Feb 19, 2014, 06:58AM

The Anguished Frenchman Bares His Soul

A talk with Gaston at the café.

Rsz formanmilos1.jpg?ixlib=rails 2.1

My mood? The question is blind on one side, you know. It shuts out too much. But let us proceed—my mood. There is this: I always feel like I deserve a reward, but I also feel like I'm worthless. The two thoughts, they are there on top of each other, potato peels and banana skins in, what, the garbage can of my psyche.

Being a neurotic is like having a slum for a soul. Nothing is right. It's all délabré... I mean dodgy, perhaps you say. A slipshod equivalent of a core identity that is properly aligned, of a brain with drywall that stays dry, of a brain with floors that don't dent if your foot goes wrong. Other people have ground rules that hold together: the floors meet the walls, and these meet the ceilings. Whereas I must live in a parody. My ground rules gape wide. If my worldview were an apartment, I wouldn't have a floor. I'd have some floorboards that more or less held together. I'd spend all my time pretending that was a floor.

Another way of putting it. Consider the personality as a government. My personality would be Hungary under the Soviets: a command-and-control apparatus with no responsibility for producing results. Every motion a motion that is subordinated, not original; every choice merely a case of knuckling under to a directive. But with no consequences if nothing gets done. My psyche and the communists... they have no decency. Look what they do with goal setting. The goals get set and then the bookkeeping turns out to be a joke, and I have to pretend that's normal.

Dissidents wrote novellas about life under bureaucracy—far-fetched satires published in the West, they had drawings on the cover that showed bent-wire figures dancing above ruled lines that sketched us infinity. The dissidents made literature, Philip Roth said so, but the bureaucracy they wrote about, that world-historic nightmare, it was just me: a piled-up, elaborate version of my personality, with hallways and rulebooks and staplers, and someplace a Soviet army hanging around to make sure it all held together. People had to have a government piled on top of them before they behaved in the way I behave every day. They needed a secret police and a one-party state so their lives could be thwarted and misformed. My life just grows that way.

I first thought of this when reading Milos Forman's autobiography. All he wanted was to live his life, and he knew how to do it. But authority kept getting in the way, authority that made sure nothing got done. Set him loose in Hollywood and he flourished.

I read this, the Forman book, a long time ago. A dozen years, I guess. Since then my life has advanced in no way at all. I live in a stasis that never decamps. My present decade feels like the decade before, which itself was nothing to write home about, a lot of sitting in a small room and fiddling with the controls for producing momentary pleasures—downloads, bookmarks, that kind of thing. Menus, comments. A world revolution is taking place and I'm looking at posts about Woody Allen. I'm slumped, my posture is terrible.

The saddest thing is that I'm taking part in this revolution. It is one of certain difficult equivalents, you understand. In the case of this revolution, to act is not precisely to do. To take part is not to do! The world revolution in information, please follow, that we discuss—it floats atop a different sort of action. This action is the massed doings of small people, and they waste time or they save time, but they never use time. They squander their attention or they take a short cut to get results. That is the Internet. You are never doing the action. You are getting around an action—the shortcuts, email, you know—or you're hanging like pig's meat before the screen and pretending that a next moment doesn't have to follow, that you don't have to unhitch your jaw and learn to live again. I mean reading BuzzFeed, the Woody Allen comments.

So, my mood. My mood is my posture, and my posture is the world we must live in now. The revolution we live, that of information, it is built on my posture. History is built upon my slump. I have a head like the deceased People's and Worker's State of Hungary, and a spine that is a contrived piece of spaghetti, a makeshift that has arrived at this condition because the Internet, subtly imperative, suggests that it desires as much. To review BuzzFeed enough hours a day, it is better if your spine is not quite there, and I arrange this. By inertia I join history. By self-folding I fit myself for the unfolding of the new world consciousness. That is my part in the millennium.

You ask my mood. Very well, there it is. 


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