Years before the twin towers were felled along with many humans, there was a novel called “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting”, written by Milan Kundera.
I myself confess I had a long love affair with Milan Kundera’s writing in my 19-22 year old time, many years ago, around the time his book, “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” was made into a movie. Even then, I appreciated that Kundera was not writing about real seeming people but using each character to embody a philosophy, concept or philosophical principle. Especially female characters were parts, not whole people, which didn’t make his books any less compelling. Everything ,including countries, is reduced to, or to say it more accurately, crafted into a symbol or metaphor or complicated idea or ideas.
Ironically, although I remember well “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”, while I also read Kundera’s book, “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting”, I have since forgotten everything about it, except the title, which is a wonderful, evocative title and great words to ponder together and separately on 9/11/14, the 13th anniversary of 9/11/01.
Before digging up descriptions and quotes about the book and title, I give my associations to the concepts.
Forgetting has terrible connotations in history. The whole point of historians is that we operate from the assumption that we want to remember as much as possible of the past, what was perceived at the time, the actual artifacts of human existence that remain from whatever time period, and usually one of the main branches of history involves the study of humans atrocities towards other humans, the repetitive cycle of carnage that no time period escapes. I remember in high school taking history classes and being overwhelmed by how much detail about countries and people’s warring with each other on small and grand scale, how much blood was involved in almost every aspect of human endeavors and progress; this is the stuff of history class and explains to me now why I loved studying more abstract subjects, like math, languages, poetry and literature. As the Big Friendly Giant in Roald Dalh’s novel “The BFG” explains, humans are unique in their continuous conscious killing of other humans and their justifications for it. As humans are illogical and delusional anyway, we seek to build memorials and museums and write books and engage in all kinds of activities that aim to document our own genocide and mass killings of each other, whether so called soldiers or civilians; besides systems like the bees and ants and other creatures in nature have with worker bees (for the sake of making honey or preserving the group), humans are also I think unique in separating soldiers and armies of humans and how we view killing them versus how we view killing of civilians and criminals. All are ultimately human and all are acts of murder.
This is not a departure from the topic of 9/11. Lots of humans died. Humans did this to each other. Some of the killers were planners nowhere near the killing site. We have developed, of course, highly sophisticated ways of killing each other and of killing many people at once. All killing has a form of terror to it.
Anyway, there is a fascinating dialectic between laughter and forgetting. In or with tears we remember and feel the pain linked to that memory; in laughter we momentarily forget. The act of laughing is defiant of the moment that came before, even if it was a verbal joke. Before and after there is thought. During laughter there is bodily action and release; even the heart rate and breathing changes; is this our G rated version of the orgasm?
Here is a link to an interesting study on laughter and the brain/body
This provides interesting insight into laughter as a form of bonding and the strange fact that we cannot tickle ourselves…
Where and how did laughter originate? Do any other a animals laugh? This article suggests apes and monkeys come closest to smiling and laughing like behavior. Intuitively, I feel it is a built in mechanism for surviving trauma. For all the pills people attempt to concoct that would presumably eradicate trauma and PTSD forever-take a pill to lose all memory of the trauma-it’s debatable whether we want to forget atrocities or work through them and diminish their power, shine brighter despite them, and not think of them most of the time but never forget. Why do we humans biuld countless elaborate unsatisfying memorials next to huge replacement buildings and whole cities? To forget and remember at the same time?
9/11 is a great example of the crazy dialectic we humans hold of forgetting and “moving on” from terrible traumatic loss. The day after it happened I think politicians were already talking about rebuilding and getting on with so called “normal life”; meanwhile, New Yorkers could smell 9/11 for months and the dead were being dug out and searched for night and day for I don’t remember how long. Nothing made any sense. The twin towers had every size, shape, nationality and religion of people working and in them and the planes all dying; yet, people started hating and looking for groups of innocents to blame. Afghanistan was the place to go and kill more people. How many innocent families from babies on died those months? Did it bring back any of the dead?
Should those responsible be held accountable for their horrible crimes? Of course. This I would never dispute. A lot of my job involves identifying the abuser and helping the abused to properly see that they were victims of unspeakable acts that should not have happened to them. This work may involve forgiveness but usually it is self forgiveness and acceptance. Anger and horror are freeing emotions for those who have witnessed and experienced the unspeakable and live to tell the tale.
Which brings me back to Laughter and Forgetting. Here I will quote from a great blog post I found about this book:
“In Kundera’s world forgetting is an unescapable sin. Our existence is constantly marked and affected by forgetting. Memory is fragile and fleeting, yet memory and only memory determines the individuals we are. In the political sense, forgetting is the power of communism, memory – its worst enemy. In Russian occupied Bohemia the prime minister is the minister of forgetting. The collective memory is altered, transformed, changed, or erased to fit a new regime. Without memory, the people are fleeting in a void. Indeed: “
“The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” (Kundera)
And laughter? I won’t quote the odd story in the post from the book about laughter originating with the devil. Its a sad view of laughter. I think laughter is what keeps most humans from totally losing hope. I told a patient today that it’s good we both can laugh at ourselves. The people who’ve experienced the worst of mental illness and emotional suffering, I find usually have a wonderful sense of humor. This same patient today both cried fully and laughed her ass off with me.
As the study mentioned above shows, laughter is mostly good medicine for humans. We must have hope despite and in the face of great pain and suffering. I personally view life ultimately from the existentialist point of view. It is by definition completely absurd. The only way to go on and keep living is to do so by fully embracing the absurd. I think the dialectic of hope is that life is pointless and horrible things keep happening for no reason whatsoever and at the same time we engage in meaning making while knowing this and knowing it is absurd. To operate from there is to accept fully without forgetting, to accept the absurdity of being human, to laugh through our tears, to create and destroy, to embrace the moment and let go… To play next to grave sites…
I am reblogging this great post for Suicide Prevention and Awareness Week and World Suicide Prevention Day by Pride In Madness. The post is both personal and more broadly takes on the topic of how to talk frankly about suicidal ideation and plans. Silence is not an option; people need to have language for talking about this serious and grave topic. Many mental illnesses/substance abuse issues and combinations of these biological diseases are deadly. The most common cause of suicide is some kind of mental illness combined with substance dependence issues that are not being addressed and treated…
Originally posted on Pride in Madness:
“One World Connected”
That is this year’s theme of World Suicide Prevention Day 2014. Canada’s suicideprevention.ca says,
“On September 10th, CASP and the MHCC invite all communities in Canada to find at least one way of connecting to WSPD. Your efforts will shine a light on this important issue, sending a message to those who are despairing, connection to those who are grieving and reminding us all that there is help, hope and people who care.”
I never stop connecting. Those of us who blog about mental health are always connecting. What has been the most exciting for me has been connecting with those of you from around the world. We have connected over shared experiences and a shared passion for change in mental health. Many of you have been amazing resources when I’ve wanted to know about certain psych drugs. You have been there for me during really dark…
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Here is some information about the Highly Sensitive Person and the big distinction between HSPs and people who are HSPs but also suffer from BPD. Being an HSP is not a diagnosis or illness; it describes a minority of people who process environmental and internal stimuli differently from the majority and who are very sensitive to their environment and have a different kind if inner life. Anyone who suffers from BPD as she says in the post, is naturally an HSP, not due to their difficulty with emotion regulation which is a large aspect of the disorder, but due to the sensitivity to others and the environment. Most but not all of us therapists and artists are by nature HSPs. I myself am one (a highly sensitive person). Read this post from”Make BPD Stigma Free to learn more:
Originally posted on MAKE BPD STIGMA-FREE!:
You may have noticed that I have been posting quite a bit, both here and on my Facebook Page, about Highly Sensitive People or HSPs. That’s because every person with BPD is an HSP, but not every HSP has BPD. It is believed that BPD is caused by a HSP being brought up in an invalidating environment.
Dr. Elaine Aron has a test on her website to see if you are a HSP. You can take the test here: http://www.hsperson.com/test/ Dr. Aron has researched the trait of High Sensitivity and has even written a book on it called The Highly Sensitive Person. She is currently trying to get funding for a documentary on High Sensitivity called Sensitive. (Please see these posts: http://makebpdstigmafree.wordpress.com/2014/09/03/sensitive-the-untold-story-on-vimeo/ and http://makebpdstigmafree.wordpress.com/2014/09/02/sensitive-the-untold-story/ )
Most dictionaries connect selfies with photos of oneself, ie. the self-portrait, however, the definition also specifies the camera more likely being a smartphone and the action of posting and sharing the photo in social media like Instagram and Facebook is an important part of it, making the selfie a truly postmodern art form that is revolutionary in defying the old high vs. low definition of art forms.
Back before the Internet there was a divide between “high” art, usuly conceived of as a kind of serious fine art that would be seen as important to art history, seen in museums and usually worth a certain amount of money versus “low art” which was seen as not seriously following the course if Western art history and not being seen as “real” or serious art, like street graffiti, comic books, zones, outsider art and other art that did not confirm to the confines of higher art. Casual photography would be included. Andy Warhol and other pop artists were instrumental in redefining this split and challenging this snobby dichotomy, making room for the Jeuth Herrings and Basquiats of this world to become rich and famous and for comics to finally be taken seriously, especially the manga and graphic novel form.
Without all this, the selfie could not have been born, although the selfie is in a much later “wave” of post postmodern art that would not exist without the Internet.
Inherent to the selfie is the “publishing” of it in social media. Social media is the current most democratic arena for the growth of art. Many artists like myself participate in the use of social media to “show” our art work, and by participating in showing our work on sites like Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, are proclaiming that galleries are the showcases of the past, the art world that focuses on exclusion as a way to promote a tiny minority of artists at the expense of the vast majority of working professional artists like me.
So the selfie can only help us artists who feel excluded from the mainstream art world, run not by artists but by insiders– museums, art historians, gallery owners and auction houses like Sotheby’s.
The selfie goes further as it is anti-artist. As anybody with a smart phone can make a selfie, everyone is a potential selfie artist. The selfie also is not framed as an image that is evaluated as bring “art” or not, which further challenges our ideas about the creative act. There is a curious link between the concept of the selfie and “tribal” and “craft” art form in that art used to be made by people in a tribe for some usually communal spiritual purpose or in early craft and folk art by women ms not seen as done by an individual artist. Ironically the selfie must be taken by one individual by him or her self but it universalizes the ability to make image in a similar way to folk art as both operate from the premise that a hierarchy of ability and talent are non existent and irrelevant.
As a kind of “outsider” artist and art therapist, I operate daily from the subversive ideas that anyone can make interesting imAges and we are all as humans inherently creative beings and artists as well as viewing mental illness as a catalyst for the creative spirit, so I see the selfie as a very positive art form that is irreverent, subversive and has a “great” fuck you attitude about art forms.
For this reason, dialogues like the one I found in Facebook and quoted in my last Selfie post, amuse me and are viewed as an important part of the subversive selfie process.
The selfie is inherently feminist, as women who gaze upon themselves and take photos of their body parts or so called sexy self portraits are turning the male gaze on its side by proclaiming, look at me. I can choose to take photos of my own body and show all you males that I own my own body and when I take a selfie it is immediately empowering me and taking away your power to objectify me!