with the virtual mind of the inconceivable future. We love seeing the personalities of the bride and groom shine on the wedding day!

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The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Jesus talks unity 3 times in this passage! We are created to be united with people and fellow believers. It means a shared life in Jesus Christ. If you decide to come into a union with your spouse, you are unified into one flesh.

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