October 14, 2018

Possible opening for a book-length essay tentatively entitled The Conditions for Human Flourishing


I’m worried that I’m going to write too many books. This is book number eight. Perhaps I think eight is already too many. But it is also already too late to have written less. Philip Roth dies in [reminder to look up the year that Philip Roth dies.] At the book store they dedicate a small wall to all of his books, most of them in the same edition, each with the exact same spine. And standing in front of his books I think: he is my exact image of a writer who wrote too many books. I’ve only ever read one book by Philip Roth and I liked it but thought he completely fucked up the ending. I imagine someone reading this and then, years later, meeting me, out of curiosity asking me which Roth title I once read. And I imagine myself telling them.

And this next thought is really a stretch. But I imagine that writing too many books has something to do with the end of the world. (I just remembered that I’ve actually read two books by Roth, both a very long time ago.) That to produce and continue producing, without any thought for limits or demand, and what’s more to produce as an individual, away from any collectivity or collective constraints, is tangentially connected to the desire for infinite growth on our rather finite planet. Of course, I will not produce books infinitely or even indefinitely. Sooner or later I will die. And this is also somehow connected to the end of the world. We overproduce because we know the clock is ticking, that we are running out of time, a perverse inversion of the fact that we are running out of time because we overproduce.

But I have already misspoke. I don’t believe the coming environmental collapse will be the end of the world. I believe billions of people will die, the world population will be corrected towards previous levels, it will be the worst thing humanity has ever witnessed and therefore also a wakeup call for us to change our ways. This isn’t what I want to happen. Just as I don’t want to write too many books. And another related thought: I find it extremely difficult to just do nothing. This is a quote from Ruth Levitas:
However, ‘doing nothing’ is here intended also as a positive proposal. Politicians may declare that 'we need to do more and we need to do it faster’. The opposite is true. We need to do less, and we need to do it more slowly. Doing a lot more nothing, including sleeping, would reduce resource consumption, lower stress levels and enable social relations more conducive to dignity and grace…
I really love the books of Renee Gladman. When I read them, I feel many similarities and affinities between how and why we both write. However, when it comes to my identity, I am probably more like Philip Roth, who I feel almost no affinity towards.



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