Looking back

Looking back at one’s own writing, especially those of long time ago, it is hard not to feel a definite degree of embarrassment mingled with an indefinite and secretive degree of narcissistic affection. Rudolf Arnheim, when he has to translate stuff he wrote 25 years ago and put it into a volume now known as “film as art”, writes,

I found myself dealing with my writings as though with the work of a favorite student: pleased to have engendered a kindred mind, a little worried perhaps at his precocious possession of thoughts I cherished as my own, more ruthless in condemnation and correction than when less involved, and yet as meticulous as affection demands.

Recently I discovered some of my stuff written 5, 10 or 15 years ago. Upon a casual reading, I found myself lamenting on always brash and sometimes untenable assertions, loose reasoning and discursive gap, lack of structure and research, and finally the ridiculously abortive nature of every project. Meanwhile, what strikes me as meaningful is that while I learn to cope with this hopeless world and myself, how little have I gained and how much have I lost! A friend describes my present style as “careless and sarcastic”. Not that it matters, but I was NOT like that before.

An easy conclusion would be to say that the world has squeezed “the precious body fluid” (to quote Kubrick) out of me. Or, I squeeze it myself everyday, willingly or wailingly.

Writing a blog, or anything else except your paper, is like talking to an imaginary interlocutor. Who is this person you are talking to? Instead of saying I have changed, I would rather say that my interlocutor has changed. He is no longer enthusiastic about virtually everything in the universe and he is often tired. Therefore I have become cautious whenever I try to bring up any subject that may potentially interest him. I have to prepare for his dismissive tone, his ruthless scrutiny of my method; he knows where my material is most porous and he thumbs down when I present other people’s idea instead of my own. Most importantly, he doesn’t believe me anymore, at least not as much as he used to.

Therefore I hide myself behind a mask of indifference, a heavy cuirass of irony. It is not that I am disillusioned, my heart turns dark, as late Luxun did. At least he got published and his thoughts shared by millions. Good for him. Not that it matters.

In writing, or thinking, one asserts his existence. Why this existence has to be asserted? This is something I did not question in my youth. And this is the very thing I have become highly suspicious of in my thirties.

Now I realize, sadly, that this is perhaps the only thing that gives you power. One struggles not to question oneself; one writes out of pure inertia.

A skillful writer is one who is obliged to constantly add more strokes to a perennial dissolving painting that is his image in front of the others.

But if we are all doomed to perish, how can we expect that our writings are not?

Somehow, this naïve insistence is all we need, all we need to believe.


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