November 1, 2018

The heroic and the mundane

‘The absolute is eternity. The relative is day-to-day existence. These are the two fundamental tropes of our lives. We hold the absolute at bay, firstly by leveling down the bigness of our existence, that which has to do with the very boundaries of life and materiality, to the commonplace, addressing the issues that concern us all, the great collective, mankind, only in the quotidian; secondly by ritualizing the absolute in an unreal world of images: death is to us not the physical death of the body, but the figurative death, as it occurs in images, in the same way as violence is not physical violence, but figurative violence. Heroism is no longer a possibility, there being no arena for it, those arenas have all been shut down, for the heroic belongs to the bigness we do what we can to shun, yet in the world of images, which any one of us may enter at any time, the heroic lives on: entire worlds and societies have emerged in Internet gaming, where anyone can pick up a machine gun and venture out into the world to shoot the enemy for a few hours. Practically all the films we watch are about exactly this: heroism, violence, death. And the people we watch carry out these heroic deeds in our name, in our place, are all physically beautiful or charismatic, or both. Indeed, that world, growing and expanding with every year that passes, celebrates all the worlds we otherwise reject. Outer beauty, charisma, heroism, violence, and death are not relative, they belong to the pure, the unambivalent, the simple. Our need for this, to see the magnification of our existence and what borders the absolute, is insatiable.

‘... This is what happened in Norway this summer [2011], when a man only a few years younger than me went out to an island and began indiscriminately shooting and killing young people. He acted like a figure in a computer game ... Did he feel a yearning for reality, for an end to relativity, for the consequences of the absolute? We must assume he did. Do I feel such a yearning? Yes, I do. My basic feeling is that of the world disappearing, that our lives are being filled with images of the world, and that these images are inserting themselves between us and the world, making the world around us lighter and lighter and less and less binding. We are trying to detach ourselves from everything that ties us to physical reality; from the bloodless, vacuum-packed steaks in the refrigerated counters of our supermarkets, the industrially produced meat of cooped-up animals, to society’s concealment of physical death and illness, from the cosmetically rectified uniformity of female faces to the endless flow of news images that pass through us every day and which together, in sum, erase all differences and establish a kind of universal sameness, not only because everything is conveyed in the same language, but also because what thereby is so incessantly conveyed inexorably, albeit gradually, recreates what is conveyed in its own image. The symbol of this trend is money, which converts everything into monetary value, which is to say numbers. Everything we have is mass-produced, everything is the same, and our entire world, which is commercial in nature, is based on that serial system. The values in our sky of images are Nazi values, though everyone says differently. Beautiful bodies, beautiful faces, healthy bodies, healthy faces, perfect bodies, perfect faces, heroic people, heroic deaths ... and the rush of the authentic, which here is fictitious, so compelling, that someone sooner or later is bound to bring the sky down to earth and let it apply here.’

My Struggle (Min Kamp), Book 6, by Karl Ove Knausgård, translated by Martin Aitken