I find this relevant to my interests and future projects…
Milan Kundera on the scene at the Battle of Borodino in Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. The point is simple, but worth remembering: what we think catalyzes our thoughts and actions rarely does; it is some slyly incidental detail -unnoticed or immediately forgotten, in all likelihood- which provokes us, prompts this or that momentous decision. We falsify our lives; we become bad fiction, bad television. We believe that what drives us is what drives the mannequins we watch: pop-psychology stories, idiotically-abused words like “closure” and “acting out” and “repressing,” the silly character-arcs that make everything seem purposeful and meaningful, the new diagnoses, the explanations which flatter us, the academic memes.
In War and Peace, what propels Tolstoy’s grand characters -they live largely atop the world, on the historical stage- may be trivial, but it tends at least to be poetic or quasi-heroic: Andrei’s tenderly narcissistic memories (in a field hospital full of moaning, butchered men!), Pierre’s ludicrous numerological pretenses to messianic importance.
In our lives, we are more likely to misread the grotesque, sublimated code described by Gombrowicz, insisting that we’ve chosen what has in fact been coerced by the similarly-unwilled behavior of others: we talk of “decisions” while locked in double-helizes of paired-reactions, unable to escape, determined by others who are determined by others. (This is to say nothing of propaganda and advertising, the archetypical view of which is that they do not affect us in our deliberative thinking and decisions while we accept that they affect almost all others. We are fooled! We believe in our own illusory agency! We fall for our our pretexts and rationalizations!).
Or perhaps not. At any rate: isn’t one of the most attractive ideas of psychotherapy that someone will “read” our life and explain themes not evident to us? What about you? Do you read your life (or your novels) inattentively and badly? (I do). Is your biography based on a template? From where have you borrowed your explanations? What have you forgotten?