For the rest of us who insist on writing serious fiction, don't despair. See the thing for what it is. Keep moving forward.
If You Want to Make Money Writing Today, Be Sure To Use Generous Portions of the Following Ingredients in Your Work
If you don't get what I'm alluding to, I humbly suggest you take a peek at some of the titles that populate the bestseller list at Amazon.com. This is especially true for the Kindle bestseller list.
For the rest of us who insist on writing serious fiction, don't despair. See the thing for what it is. Keep moving forward.
The last point Peterson makes in this short clip will be contentious to most.
That fascism was and is an inherently evil ideology is accepted without much serious debate in the West. In fact, we have been instructed to believe that fascism, and its nationalist-socialist offspring, are the greatest evils that have ever plagued the Earth. You will not get much objection from me on this point - I agree, fascism and nazism are inherently evil ideologies that have wreaked great harm upon humanity, and care should be taken to ensure this ideology does not rear its ugly head again in the future.
The horrors of fascism and nazism are well-known in the West, but when it comes to fully acknowledging the horrors of communism, a massive blind spot exists. Unlike fascism, communism is not anathema in most Western countries. Despite the efforts of writers like Solzhenitsyn and others, despite extensive historical records and documents, despite countless eye witness accounts and terrifying personal testimony, the terrible legacy of communism has not ignited the same levels of condemnation in the West as fascism has.
On the contrary, many celebrated intellectuals and thinkers were or are professed communists and either enjoyed or continue to enjoy rewarding careers in academia or in the media despite their admiration or support for the Marxist cause. Some have built an entire careers on the foundations of Marxist apologetics and obtuse French Marxist psychoanalysis. You can talk about communism as a viable political option at any Starbucks in the West without drawing too much objection from anyone sitting at nearby tables. The name Stalin does not inspire great same depths of scorn on the facial expressions of most when his name is mentioned. And of course, no hipster wardrobe would be complete without at least a few items of clothing featuring Comrade Lenin, a red star, hammers-and-sickles, or Che Guevara.
This has always bothered me and it continues to bother me, especially now when the West is seized by a collective paranoia over the rise of fascism.
Don't misunderstand. I am no supporter of fascism; I have no crooked cross in my head. The ideology is evil and loathesome. I criticize it roundly in my novel The City of Earthly Desire. However, what separates me from many others is my conviction that communism / Marxism is just as evil and loathesome. I firmly believe that communism deserves to be addressed and treated with the same contempt fascism inspires.
But for the most part it isn't, and it does not seem like it will ever be. A tremendous shortcoming.
If you experience confusion, revulsion, scorn, or a combination of any or all of the above whenever you see a "masterpiece" like this, don't despair. You are not alone and there is nothing wrong with you. You're not uncultured, or unsophisticated, or uncouth, or unrefined. On the contrary, if you find yourself sneering at post-modern aesthetics in general, regard it as a sure sign of your integrity, health, and sanity.
To commemorate the 225th anniversary Count István Széchenyi's birth, the City of Sopron and a notable local civil organization initiated a plan to engrave one of Széchenyi's patriotic quotes into the pedestal of his statue that stands in the center of town in the aptly named Széchenyi Square.
The Hungarian quote was translated into three languages - German, Croation, and English. I was commissioned to do the English translation.
The city had a big unveiling ceremony back in September, but I do to other obligations, I did not have the chance to attend. Though I work a mere two hundred meters from the Széchenyi Square, I did not stop to see the engravings until today.
The engraved letters themselves are marvellous, but to be honest, I am not entirely satisfied with the translation that ended up on the plaque. I find it clunky and wordy. My first translation of the quote, which began with the dependent clause and left the main idea in one unit, was far better, in my opinion, but it was rejected because it did not match the syntactical structure of the original. I was under instruction to remain as faithful to the original Hungarian as possible, both in choice of diction and in terms of syntax. This is the bane of translating - giving a client exactly what they want even if what they want is not the best possible version.
Regardless, I am still proud of my work here; I believe it accurately mirrors both the diction and the tone of the original Hungarian. If nothing else, at least this small piece of my work will remain for posterity.
Over the past few days, I have been spending much time thinking about the debate between Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson. The more I think about it, the more I gravitate toward's Peterson's side of the argument. This is hardly surprising since I more or less hold similar views concerning the nature of truth and have held these views for many years.
I touch upon the truth contained in stories in my novel The City of Earthly Desire. Toward the end of the novel, a young woman named Brigitta describes the legend of the white stag to the protagonist, Béla. A student of history, Brigitta is interested in the kinds of evidence and hard scientific fact Sam Harris expounds during his debate with Jordan Peterson, but she sees their limits when seen in a larger context of value and truth. After finishing describing the legend of the white stag, she states:
“Of course, it’s all nonsense, historically speaking, but that doesn’t make it untrue. Though I would never admit this to any historian, I have found legends and myths reveal more about a culture than cold, hard facts do.”
I discovered a direct connection to this line of thinking in Jordan Peterson's work a few days ago. On his website, he states:
I came over the course of a decade and a half to understand the meanings of many things that had been entirely hidden from me – things that I had cast away, stupidly, as of little worth. I came to realize that ideologies had a narrative structure – that they were stories, in a word – and that the emotional stability of individuals depended upon the integrity of their stories. I came to realize that stories had a religious substructure (or, to put it another way, that well-constructed stories had a nature so compelling that they gathered religious behaviors and attitudes around them, as a matter of course). I understood, finally, that the world that stories describe is not the objective world, but the world of value – and that it is in this world that we live, first and foremost.
Though it is dangerous to equate everything all characters say as representations of an author's beliefs in a novel, I honestly admit that I hold what Brigitta says toward the end of the book to be true. Though I only discovered Peterson's work a couple of months ago, it is very reassuring to know my beliefs in the power of stories and legends may not be as insane as they initially sound.
An interesting debate has ignited online since the release of the latest "Waking Up with Sam Harris" podcast a couple of days ago. The podcast, featuring psychologist Jordan Peterson, was a highly anticipated one. Though it fell short of expectations in many ways and became bogged down almost immediately on semantic definition of what truth means, I feel it has done a great service to revive discourse concerning the nature of truth.
Without going into excessive detail, I will summarize the discussion in the following way:
Harris: truth is cold, hard, scientific fact that exists with or without any moral attachments or human interpretation.
Peterson: scientific truth is true, but it is subordinate to and perhaps even false in the light of higher truth (what I have referred to in my novel as truth beyond truth).
In essence, the two men were working from different frameworks and neither seemed willing to step outside of their own. This lead to an impasse right at the start and the discourse quickly became mired in the epistemology and semantics of the very first question - What is true?
Some found the conversation frustrating and pointless, but I think it may help reinvigorate discourse concerning epistemology metaphysics, religion, and morality. Even if the podcast itself did not manage to touch on these topics in any meaningful way, it has inspired many to begin pondering the question of what truth is and the larger points that may have been made if Harris and Peterson managed to move past that initial sticking point concerning the nature of truth.
If you have two hours to spare, give it a listen. The experience will leave you fascinated or exaperated (or maybe a combination of both!)
Perhaps the most famous Hungarian painter in whom I found inspiration for my novel was Mihály Munkácsy (20 February 1844 – 1 May 1900). Recognized in his own lifetime, Munkácsy is best known for his landcapes, genre paintings, and large-scale biblical scenes.
In my novel The City of Earthly Desire I conceptualized tradition and everything it contains within the symbol of the white stag, while communist ideology was, fittingly enough, represented by the red star. I chose the two symbols for the novel because they were historically appropriate for the time and place and partly because I believe they represent a deeper archetypal truth. The white stag appears in Hungarian mythology and the red star was ubiquitous in the country when it was ruled by the communists. I personally remember encountering the red star everywhere when I visited my family as a child.
But as I wrote the novel, I came to the conclusion that the struggle between the white stag and the red star was not limited to the pages of my book or a period in history. It is ongoing, even today and every one of us is forced to make a choice between the two at least once in our lives; however, it is more likely that this choice is actually broken down into an endless series of smaller choices, hundreds, perhaps thousands of them over a course of a lifetime. Regardless of how it happens, one thing is clear - when it comes to selecting between the white stag and red star, the choices you make are of monumental importance.
I drew the inspiration for the historical scenes and portraits Reinhardt Drixler paints in my novel The City of Earthly Desire from the Hungarian painter, Bertalan Székely whose decorative murals can still be seen in the Opera House and the Mátyás Church in Budapest. Székely worked primarily in the Romantic and Academic styles.
The Writing Itself Must Be 99% Of Your Validation and Happiness: The Secret To Remaining a Contented Independent Author
You have written and self-published a novel you are proud of and think is good. Great! No matter which way you slice it, that is a major accomplishment. You should feel validated and happy . . . but you probably don't.
And that's where the problems begin.
You are seeking your validation and happiness in the wrong place. The validation and happiness must be almost entirely focused in the creation of your work and the opportunity of being able to put it out into the world.
What happens after that is anyone's guess.
You might be an amazing platform builder / marketer / social media star who launches an incredible campaign and end up selling a gazillion copies in a few months. Then again, you might end up selling a gazillion copies and then be ridiculed online for years afterward. Or your amazing media campaign might fall flat and go nowhere.
You might not do any marketing and get noticed by a publisher. That same publisher could make you the hottest writer in the world or they could screw you over with a cut-throat book contract.
You might do minimum marketing and build up respectable sales. You might to maximum marketing and have no sales at all.
Your work could end up wallowing in obscurity your whole life and be discovered only after you die. You work could bring you fame and riches in your life and then drift into obscurity after you die. Or your work could be obscure forever.
The possibilities are endless. In the realm of self-publishing, anything could happen. Anything. It's chaotic and unpredictable and it is precisely for this reason that you should not peg notions of validation or happiness on the success or failure of your book in the marketplace.
Validation and happiness must be almost entirely confined to the writing itself. Look there to find your happiness. That you have the chance to put your work out onto the market is a merely an added bonus. After that, be ambitious, strive for whatever notion of success you desire, but for God's sake don't let rankings or sales or media attention be the measures for your happiness.
I guarantee you will be setting yourself up for a disappointment, even if you surpass your wildest expectations in terms of success.
One of the main characters in my novel The City of Earthly Desire is Reinhardt Drixler, a painter-turned-pastry chef and café owner whose early ambitions to become a recognized painter in are crushed by the communist regime in Hungary for political reasons. Reinhardt hails from a small village near the city of Pécs and becomes interested in art when he is still a young boy after he accidentally discovers two suitcases with paints, brushes, and other art supplies in the attic of his mother's home.
As I began to plan the novel, I envisioned Reinhardt as a common man from a humble background who shows great talent. He remains in the realist style and likens painting to a spiritual act. As these blurry first ideas drifted through my mind, I began to cast about for real life nineteenth and twentieth-century artists upon whom I might be able to model my Reinhardt character. In the end, Reinhardt became a composite of many painters, both in terms of style and, in some cases, life events and personality.
The first of these is József Koszta, a realist painter who dabbled with expressionism:
Born on 27 March 1861, Koszta trained at various schools of art, including the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, which he attended in 1891 on a scholarship, and the Master School of Gyula Benczúr. He studied under Károly Lotz and Bertalan Szekely. He became a member of the Szolnok Art Colony and worked largely in solitude on a farm he shared with landscape artist István Nagy for many years.
Koszta's artistic vision began to emerge in the 1920s. Working in the realism school, he focused heavily on images depicting peasant life, utilizing strong tonal colors and emphasizing the interplay of light and shadow. Particularly as his work progressed, he explored the pop of bright color against dark background. His prolific body of work includes portraits, genre paintings, still life and landscapes.
Prior to his death on 29 July 1949, he donated his images to the museum in Szentes, which renamed itself in his honor the Koszta József Múzeum. source Wikipedia
Some paintings by Koszta that came close to matching the kind of painting Reinhardt Drixler creates in my novel.
There is a university professor in Toronto, Canada who has garnered my complete respect. His name is Jordan Peterson and he is currently mired in controversy over his refusal to use non-binary or gender neutral pronouns. A defender of free speech, Peterson has been ringing alarm bells over Canada's C-16 bill for quite some time and this has, rather predictably, made him the target of relentless attack.
I immediately respected Peterson's courage to say no to the latest left-liberal attempt to regulate away all semblance of free speech and open discourse, but my respect for the man only deepened once I began to explore his works and understand the foundations of his views, throughts, and beliefs. He is of a rare breed. A professor who not only believes in axiomatic truth, but is willing to defend it despite the consequences. Unlike most of his colleagues teaching at universities, Peterson is no ideologically-possessed puppet willing to spout the left-liberal/social justice mantra in order further or maintain his career. What makes him special, in my opinion, is his uncanny understanding of what truth is and why it must be defended, regardless of the cost. He is no intellectual lightweight. Because of this, his enemies have not had an easy time taking him down.
Jordan Peterson is, in my mind, a great man. I urge you to visit his website and You Tube channel. His lectures, interviews, articles, and books are all required viewing/reading to help us all better understand just what it is we are facing and what will likely happen if we do not rise up and challenge that which is confronting Western civilization. He is already a prominent figure in the spiritual battle currently being waged; I have a feeling he will become even more important in the coming years.
I wish I had discovered him sooner and I urge you to discover him now. His ideas are truly life-changing or, at the very least, incredibly life-affirming.
Dr. Peterson's links:
You Tube Channel
I have to admit, the only thing that drew me to explore the work of John Berger when I was in my mid-twenties was the simple fact that he and I shared the same last surname. After dabbling into Ways of Seeing and abandoning his Booker Prize winning novel G after thirty-odd pages, I came to the rather swift and grim conclusion the surname Berger was the only thing we shared in common. Regardless, I still owe him a debt of gratitude. Allow me to explain.
Countless articles eulogizing John Berger's life and work have appeared since his death on January 2 - the vast majority of them have lauded him to the stars. Most of these articles have focused on the immense influence he had on society and culture through his analysis and critique of art. I would be hard-pressed to disagree; he certainly was influential. But in the innumerable articles that have appeared after his passing, the true nature of his influence has not been fully addressed. I found one surprising exception, in the online magazine Salon of all places:
First, he was an avatar of a certain historical-materialist take on culture, in which the halo around literature and music and the arts gets blown off and replaced with discussions of race, class, gender, sexuality, and “power.” The demystification of culture that Berger, Barthes, Julia Kristeva, Warhol, John Cage, Susan Sontag, and other left-intellectuals practiced in the ‘60s and ‘70s has not been all good. We gained a deeper understudying of how the arts originate and how they work, but culture itself paid a price — as did anyone who looked to culture for soul-nourishing rather than ideological reasons. (The 17th century English Puritans, who smashed stained-glass windows and destroyed the pews where church choirs sang, probably did more damage to the arts. But not by much)
Full article here: http://www.salon.com/2017/01/04/remembering-john-berger-the-english-art-critic-helped-bring-ideas-to-tv/
The paragraph above perfectly exemplifies why I do not have an affinity for John Berger's art criticism or political views (much less the writings and views of other left-intellectuals mentioned above who all made lucrative careers out of laying siege to Western tradition in the 60's and 70's and whose works still form the backbone of nearly all study of the humanities today.)
An avowed Marxist-humanist, Berger made sure everyone knew he had a red star in his head. I draw this term from my novel, The City of Earthly Desire where I used it to describe true Marxists like Berger. As a Marxist, Berger had no belief in the sacred. He saw nothing transcendental in art. Since he did not believe in the existence of the soul, he saw nothing in art that could "nourish" it. Though he is most famous for his Ways of Seeing, in reality he knew only one way of seeing - through the materialist vitriol of resentment. Through the lenses of the red star. As the Salon article rightly states, he reduced great art to the historical-materialist level, to his own Marxist-humanist ideology of race, class, gender, sexuality, and “power." Art. History. Tradition. Religion. That was all about the oppressor and the oppressed to him. Nothing more. Nothing less.
To get back to the point about influence, there can be no denying the influence Berger and his contemporaries had was and continues to be massive. We live in a world where ideology permeates everything. John Berger and his contemporaries were instrumental in sowing the seeds of this ideology. Today, all public discourse obsessively centers around race, class, gender, sexuality and power. Think about it for a minute. When was the last time you read a newspaper article or attended a university lecture or sat in an human resources training session that did not focus upon one or all of these things? It is inescapable, even in art. When one visits a great art museum today, one is more prone to overhear discussions of how such and such painting reveals the deep oppressiveness of medieval patriarchy and how that connects to modern oppresive patriarchy rather than how such and such a painting reveals the profound connection between the Divine and man. This is the legacy John Berger and others like him have left behind.
John Berger influenced me greatly as well, but not in the manner he sought. Rather than turn me on to his ways of seeing, Berger's transparent Marxist criticism, which strangely established a direct and continuous historical link between the world depicted in traditional European paintings and the world of depicted in the print advertisements of a crass and commercialized 1970's Britain (all without really delving into the real causes of the rise of crass commercialism) inspired me to take a closer look at the ideology he exalted and the tradition he scorned. I came to conclusion that the ideology that Berger and others like him espouse is a deeply flawed and pernicious one that needed to be challenged.
Berger's views on the tradition of European painting influenced me significantly in the sense that they helped me better understand the fundamental and axiomatic truths he so steadfastly held in contempt. With me, Berger failed in his mission to make me see art from a Marxist-humanist perspective. Rather than weaken my appreciation of traditional art, Berger's writings strengthened my distrust of Marxism and allowed me to see the greatness and transcendence that is inherent in the iconic works of Western culture. His writings formed part of the inspiration for my novel The City of Earthly Desire, which, in essence, is an epic refutation of everything for which Berger and his red star comrades stand.
At the end of his famous four part BBC television series, he states that everything he has said or shown "must be judged against your own experience." I did that. And my experience showed me that his criticism of tradtion was shallow, faulty, and utterly moored in resentment. Nevertheless, I learned much from John Berger. Foremost, he taught me that the ideological discussions about race, class, gender, sexuality, and power in art need to be demystified and that the halos that he and others blew off by stripping art of its religiosity in the 60's and 70's need to be reinstated to their proper places. Above all else, art and culture should return to its role of nourishing the soul. I agree with the sentiment the Salon article mentions - culture has paid a price. There is no need to continue paying.
John Berger helped me to understand this - and for that I am grateful.
Writer. Author of
The City of Earthly Desire.
Blog posts tend to be spontaneous, unpolished, first draft entries ranging from the insightful and periodically profound to the poorly-argued and occasionally disparaging.
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