The spiritual death of the author

Rabindranath_Tagore_1886

Literature and literature

There is literature and there is literature. There are those novels which you consume like fast food and digest even faster. Then there are those which linger with you for a long time, maybe until the end of your days. These books, which transcend the mere here and now, consist of what I call metaphysical writing and are, therefore, in their essence something spiritual.

The first category of literature is produced, inter alia, by graduates from Anglo-Saxon writing schools. Plenty of them have capturing plots, are technically and linguistically impeccable. Yet, they are missing something which books like Goethe`s Faust or Tagore`s Gitanjali have, something inexplicable, which can only be experienced.

The purpose of fictional writing cannot be reduced to the conveyance of information. For this is what non-fiction can do even more precisely. Neither can it be the sole arousal of emotions, since this would mean that emotional porn would automatically equal good literature.

Metaphisical writing

There are various functions of fiction and poetry, which I will not expatiate here. The second category of literature – in this manner any accomplished art – achieves something, nevertheless, more sublime: it reaches truth. Not any truth, but the eternal, non-dualistic truth – so I claim.

Picasso famously said art to be a lie that tells us the truth. Hence, metaphysical writing is a successful betrayal of the empirical, dualistic world of object and subject by transcending it and, thus, expressing something divine (or truth as Picasso would have named it).

It is paradoxical, because words, then, communicate something that cannot be expressed in words. This is why it is so difficult to explain someone who has not read the same text, what is so special about it. It lies there, hidden between the lines, only discernable for those who are willing to truly see.

In that way literature or any true art is no different from religion or philosophy. In the Bhagavad Gīta, exempli gratia, the path of Jñana Yoga leads us from conventional knowledge through a metaphysical step to real truth. Wisdom, if you wish to call it that way.

Paul Deussen, the German philosopher and Indologist, summarized precisely: “The Artist is a metaphysician; he does not reconstruct reality, but he transcends it; he tries to grasp the eternal, which reveals itself in this world in all forms and events, and by portraying these forms, colours, words, tones, he presents – beyond the inner being-per-se – a revelation, which stands dignified next to religion and philosophy and complements them effectively.”

Now, if this kind of writing is something spiritual, so has to be the act of writing and the writer him- or herself. For, following Indian philosophy, the ego is impeding the realization of Brahman (or eternal truth respectively). The subjective ego is innately inept to grasp the whole.

The death of the author

At this point I would like to borrow an expression from the French Philosopher and literary critic Roland Barthes: the death of the author. Of course, he used the term in a different manner. However, he also argued that “the text is a weave of citations from innumerable locations of culture”, and hence the author a weaver, a mediator.

A thought that was somehow preceded by the surrealist under the poet André Breton and later artists such as Max Ernst and André Masson. By using the technique of the écriture automatique and respectively the method of frottage or dessin automatique they wanted to create something which is not deluded by the consciousness, meaning unconditioned by society and/or other external influences. The truth buried in the subconscious is what they intended to excavate.

Leaving aside whether their method was effective, they, nonetheless, never aimed for the death of the author but the resurrection of the real author. The actual death of the author, so I argue, is the death of the ego, so that he or she becomes the mediator of truth and his writing consequently a vehicle of transcendence. Therefore, the author will be less a mediator in the sense of Barthes and more in the terms of a prophet, a messiah of art.

It is indeed contradictive. How should those writers, who are often prone to be narcissistic, be able to accomplish that? I am not sure whether they can at all, but I am convinced that there do exist writers who came close to it.

If you want to become a real writer and write a “true sentence”, as Hemingway demanded, you have to commit suicide. And not the way Hemingway did. No, rather by annihilating the ego. A timeless author is a spiritualist. And if you read those Gurus of the paper, you become a devotee.

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