WRITER: I am a writer! COMPOSER: I am a composer!
READER: Аnd I think you’re a piece of shit! VANYA RUBLEV: Аnd I think you’re a piece of shit!
(The writer stands there several minutes, stunned (The composer, breathing heavily, slumps down.
by this new concept and drops dead on the spot. Unexpectedly, they carry him out.)
They carry him out.)
ARTIST: I am a performer! CHEMIST: I am a chemist!
WORKER: Аnd I think you’re a piece of shit! PHYSICIST: Аnd I think you’re a piece of shit!!
(The artist immediately turns pale, like a canvas, (The chemist utters not another word and
And like a straw reed begins to sway, collapses heavily to the ground.)
And suddenly passes away.
They carry him out.)
I couldn’t pick the name of this absurd sketch for Daniil Kharms, and I wouldn’t dream of doing so, but when you think of “Four Illustrations of How a New Idea Disconcerts a Man Unprepared for It”, you meet something more than just a few flabbergasted people. You get mesmerised by the title, a long and tedious explanation of exactly what the contents of the text will be. Writers rarely do that, try to explain everything in the title. It’s an even longer title in Russian: “Chetyre illiustratsii togo, kak novaia ideia ogorashivaet cheloveka, k nei ne podgotovlennogo”. Novaia ideia is something you would have heard a lot in the epoch, as the progressive left would usually put forth a new idea, a new ideology. Now that Stalin advances new ideas and those ideas happen to be killing people not ready for them, what a simple way to covertly place that information in the text using not only the body, but the title too.
Leaving aside any further intention to analyse the text – it’s an absurd sketch, maybe it should be protected from too much criticism, as its impression over us should either be immediate or it shouldn’t be at all – I’m thinking it’s not really that people are unprepared or disconcerted for and by new ideas. How new can the idea of your own failure or lack of substance be? Unless you’ve been raised by overnurturing parents who keep telling you you’re the next Vivaldi, you’re sure to have a decent 1% dedicated to the possibility you may very well be a big impostor.
What made me turn to this sketch was the effect words seemed to have over some people. Is it so absurd that people died over an insult? That’s what’s bugging me, because “you’re a piece of shit” is actually an insult, not a new idea. How can some people live through being told to their faces they’re nothing and others just die, either on the inside or literally?
The influence words have had over human minds baffled me ever since I saw a goofy character like Charles Manson get popularity with large masses of people notwithstanding his short height and loose ideas. I looked at an interview with him and it blew my mind. Back home we had bums that talked like that, in sheer apotheosis, like gods sent them an unequivocal message, with certainty and grave distress at the same time, like they had made sense of some higher truth. It’s the kick you get out of cocaine and marijuana, right? You feel on top of the world and you see more connections being made. You become your own little detective and tie up loose ends where people have searched the spot countless times along the ages. I had a friend who mesmerised with his epiphany on what the fruit of knowledge of good and evil was. The Bible doesn’t call it an apple, so what was it?! He tied it back to Jesus starving and cursing a fig tree, then took it back to the Garden, where after being stripped of their rights, Adam and Eve found themselves naked for the first time and they made a skirt out of fig leaves. A lot more went into the argumentation, but I believe that covers it. Fanatics will use whatever means possible to make you see things their way. They get their drive off of that feeling of superiority, and who’s more superior than a person with an idea? There are also raves of grandiosity in the bipolar disorder. People feel, even if they were last in class or if they never attended school at all, they feel that everybody is stupid and they’re a misunderstood genius.
There’s a disorder popularised by Ian McEwan in “Enduring Love”. It’s called after the psychiatrist Gaëtan Henri Alfred Edouard Léon Marie Gatian de Clérambault, but observation on erotomania have been made by researchers as early as the 16th century. Freud mentioned it, saying it’s a way to cope with loneliness or ego deficit due to intense loss, like the death of someone. What astounded me was again the blatant certainty that the patient had that someone, usually a higher official, like a cardinal, the pope or a king, a celebrity, was deeply in love with them. They interpreted simple, rather silly signs, like the touch of a flower or the moving of some red drapes in a house as proof of their loved ones’ devotion. Usually the people they thought were in love with them never knew them, never heard of them, but in the patient’s head they manifested a secret love that was greater than that the patient had for the object of their delusions.
How does all that tie up with how ideas defeat someone’s psyche? I believe it all boils down to certainty. If a laid-back surfer dude would hear me rant about the end of the world he’d suck on his cigarette and say something like “radical” or “far out, man”. Both utterances actually mean “you’re taking yourself too seriously”, but surfer dudes usually don’t take themselves seriously enough to engage in such an accusation. People who are firm in their ideas have the resemblance of a statue: when you hit it, not having any flexibility or malleability, it chips or breaks.
In come radical reactions, like rage, rampant yells, violence, even reprehensible actions. In “1001 Arabian Nights” we have a good example of what inflexibility can do. Shahzaman, the brother of king Shahryar, found his wife in bed with a Black slave not one hour after him leaving the city. He immediately killed them both! Imagine a rational man today. I’ve even seen husbands filming the caught wife and lover and putting them on the internet. “Look what you’re doing while I’m abroad working”, said the cheated husband, with a calm voice, easygoing, almost respectful. The wife’s lover asks for a glass of water and the cheated husband, without stopping the recording says “Water? Sure, no problem”, and brings the man a glass of water from the kitchen.
I remember a homeless man telling me the story of his life tragedy. He forgot something at home and turned the car around half an hour after leaving for work. He found his neighbour sitting but naked in the kitchen, smoking, while the soon to be homeless man’s wife was ironing the neighbour’s shirt. “What’s this?! You don’t let me smoke in the kitchen. I have to go outside. And you never ironed my clothes. You always tell me go do it yourself!” To him, the household rules that were broken were more bothering than the cheating itself. The wife didn’t wait 5 minutes before she slept with the neighbour. All she needed was her man to be out of the house. That didn’t bother him. He said he picked up the iron and put it on his neighbour’s chest, and then, when the police came, they scolded the cheating wife and looked with pity at him, the victim of the story. He made no reference to an ambulance or a possible arrest for the attempted murder of the neighbour. That made me think one of two things happened. Either he did get arrested for laying the heated iron on his fellow wrongdoer, for injuring him and threatening his life. That would have been a way to account for his present social state. It was either that, or the part with the iron never happened at all. The wife must have gotten everything he had due to a fluke in their relationship, them never having a prenuptial agreement or anything of the sort. He told a stranger he did to the man who stole his wife from him what he always wanted to do to him. I don’t think he had the courage to burn another man with an iron. His fantasy was far greater than his need for revenge. That’s where a lot of people have gotten in the 21st century. Their lack of animal urges made them inapt in confrontational situations. Is it a bad thing? Well, I would call the future bum a civilised man. He accepted his wife would no longer be his own, so he let her destroy him and take everything away. He never harmed the neighbour. The best man won. Good job at convincing her to iron your clothes. I never got to that level with her. But from a confrontational point of view, the man froze. He was inapt. Impotent.
That’s roughly how I’d explain people’s impossibility to cope with insults. What bigger insult than your wife performing preferential chores for the man she cheated on you with?
When I was young, I would form this reflex of catching old ladies when they slipped on ice. Municipality did an awful job at cleaning the streets in my city, so it was full of ice everywhere. You would literally see people falling down and breaking their bones everywhere. Women were the most susceptible. I had a slow progression, each winter, starting from not flinching an millimetre when an old lady fell right beside me to reaching towards her, even managing to prevent the fall once or twice. My amazement was how in three seasons I would lose my reflexes and just sit there again as people were getting hurt half a meter away from me. It was like a game of Red Light, Green Light and the old ladies didn’t need to see me extend an arm or move an inch. I felt my brain was regressing each year, as I had to teach myself over and over again to react. I believe during longer stretches of time people can develop an even deeper ataraxy. They become, weirdly enough, incapable of reacting to horrendous crimes happening next to them. Like people crossing the street from women being publicly raped.
How does that level of indifference become the rage and incapability of coping with a simple truth? Well, it’s a way of blocking outside information. My idea of counteracting this weak approach to someone challenging us is not implementing laws that would prevent others from insulting us, but diving head on into a world of insults.
Sound absurd enough? Well, how do you become tough if not hammering the blade in the fire of the forge? I’ve noticed people who tend to be insulted have lived lives without great challenges. Their talks are like converts preaching to converts. Nobody disagreed with them. Everybody around them tried their best to be the best friend they’ve always needed. Good stuff, right? Usually these people live in big cities, where it’s a sort of unwritten rule you’re polite and you mind your own business.
But smaller cities, villages, they produce weirder individuals, don’t they? Crazy people, people who get into your life, who ask the most intimate questions without knowing you, who judge you straight away, who gossip, spread fowl rumor, who can call you stupid to your face, because that’s most of the time the way they were brought up.
I have a few examples of what you would call conservative upbringing that would horrify a westerner. In between the years 1996 and 2008, when I went through my elementary, primary and college studies in Romania it was never the norm not to hit kids in school. Teachers would always get physical. I remember two accounts, one when I laid some chalk on the ground in front of my teacher so she’d bend over to pick it up and I would get the confirmation that her underwear was red. She made me eat the chalk right before her. The second was when I failed to understand a simple math exercise and the teacher grabbed my small head and beat it 19 times in the blackboard, because 19 was the obvious answer to the math exercise, the one I didn’t know how to solve. Oh, as a bonus, I was sitting with my back to the teacher once and she made it a rule that the amount of books she could gather before I realised she was plotting something was the amount of books she would slam in my head. It was kind of like that Red Light, Green Light game, but more physical. Needless to say, I never visited a psychiatrist, never had any issues, I was always kind to my peers and had exceptional track record at not getting angry or offended.
How did that happen? Well, my thought is that I was slowly brought up in a harsh environment. I was never bubble boy, living in a balloon. Why does it take so much manpower to annoy or exasperate someone from a smaller village or from the country side? Well, some of these people have been told they’re useless and good for nothing ever since a small age. They’re not gonna hear something they’ve never heard before.
Why do scientists say we dream of heavy, gruesome stuff? Our brother dies in our sleep, what does that mean? Well, our brain acts like a fortress, trying to seal off the rough happenings from our lives. It’s like a firewall, trying to familiarise us with rough events. These events may never occur, but we should sure as shit be ready for them, that’s how our subconscious brain works. Latency and the secondary world, that of the unfulfilled or of the “not yet” is far more greater than that of the case files and registers. What might happen exceeds the mere limitations of what happened. The greatest crimes are yet have been committed. Hitler 2.0 sits at the corner, between a “hello” and the “I love you” of two perfect strangers.
What better reason to follow your gut and your subconscious brain than to not get Trojan Horsed by a random person calling you names? Prepare for each battle. That’s why I used the internet as a buffer zone for all the hits and kicks of a threatened psyche trying to grow up.
My idea is this: make a fake YouTube account. Get online and start praying on your victims. But instead of aiming to insult people, say the most outlandish stuff to internet strangers so you can get a reaction. And trust me, you’ll get a reaction. Go to a gay clip and say gays were always wrong, that they shouldn’t exist by natural law. Go to a praise Jesus clip and say Jesus is humanity’s biggest invention, that weak people believe in ghosts, that a rational man wouldn’t dream of saying zombies exist, that virgins give birth or that the sun stood still for one day in Joshua’s Long Day. Again, your purpose here is to get struck by as many criticising spears possible. I would advice you made your way to that part of the internet where your rude comments might actually overlay your own opinion. Don’t think you don’t have an opinion others wouldn’t agree on. You do, you’re just too nice to admit it! Go to your least favorite Michael Jackson song and say it’s utter shit. Embellish it a little bit. Say utter garbage. See what happens. Follow the reactions closely. Check to see what others think about you. Of course your first intention is not to check the replies. CHECK THEM! Be sure to read every single word, every insult those true fans had for you, every reference to your small brain, your lack of talent, your jealousy and your poverty. Start believing parts of it, because smarts, beauty, riches, talent, none of them stick. They all fade away eventually. Maybe they weren’t even real from the get-go. Maybe your friends just flattered you because that’s how Facebook works. You say nice things and others say nice things about you.
Try living in the real world a little bit and lowering your ego. In order to be humble you need to truly admit you’re just a needle in a haystack. Nobody in your family ever split the atom, so why think highly of yourself? We all eat, shit, piss, clean after ourselves daily. We’re livestock for the other guy. There are literally thousands of people out there that are stronger, smarter, more potent, even some that are ready to abduct us, torture us, kill us, send our families our head in a box. Get on YouTube and make a fake account! Your safety matters!