Link for the book here.
My University of Sopron colleague, Ákos Vörös, edited this book on the National Memorial Cemetery and was kind enough to ask me translate the introduction for him. Natually I was honored. Thanks, Ákos.
Link for the book here.
I watched this a week ago and found it to be a decent introduction to Nietzsche's life and work. The program does not plumb any great depths, but for a BBC television program, it is not bad at all. Those who have never read Nietzsche, but would like to, might find it particularly helpful.
Most people generally regard gratitude as a positive virtue and in most cases it is; nevertheless, not all examples of gratitude are virtuous. As with other virtues, gratitude has a dark side that is rarely considered. I have written about negative forms of gratitude in my novel and short stories and have included a short list of some kinds of negative gratitude I have explored in my writing.
Gratitude for evil deeds or actions of others.
This one is quite obvious. Showing or feeling appreciation for the evil deeds and actions of others is not virtuous in any way, shape, or form. If anything, it is little more than indulging in a form vicarious revenge or sadism. Regardless of whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, this form of gratitude makes you an accomplice in the evil deed.
Gratitude for the misfortune of others.
The German word Schadenfreude (harm/joy) perfectly captures the essence of this kind of negative gratitude. Experiencing satisfaction at the misfortune, ill-luck, failure, or humiliation of another is nothing more than malice. Though this kind of gratitude may bring pleasure, it is hardly a respectable form of gratitude.
Gratitude for the possibility of shirking ones duties and responsibilities.
Everyone appreciates a snow day now and then, but feeling grateful for being given the opportunity to shirk your duties and responsibilities when the possibility of fulfilling those duties and responsibilities is viable is false gratitude. It reeks of irresponsibility and immaturity.
Gratitude for getting away with lies and evil acts.
A common example of this is the unfaithful husband who is grateful that his wife knows nothing of his illicit affairs. Another is the relief one feels when one is able to float a lie past someone else. Regardless, the gratitude one feels is often short-lived, for lies often have a way of resurfacing later until they are ultimately revealed.
Gratitude as an excuse for accepting something suboptimal when a more optimal option can be attained.
Being grateful for little things is virtuous, but there is nothing virtuous about sacrificing one’s potential for the contentment of little things. Of course, there is nothing wrong with contentment, but gratitude that is content with small things breeds a false sense of satisfaction that could prove limiting and harmful in the long-term. This kind of gratitude inspires passivity and acceptance. It is the gratitude of the coward and the slave – there is no dignity or nobility in it.
There are a few others, but these shall suffice for now. On the whole, gratitude is a virtue, but not all forms of gratitude are virtuous. Negative gratitude is an interesting subject to include in novels and stories, but one should be aware of them in life as well.
Over the past five or six years, I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about gratitude, its various aspects, and the role it might play in the pursuit of a fulfilling life. I plan to record some of these observations in a series of blogposts over the next week or so. Some observations or insights may even be original.
A Few Thoughts on Gratitude: Candlelight in the darkness
When I wake up in the morning, I remind myself to be grateful. I draw a deep breath and appreciate the opportunity of having been given another day. I savour this feeling for a moment or two before contemplating the sombre idea that the day ahead could also mark the day my existence in this world ends because, whether I accept it or not, I know that day is out there waiting for me. Rather than instilling terror or depression, this realization deepens my sense of gratitude. If the day ahead does hold my demise, I am comforted by the notion that my life on this Earth has been and continues to be filled with immense blessings. Verily, my life, like all lives, has had its share of misfortunes, failures, blunders, tragedies, pain, and suffering, but it has also had its share of good fortune, success, victories, joy, and vitality. As strange as it sounds, I am thankful for both the positive and the negative, for they have both taught me much.
Though my sense of gratitude is usually bright, there have been calamities or episodes of ill health that have reduced it to a mere, dull flickering. When faced with challenging times when it seemed I had nothing for which to be grateful, I have always made a point of maintaining and nurturing my gratitude as if it were the soft glow of a candle flame. Like a small flame from a candle, I have come to recognize that even a minute amount of gratitude has the uncanny power push back against darkness and puncture the oppression of night’s formless boundaries.
Also like a candle flame, I am aware that gratitude can become vulnerable and exposed when confronted by dark challenges. A careless breath, the slightest air movement, a small drop of water can all quickly snuff out a candle flame. Similarly, a careless thought, the slightest loss of perspective, a small drop of despair can extinguish the flame of gratitude. If I allow the flame to go out, I know the amorphous, chaotic darkness will be quick to invade and reclaim the space the flame once occupied. If I do not relight the candle, the darkness will remain; I know that if I remain in the darkness for too long, it will consume me.
Therefore, I have come to the realization that it is crucial to keep the candle of gratitude lit during challenging times. Whenever I am confronted by hardship, I carefully cup and guard the flame with my hand as I make my way in the darkness. Though the light gratitude casts may appear weak and insignificant, the illumination is often enough to help me safely navigate through the darkness until sunrise. In this sense, gratitude is akin to hope. During times when it seemed sunrise would never come, that little fleck of light provided enough illumination to ward off the tempting nihilism and meaninglessness that lay hidden in the darkness. Thus, even in moments when I was sure despair would overcome me, I used the dim glow of the candlelight to discover or create something for which I could be grateful.
When I go to bed at night, the last feeling I experience before I close my eyes is gratitude – even if the day had not been a good one, I cannot help but appreciate the opportunity of having experienced it. I keep the candle burning all night and when morning comes, I quickly light a fresh one when I remind myself to be grateful after I open my eyes.
There is a person I followed for a little while on social media who, until recently, provided some fairly interesting and unique insights into Shakespeare and Elizabethan poetry. He recorded his observations, posted them on YouTube, and attained a small, but loyal following of people who were authentically interested in the material he presented. This artist/scholar later received some publicity when he appeared in a series of videos featuring a famous academic. In these videos, they discussed the deeper implications of poetry from the Elizabethan era and applied some of the themes and concepts to the contemporary landscape of ideas. Naturally, interest in the artist/scholar grew after these videos, which, in my opinion, is a good thing.
He has real talent, this artist/scholar guy. He possesses some deep poetical insights and writes some great poems himself. Then one day he posted a video in which he analyzed a vapid science fiction movie. To his astonishment, the application of the ideas he had expressed in his earlier Shakespearean and poetry videos proved to be quite popular when grafted onto the sci-fi blockbuster. His sci-fi interpretation earned ten times as many views as his earlier videos. His following on social media increased significantly and his reach expanded markedly. Once again, this is a good thing.
However, our artist/scholar sensed an opportunity after his sci-fi video and quickly made a few more videos focusing on pop culture movies. Unsurprisingly, the Shakespearean side of his analyses began to fade and grow fainter with each pop culture video he made. I imagine the Shakespeare stuff will likely be eclipsed by whatever popular movie he happens to examine in the near future. I may be proven wrong, but I predict he will do fewer Shakespearean and Elizabethan videos in the future until, one day, he will abandon them altogether for the simple fact that they do not garner nearly as much interest as his Hollywood film interpretations do. (Nor do they, hypothetically, garner as many Patreon dollars, etc.) A few of his original followers have voiced mild objections about the Hollywood stuff. The artist/scholar responded by stating that he is planning to alternate between his original material and his newfound pop culture interpretations. To me it sounds a little like he plans to serve two masters.
So what? An individual can choose to do what they want, and besides aren’t modern Hollywood movies just an extension of Shakespearean drama which itself is merely an extension of older narratives? There is no harm in trying to hook an audience that may not have had exposure to these earlier narratives, right?
Yes, yes, of course.
So, what is the big deal then?
Well, nothing . . . and everything.
You see, I fear the poetry guy is falling into a trap. He is turning away from what truly made him great and has started pandering. He is indulging the baser tastes of the masses. The question is - to what end? Is he truly trying to enlighten the broader public whose conception of culture rarely rises above Hollywood schlock or is he merely working on building a larger audience base from which he hopes to extract a greater amount of fame and money? Is he remaining true to his roots, or is he selling out? I cannot answer that question, but I have my suspicions. I imagine the artist/scholar justifies his current course of action by telling himself that his real goal is to use his Hollywood movie interpretations to expose his new viewers and followers to Shakespeare and Elizabethan poetry, which, he will argue, they never would have even considered had they not stumbled across his pop culture videos. Maybe a few of these new viewers will even become Shakespearean scholars themselves, thus fortifying the field and spreading the glory of the immortal bard to an ever wider group of people.
Yeah, okay. Except that probably will not happen. The twin lure of money and fame can lead many astray, and the stench of potential money and fame is overpoweringly potent the closer one gets to the formless, faceless masses. The more attention he gains from the mainstream mob, the more inspired he might become to please their whims and fancies until, one fine day, he will find himself doing nothing but yielding to the fickle demands of the vulgar crowd. Rather than wooing people to discover the refined elegance of Elizabethan poetry, he may become the one who is wooed away from the refined elegance of Elizabethan poetry.
Our poetry scholar may thus end up very much like Pandarus, the mythical/fictional figure from which the modern word pander draws its source. Pandarus first appears in Homer's The Illiad as a bold and fierce Trojan aristocratic warrior. He is a noble character - strong and worthy of respect. Yet centuries later in the play Troillus and Cressida, Shakespeare depicts Pandarus as a degenerated, aged lecher and coward who caters to male desires by serving to arrange access to female sexual favors. In short, Pandarus is reduced to the stature of a pimp.
Though the underlying sexual conotation of the word pander has faded, this latter depiction of Pandarus is where our contemporary definition of the verb comes from. People who choose to pander are essentially pimps - they sell out the thing they should respect and cherish to quench the vulgar and base desire of others all in the hope that the transaction will yield immense personal benefits.
Once again, I can sympathize with those who might object to my criticisms concerning pandering. After all, all artists and thinkers engaged in building larger audiences for themselves are pandering in some manner or other, are they not?
Well, it depends. Ask yourself this: Does the artist's promotion involve some kind of betrayal, however small?
I approach the topic with a rather straightforward line of thinking . . .
Artists and thinkers of integrity do not pander; those who pander cease to be artists and thinkers of integrity.
Therefore, one of the unwritten ten commandments artists and thinkers must follow if they desire to be taken seriously in all things aesthetic or intellectual is:
Thou shalt not pander.
It really is that simple.
I wish the poetry guy a lot of luck. I sincerely do. Perhaps my criticism of him is off the mark. Perhaps I am being too cynical. Regardless, I hope the audience he is currently chasing supplies him with all he desires. He should be careful though - there is a price to be paid for seeking the favor of men; it often requires placing that above or at the expense of something much higher and far more significant.
Note: My Elizabethan scholar above is a fictional representation of a real artist and thinker who focuses on other matters and who, in my humble opinion, has fallen to the sin of pandering. He recently asked his followers if they would like to hear him interpret the new superhero film, Black Panther. (Hey, why not? It is really popular and controversial, you know.) Perhaps he should call the video, "My Take on Black Pander" or something like that. Just an idea.
Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg, better known to his millions of YouTube subscribers as PewDiePie recently posted a book review video.
Yes, a book review video.
No video games.
Just book reviews.
Fahrenheit 451. The Picture of Dorian Gray. Brave New World. 12 Rules For Life. And a couple of sci-fi books.
That is all he talked about.
And it was fantastic!
I hope it connects with his audience as much as it did with me. Check it out. Link below.
I do not normally write puerile, satirical short stories like the one I have written below, but I felt the need to respond creatively to the laughable articles some writers of minor repute have lobbed at Jordan Peterson over the past few weeks. I am not averse to articles criticizing Peterson's ideas and views, but the most recently published articles I have stumbled across have been anything but fair, objective, or accurate in their depiction of Peterson and his ideas. Many of them are nothing more than hit pieces - false and biased articles written purely for the purpose of swaying public opinion. I noticed something peculiar about the articles as I read them. In addition to being obvious hit pieces, they are also rather self-reflexive in nature. In other words, they reveal much more about their authors than they do about Peterson. In this sense they are akin to Peterson's now famous interview with Channel 4 reporter Cathy Newman.
My first instinct after reading three of four of these hit pieces was to compose a formal rebuttal of them, but that would grant these articles far more attention than they deserve. Instead, I chose to write a silly and satirical short story where I take a speculative peak at the possible motivations driving the composition of a Jordan Peterson hit piece. Though it is a bit provacative, I wrote the story in the spirit of good fun, packing it with every cliché and oversimplification I could muster. It is painfully over-the-top in its sweeping fictional depiction of a hit piece writer, yet I have the sneaking suspicion that maybe, just maybe, my story cuts much closer to reality than the Jordan Peterson hit pieces do. In any case, I humbly invite you to give my story a read.
The Glorious Motivation Behind the Writing of a Jordan Peterson Hit Piece (Through Which The Author Hopes to Become Famous AND Signal His Virtue to the World - A Short Story -
Like many writers whose articles have appeared here and there and some other place, I currently live on the corner of Unknown and Oblivion. Lots of writers like me live here. Most days, you can find us at the local Starbucks sitting before Apple laptops trying hard to make it look like we are actually working diligently to destroy the patriarchy and usher in the utopia. We call each other comrades and wear fifty-dollar t-shirts emblazoned with Che Guevara and red stars. Once in a while, one of us manages to emerge from our collective nihilistic coma just long enough to clickety-clack together an article criticizing the horrors of capitalism, the swellness of post-modernism, and the glory of identity politics. Some of us even work as professors at universities where, thankfully, the sheer sophistry of our disciplines manages to shroud our collective academic incompetence. I am one of these professors. I wrote my PhD dissertation about the malevolent and misogynistic patriarchal oppression symbolized by women’s thong undergarments. No, really. It's a very problematic issue.
It’s an okay life, I guess, this writer/professor life. It's about all a useless blob of sub-atomic particles like me could hope for. Though my life is okay, I think life overall is nothing but meaningless suffering. Most of the time all I want to do is complain bitterly. Nevertheless, there are times when I experience a strange yearning – times when I wish I could reach my full potential. Even though I hate the profit motive and loathe hierarchies of every type, there is one thing that makes me feel all hot and tingly inside. That thing is power.
Though life is meaningless, I want to spend mine creating a world where suffering no longer exists and everyone is equal. Everyone but me, of course. I make a point of not revealing this to any of my social justice warrior comrades, but I feel no shame in telling you that the initials SJW represent something else when applied to me. You see, I am not just a social justice warrior – I am really the Supreme Justice Warrior. And yes, one day the world will come to its senses and recognize me as the anointed one. Though I despise heroic archetypes and other Jungian gobbledygook, I am convinced, down to the very core of my soul, which, by the way, I vehemently deny the existence of, that I am destined to be the Supreme Leader of the Best Dang Utopia the World Has Ever Known. Unlike Stalin, Mao and all the other failed comrades before me, I know I will make it work because I am good enough, I am smart enough, and by gosh, people will fear me. Yes, one day I will become a shining red star perched atop the Pareto Principle pyramid. All I need is a break - an opportunity to escape from the oppressive oblivion of this six-figure professor's salary. If I could just make myself known, I could rally my forlorn comrades and begin the work of my true, glorious calling.
But how? How would I catapult myself out of insignificance and take my rightful place as the leader of the next revolution? The question plagued me for weeks. After much agonizing, I woke up this morning and vowed that the day to find a solution had come. I vowed not to leave the claustrophobic confines of the cluttered catastrophe I call my bedroom until I had found the key to my personal emancipation. Squinting against the sunlight streaming in through my window, I got up and fed my cats, Derrida and Foucault, their daily ration of organic tofu cat food (which is imported from Japan and available exclusively from Whole Foods). Once I had fed the cats, I sat down on the edge of my bed and channeled all the mental energy I could summon into the activity I detest above all others - thinking.
After three excruciating minutes, I still had not discovered how I would make myself known to the world. Feeling exhausted and dizzy from the iron-fisted abuse thought had inflicted upon my mind in its savage attempt to cerebrally colonize my mental safe space, I picked up my iPad with the hope of distracting the victimized confines of my skull from the trauma it had suffered. I went on YouTube with the intent of finding some soothing Antifa protest videos, but to my utter horror, I was instead subjected to the most terrififying, violent, and brutal macro-aggression I had ever experienced.
Rather than seeing soothing hordes of pajama-clad ideology ninjas triumphantly subduing a rabid pack of Trump fascists in MAGA hats, I came face-to-face with the devil himself - Jordan Peterson.
(I hate to ruin the mounting tension of the story here, but I have to let it be known that I don't really believe in the devil and all that religious stuff. I just like using religious language for dramatic effect because people seem to get religious allusions and ideas even though it’s all nonsense. Anyway, back to the story!)
The evil, transphobic, misogynistic, alt-right cult leader the world knows as Jordan Peterson glared menacingly at me from within the confines of the iPad screen. I swear I could smell the scent of his Patreon money wafting up through the glass. He smiled a rare, brief, close-lipped smile, and then slowly raised his right hand to reveal a Pepe hate symbol-inspired Kermit the Frog puppet. Before I had a chance to recover from this brutal amphibian micro-aggression, I heard a voice speaking in a commanding tone reminiscent of a story I once heard about some old, white guy who came down from some mountain holding two tablets upon which some patriarchal, make-belief god had inscribed ten tyrannical rules.
"Sort yourself out!" a voice boomed.
I could not tell if the terrifying voice had come from Peterson or Kermit.
"Clean your room!"
My hands began to tremble. Faint hints of the seven vanilla soy-chai lattes I had consumed the night before gurgled threateningly up the length of my throat. I reeled back from the screen and overcome by a sudden desire to flee. I looked reluctantly upon the mess that was my room and noticed my cats, Derrida and Foucault, squatting over a framed picture of my father that had somehow found its way onto the floor which, incidentally, is little more than a variegated landscape of cheese-doodles, porn magazines, and pizza boxes.
“Rescue your father from the underworld!” the fascist crustacean king barked from the iPad.
A blood-curdling scream began to build up inside me as my terror mounted, but when I opened my mouth to release it, all that came out was a chai-dampened whimper. Unable to bear it any longer, I hurled my iPad out the open window and collapsed onto the sordid sanctuary of my moldy bed. I had barely blinked when, out of nowhere, an imaginary angel faintly resembling Judith Butler spoke to me in a vision.
“Write a hit piece against Peterson!” the angelic illusion sent from an imaginary infantile need for a father figure declared. “Find your fame by attacking your enemy. Use the quills of bias, dishonesty, disrespect, misrepresentation, and oversimplification to write a venomous and vitriolic piece SJWs worldwide will sing the praises of for a thousand years.”
Before I could respond, the winged Judy Butler angel melted away in the air like a tender little snowflake hitting a white-hot, cast iron frying pan. (I don’t need to tell you that the frying pan is an obvious representation of the patriarchy.)
“That’s it!” I chortled as I swallowed hard against the soy-chai lattes rebelling to emancipate themselves from the oppression of my stomach. “Though I know barely anything about him and have not taken the time to examine his work objectively, I shall find my glory by writing a hit piece targeting Jordan Peterson!”
Immediately after I made this declaration, I stumbled into the bathroom, knelt down before the toilet, and let the soy-chai lattes liberate themselves from the tyranny of my stomach. A few minutes later, I walked back into my bedroom and watched Derrida and Foucault ceremoniously empty their bowels on the framed, glass-encased image of my father. It was undoubtedly a sign from above (even though I steadfastly refuse to believe in that sort of archaic rubbish)!
A moment later I was out on the street clad in a Trotsky hoody, skipping gleefully towards Starbucks, my Apple laptop snugly tucked under my right arm. As I neared the coffeeshop, I was accosted by the smelly, homeless war veteran who lives in the dumpster behind the Bed, Bath, and Beyond store. As had happened countless times before, the bum humbly asked if I could spare a dime. I curtly informed the imperialistic brute, as I had countless times before, that he should beat it and get a job. I had no time or money for losers like him. Couldn't he see I was dedicating my life creating that sacred utopia where he would finally be treated fairly and equally?
Inside the Starbucks, I greeted the comrades with a surly nod, and then sat down at my usual table. Once I had scanned the room to ensure it had not been infiltrated by any Peterson cult members, I flipped open my laptop and made a concerted effort to look like I was ruminating about something really deep. I wanted to get to work on the article, but I was not really in the mood. Even though I knew the hit piece article was the only way I could ever hope to rise above the mediocre herd that is humanity, I could not find the discipline to write it.
I stared at the laptop screen and concluded that writing was oppressive.
Ten minutes of nothing followed. I yawned, got up, and ordered a soy-chai latte. As I returned to my table, I had an unexpected revelation. I could incorporate my illustrious PhD dissertation into the Peterson hit piece. If I did that, it would cut the writing down by at least fifty or sixty percent. I worked out the first paragraph in my head after I sat down again. The first paragraph would go something like this:
Jordan Peterson’s philosophy is akin to a thong on a woman when viewed from the back. At first glance Peterson's thought, like the thong undergarment, seems to contain an emancipatory dynamic, but like the G-string snaking up into the valley of the female gluteal landscape, the sheer bulk and volume of the curvaceous space he exposes is deceiving. On closer inspection, the hidden strand of divisiveness that runs through his thinking is instantly revealed. Worst of all, like the thong, Peterson’s philosophy is patriarchal and tyrannical. In addition to completely obliterating and oppressing the female space in the front, it also serves to hide and oppress the less visible anus, which here symbolically represents that marginalized group of intellectuals working incessantly to liberate humanity from the seemingly soft and silky, but ultimately repressive and constrictive confines of patriarchal oppression.
I took a sip of my latte and grinned. The article would cause a sensation. A scandal. A revolution! It would lead to calls for Peterson arrest. After I became Supreme Leader I would be sure to have him hauled off the gulag, and I would make a point of having his entire collection of Soviet socialist realism paintings confiscated and transferred to the walls of my crummy apartment. Better yet, I would just move into his house after he was gone and rule my empire from there. It would all be so glorious!
Inspired by these visions, I hunched over my laptop to type the first line. Nothing happened. I did not feel like writing the article at all. But the article simply had to be written for the revolution to occur! Rather than panic, I quickly went online and began to search for cheap ghostwriters.
"I'll hire some wretch in India or the Philippines to write it for me," I thought cheerfully. "It'll probably cost me less than the price of a vanilla soy-chai latte!"
Soy boy. Beta. Cuck.
These terms appear on the internet rather frequently these days. As far as I know, they originate from males on the right end of the political spectrum who coined these pejoratives as sneering insults against males they disapprovingly consider traitors and opponents. The barb the insults contain - the scoff against a perceived lack of masculinity - is obvious, but what makes them interesting is that they come at a time when the very notion of what masculinity should comprise or represent is being challenged. For some, masculinity amounts to little more than a violent, aggressive, predatory, and oppressive social construct that needs to be challenged and, ultimately, destroyed. For others, masculinity is part of an inarguable biological reality that, in itself, is essentially admirable and good, but as is the case with practically anything else, can easily be corrupted to become something deplorable and malevolent. However masculinity is defined, there is no denying its current place of prominence in contemporary social discourse. What men are and how they should behave is very much in vogue these days.
I thought quite a bit about masculinity while I was writing my novel The City of Earthly Desire. I found myself wondering what an optimal form of masculinity might be and how individual males could achieve it. It is a difficult question. In one of his many YouTube videos touching upon the subject, psychologist Jordan Peterson defines optimal masculinity as a competent man who is capable of mayhem, but is able to render this mayhem under control. According to Peterson, a good man is someone who is capable of violence, aggression, and oppression, but chooses not to employ these attributes and instead harnesses these energies to bring about good in the world. Men who surrender to violence and aggression without justification are corrupt, he argues. To be honest, I like this interpretation and it mirrors my own beliefs about what optimal masculinity looks like. Good men are fierce, principled, and firm, but they do not allow themselves to become tyrants. Good men also do not allow themselves to be pushovers just for the sake of being good. Good men are civilized monsters rather than cowards and slaves.
For better or for worse, these traditional notions have not made much of a dent in the ruling ideology of the day which decrees masculinity itself is oppressive. The time has come for men to change, this line of thinking cries. Men need to become more sensitive, less aggressive, and more submissive to those around them. In other words, men should change the exact notions of what it has traditionally meant to be a man. Some go as far to demand that men have weakness and emasculation imposed on them through societal forces if they are unable to do so at the level of the individual. The violence, aggression, and oppression must be reverse socially constructed and the concept of masculinity must be obliterated altogether. Peterson advises against this, arguing that the pursuit would create a world filled with weak, emasculated men who would be of benefit to no one. I am no admirer of weak and emasculated men either and I agree with Peterson's argument. Then again, a word filled with corrupted men who are unable or unwilling to wield masculinity properly would be of little benefit to anyone as well.
As I mentioned before, I explored the concepts of emasculated and corrupted masculinity when I wrote my novel The City of Earthly Desire. I constructed the protagonist to be a typical “nice guy.” Unlike our contemporary soy boy, Béla Drixler is not a low-testosterone, feminized male, but rather a typical beta “good guy.” Though Béla has many admirable qualities – honesty, conscientiousness, agreeableness – his overall goodness also makes him indecisive, unassertive, meek, childish, irresponsible, and gullible. Simply put, his ingrained and flawed conception of goodness makes him a patsy. The flaws inherent in his goodness become apparent when he meets his love-interest, Suzy Kiss, who recognizes his weakness immediately and uses it to manipulate and dominate him for the bulk of the story. Béla’s inherent goodness, coupled with his incessant desire to please, not only make him blind to manipulation and reality, but also eventually lead to his downfall.
I must admit, Béla Drixler was not an easy character to create. He is also not an easy character to read. Nevertheless, I felt the need to analyze weak men like Béla because, as far as I can tell, the West is completely flooded with pushovers like him. When I created Béla, part of my motivation was to show that – despite the contemporary scorn for so-called toxic masculinity and unchecked male aggression – weak, good men such as he are not only undesirable, but ultimately harmful to themselves and society at large.
I present many examples of corrupted masculinity in the novel, but the crime boss Viktor Vilinovich, based loosely on the real-life figure of Semion Mogilevich, is probably the best example. I will not go into the details about his character here; suffice it to say he is a true representative of what many refer to as toxic masculinity. (Despite the prevailing fashion of the day, I despise this term, but I will use it here for the sake of this post.)
I am not sure how effective my analyses or portrayals of weak masculinity and corrupted masculinity are in The City of Earthly Desire, but I am certain of one thing. A good man can be neither weak nor corrupt; a weak man or a corrupt man cannot be good. Try as they might, weak men and corrupted men can also never be virtuous. In the end, an optimal form of masculinity might be one that is strong without being corrupt, sensitive without being weak, and assertive without being tyrannical. Perhaps this is along the lines of optimal masculinity for which individual males should aim.
Before I launch this rather hushed rant, I would like to preface this post by stating that, as individuals, writers are free to make whatever choices and decisions they deem fit when it comes to the writing, promoting, or marketing of their own work. This is merely my opinion of a topic. What individual writers do on their own time is their own business.
Having said that, I am amused by the sheer number of writers, of both the self-published and conventionally published variety, who give five-star rating to their own works on sites such as Goodreads. To be honest, I cannot make sense of the gesture in any meaningful way. What is a writer attempting to communicate when they bedeck their own creation with a five-star rating?
In most cases, I believe it is nothing more than a joyful affirmation of accomplishment or an innocent declaration of pride at having written and published - Hey, I have written this book and I think it is just super! Nothing inherently wrong with that, I suppose. Writing and publishing a book of any length is an accomplishment of which one should be proud. There is also nothing inherently wrong with promoting one's book as something of merit that readers will find worthwhile and good. I imagine all writers, myself included, engage in this in some form or other. Nevertheless, in my more cynical moments I surmise that five-star self-ratings are attempts to skew the overall rating of a book to the positive side because a single five-star rating can do wonders to an overall average if a book has only ten or fifteen ratings in total. Perhaps self-rating writers are simple egoists. Who knows?
Despite these attempts to show some understanding, I must admit self-ratings make me physically cringe whenever I stumble across them and I wonder if others feel the same way. I see a writer has given their own work the highest rating possible, I cannot help but think it is little more than shallow self-congratulation. When writers give themselves five stars, it tells me they believe their work to be perfect – that they have perfectly captured the vision in their heads. It reeks of hubris. The act is smug, arrogant, gauche, and pathetic all at once. I would liken it to listing yourself as a reference on a resume - pointless and tactless to say the least.
In my own case, I firmly believe the novel I have written has some merit and is of high quality, but I am unwilling to declare this in the form of five little yellow stars. Firstly, no matter how good I think my novel may be, I know it is merely a transcription of an idea rather than the pure idea itself. The original vision for the book was five stars; hence, my transcription could never be that high. Readers may see it as five stars because, unlike me, they did not experience the vision and idea in its pure form. For them the book is the idea and the vision, so the chance exists that they might perceive it as something worthy of the highest praise. Secondly, though I am proud of my achievement, I acknowledge that it could have been better, that I may not have reached the objective I had set for myself. Finally, I do not believe it is my place to rate the thing I have created. That is an activity for readers and critics. To put it another way, a chef's high opinion of his or her own dish is of little use if the food set before me is not to my taste. In fact, the chef’s high opinion puts me in awkward spot if I happen to find the food disagreeable. I will question either the chef’s taste or my own. In the end, my taste will win regardless.
Concerning my novel, most of the ratings I have received thus far have been positive, but overall they have ranged from five star all the way to one. I think that is fine. If I had to rate my own work, I would do it in the following manner: my book is all the stars in the known universe and the starless void before the Big Bang simultaneously.
In other words, my work is great, and it is nothing.
There is simply no other way I can look it and this underscores the notion that perhaps writers should not be looking at their own work from a self-rating perspective at all.
Author of The City of Earthly Desire. I am following the white stag to wherever it will lead me . . .