Hey, this a piece I have written for The Shandean, a scholarly magazine dedicated to Laurence Sterne, in 2017, since I have written „Yorick“ before and have approached them. They wanted me to write an article about myself and how Sterne has influenced me and my writing. I have done so, and they rejected it because, consequently, they found it to be too talkative about myself and too little about Sterne. In the 2018 issue of The Shandean there has also been a review of my „Yorick“; it is, too, not very positive. I do not deny critical approaches to my stuff, however, as you can see, the respective review is quite mean-spirited, obviously because the book has left the reviewer „restless and confused“ (or in his mischaracterisation of Yorick as a vain and „pseudointellectual“ academic he saw himself). Such are the things that can be expected to happen when the idols of people, especially of academic people, reincarnate. I post it on that occasion because there is an intermission between blog posts. I have not read the essay again, but just shortly scanning it, makes me very angry to see how infinitely more substance it carries as compared to usual academic papers, like all the things I do. Consequently, all the things I do get rejected by academics. My future scholars and biographers should study this carefully and be highly aware of that. If they imitate these patterns, they will be cursed. They will be cursed by me, Yorick the Third. Death to false metal.
Yorick the Third
By Philip Hautmann
Abstract: This article features the struggle, or the empathic allusion, collision and collusion of a younger living writer with the spirit of Laurence Sterne and his writing. The writer´s first novel „Yorick – Ein Mensch in Schwierigkeiten“ (which would translate into „Yorick – A Person in Trouble“), released in 2010 in Austria, is borne out of a confrontation with Tristram Shandy and pays heavy tribute to the archetypical substance of the character of „Yorick, the Fool/Trickster“ as a possible mirror reflection of entire humanity. After a depiction of the author´s personal motivations for writing and a plot synopsis of the novel more general reflections are undertaken about the nature of Sterne´s specific („schizotypal“) creativity and about the ups and downs that may confront a writer who dives into the unknown and who tries to – or cannot help but to – be antithetical not only to the mainstream and „culture industry“ but who, due to his extreme individualism, subverts all forms and conventions which easily make him an outsider. It concludes about reflecting on the author´s more recent work and what trajectory „Shandean“ writing could have in our time.
Ca. ten years ago, by the end of 2006, I began writing on my first novel Yorick – Ein Mensch in Schwierigkeiten (which would translate „Yorick – A Person in Trouble“) and two and a half years later, in 2009, I largely completed it. It became (semi-)published in December 2010 in Vienna and subsequently received praise by various („independent“) critics for instance for being „a domestic (Austrian) Ulysses“ – and indeed: „The plan, as you will perceive, is a most extensive one, – taking in, not only, the Weak part of the Sciences, in where the true point of Ridicule lies – but every Thing else, which I find Laugh-at-able in my way“… as Laurence Sterne wrote in a letter to his editor Robert Dodsley offering him his manuscript… Since the allusions to Tristram Shandy are obvious and the figure of the tragicomic fool Yorick is the center of gravity, respectively the stasis around which every Thing else Laugh-at-able revolves in my book, I approached The Shandean whether it would be of interest introducing it to the respective Shandean community, and The Shandean was actually interested, specifically in how a contemporarian writer would approach the legacy of Tristram Shandy/Laurence Sterne respectively about „how a practising writer copes with the weird kind of text Tristram Shandy is“, as Peter put it. I am thankful for this invitation and now try to offer a montage of thoughts that have accumulated in my mind – about my own experience, yet also about, as I guess, general aspects about the whole yorickesque complex… therefore, I guess further, it will be a hybrid between a scolarly article and a more anectodal essay and maybe also various other stuff alongside an interplay of opening and closure – a Shandean trajectory, perhabs, as you have it so prominent at the end of the sixth book of Tristram´s Life and Opinions…
AAAAhhh… yummy… how I wrote a master thesis at the university (of Linz, Austria) about the concept of Bildung (which in a way means education), respectively about the notion of the competent, reasonable subject evolving within modern philosophy, covering the history of modern philosophy from Descates to postmodern deconstructivism; a doctoral thesis about the history of the world economy after WW2, including developments in economic science; and, happy ever after, a postgraduate thesis in which I tried to formulate a framework of how the dynamics of contemporary international relations could be understood including a discussion of all of today´s world problems. – That was in the first half of the 2000s. At the turn of the 1990s, when I was about 13 years old, I became so preoccupied with physics and cosmology that I tried to study the most advanced maths to find the „world forumla“ and unify the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics… since I, of course, failed to properly understand differential geometry and stuff and also found that as a cosmologist I could not be a most effective benefactor of mankind, I then turned to various other studies and, apart from that, became confused in teenage angst which contributed to my occasional, respectively, in a way, permanent state of diffusion — It did not actually come to my mind that with a CV like this, you are not likely to find a proper job – therefore I found myself transformed from an elite student to an unemployed, or underemployed (i.e. doing menial jobs) reject. I became depressed and questioned my whole life, including my personality – which is however, as I tell you, good for spiritual awakening or at least artistic progress. I had never done literature before and although I had drawn cartoons as a child I never considered myself creative enough for being a writer – but at that time (upon reading Lewis Carroll) it came to my mind that I should become a writer and write books for children – leading, most likely, to the next dead end in my life, as I envisioned – but what should I have done else? Alas, I soon found out that I did not have any idea about how to write a kid´s book!
Luckily, I read Georg Christoph Lichtenberg at that time, his aphorisms and his scrapbooks (if you are not familiar with them I highly recommend getting in contact with Lichtenberg as a Shandean, since he somehow is truly one of us). Lichtenberg used to make (elliptic) references to Sterne and Tristram Shandy (both hitherto unknown to me) every once in a while, over time, however, he obviously lost touch with him and inceasingly saw Sterne as a kind of impostor and egomaniac who plays sentimental for self promotion… finally he characerised Sterne as: „Yorick was a creeping parasite, a flatterer of the Great and an unbearable burr on the clothes of those at whose expense he had determined to feast. He came uninvited to breakfast, and when people left, to get rid of him, he went with them, into another company, since he believed he never could be unpleasant to them. When they went home again, he joined them again, and finally took place at the table where he liked to speak alone and of himself.“ (translation, in parts, by myself)
BOOOOOOM! In an act of productive misreading I thought that to be the characterisation of the obscure Tristram Shandy´s main character, and Tristram Shandy to be a novel revolving around a – both somehow innocent and naive as well as calculated and methotological – narcissist named Yorick who supposes himself and his opinions to be highly regarded by society where, in fact, they aren´t, yet – both innocently and aggressively – he never becomes aware of that disparity – with all the other members of the gang supposedly being roughly equal, being all some kind of Yorick. Don Quixote-like as the character appeared to me I though that the character of Yorick could be an essential key to get a grip on humanity in general – a humanity which desperately tries to reach out but is forever imprisoned in her own subjectivity. Yorick, like Don Quixote, as a character not only highly suitable to write a lot of anecdotes about him, but a social novel, a picaresque novel, maybe even some kind of bizarre psychological novel, reaching up into the spheres of the high points of philosophy.
– When I read Tristram Shandy soon afterwards I noticed my mistake – that Yorick is not the central but a more peripheral and, despite or in contrast to the depiction of his demise, not actually a clumsy but one the sanest characters in the novel – but was delighted by the novel nevertheless. Therefore I came to the idea of writing my own novel about that Yorick who „uninvitedly crashes into breakfast and never leaves company“ since he is so fond of himself and can never help but think that others experience him alike. – Another immediate idea why „Yorick“ would be such a perfect and funny character is that – despite the overly funny name „Yorick“ which is a comedy of cosmic extension in itself – there actually was a Yorick that entertained us in the glorious days when we were young: Kids of the 1980s from the German speaking world may remember „Yorick“ from the YPS comics: In a comic about Yinnie und Yan, which is about two busy journalists who are supported by Yorick, a fat boy who embodies the Trickster, where it is Yorick who actually brings the story into action and motion by creating a mess via his mixture of naivete, clumsiness, eccentricity and discrepancies in understanding and eccentrically/accidentally solving the problem by the same means in the end. We loved that poor Yorick…
– I don´t know why Lichtenberg finally became so dismissive about Sterne, by the way. (Thoughts or knowledge about that are welcome.)
I began my Yorick novel by an ecstatic depiction of Yorick´s general situation, respectively his inadequancies, revolving around the idea that „he liked to come uninvitedly for breakfast“, etc. Soon after I had written one and a half pages it became less clear how to progress any further. I had read Lesage´s Gil Blas for instance at that time and wanted to do something like that, but found my treasure chests relatively empty. Therefore i had to continue with personal anecdotes and stuff that I remembered. Luckily, a useful portrait of Yorick came into being. Philosophically inclined as well as to impress others with his mind and his philosophical exeges, he is rather not able to understand that people are not particularly interested in that, and his intellectual rigidity as well as his misfits humour often stands in opposition to social etiquette. Therefore his social success is rather limited, especially when it comes to romantic relationships. His circle of friends is then depicted who, somehow, live a similar life. Sabine, his friendzoning girlfriend, who is lost in her habit of running after idiotic men and never being able to see her situation clearly; Lasse Benissen, who is socially successful but trapped in the prison of seeking social success at all costs; Eisel and Peisel, intellectual and artistic compatriots, with Eisel being a bit of a Walter Shandy, wanting to do a lot of projects (and liking to talk about them) but not very apt at getting any of them done, and Peisel as not very talkative „still waters run deep“ satire (since when he does away his elitist arrogance and speaks to others it usually is complete bogus); the Other Philosopher and the Philosopher´s Circle as reflection of politically inclined intellectual circles who think they are on the verge of ruling the world when in fact they go nowhere and despite their intellectual pomp are blind to the most obvious facts (and may find ways to be even proud of that). Then we encounter the „enemies“ of Yorick: the ruthless and respectless right-winger Garrick, the Analytikerin, a girl?/lady? who likes to psychologise about Yorick (as a means of powerplay), her aunt as a hybrid between a socially well received grande dame and a petty, neurotic egoist, and the Iron Triangle as a circle of girls?/ladies? devoid of personality simply liking to talk bad about others. Yorick then tries to write a great novel and his zig zag trajectory as a writer is depicted; it is not known whether his final voluminous manuscript is a masterpiece or convoluted higher idiocy (as, somehow, reflecting my own doubts about my manuscript), yet at any rate it gets turned down by all publishers.
In the second part the desillusioned Yorick tries to find a job but meets postmodern conditions at the job market. A long flood of words by his girlfriend Sabine reflecting on this and many other issues (including men) follows (concluding that she will never find her perfect man), soon thereafter Sabine gets involved with a business consultant who obviously turns out to be the perfect men and who even gets Yorick into a business consulting firm. In the consulting firm Yorick gets, as an intellectual, everything wrong, writing long expertises which are intellectually stringent but the complete opposite to that which is of practical use – as it turns out, Sabine´s new friend gave Yorick the job to do damage in the firm since he actually is, beneath his charming surface, a sociopath who wants to psychologically enslave Sabine, however gets outmaneuvred by her constant vacillation (before he gets imprisoned). Yorick loses his job but since he has written a long paper about the neoliberal strategy of the rich getting richter at the expense oft he poor he gets invited to the local „Club of Billionaires“ where he encounters the most powerful men of his society as, at first, amicable as well as egoistic but soon getting drunk and degenerating into child-like behaviour and playing stupid games on themselves, including farting competitions and shooting at expensive things. One billionaire, Mearsheimer, makes Yorick his dialogue partner, resulting in long monologues by the billionaire himself – about being a billionaire, about the strategies of capital, about his childhood, about death, about his dreams, about an outlook on world politics in the next century, about his involvement in the shooting commandos during „the massacres“, about ants, apes, understanding complexity and finally about black holes and the fate of the universe – which make up the second half of the second part, before Mearsheimer abandons Yorick when Yorick shows a bit too much initiative on his own. As the future of Yorick becomes unclear, the second part fades out with dream-like montages involving the Danubian Delta and, finally, the Khyber Pass in Afghanistan.
In the third part we encounter a Sabine who is „a frustrated psychologist“ who worries about her „fitting so perfectly into the cliché of a frustrated psychologist“, so that she plans to write a „great novel about man/humanity“. Her friends, a derailed artist and a couple living a sort of perfect marriage (which Sabine both envies but also cannot help but finding ridiculous) are introduced, then her own biography is displayed while there are always pieces of her writing attempts on her great novel in between. It turns out that Sabine´s mother was an idiot who turned her first son into an extreme narcissist and egoist (who became professionally successful nevertheless) and her second son, whom she neglected, into an intellectual, socially awkward recluse – Sabine´s brother Schorsch (a nickname for Georg=Yorick). When thinking about her brother Schorsch Sabine comes to the idea that anecdotes about Schorsch could be the backbone to her great novel about man/humanity. Sabine got neglected both by her mother and her father making her a kind of wallflower who is romantically fixed on men representing her absent father who she tries so desperately to win for herself, while her father only has eyes for her younger sister (since he does not like Sabine´s big nose — the reference to Tristram Shandy was accidental however), so that the younger sister turns into a hyper friendly, positively tuned glamour queen, imprisoned however in her own egoistic and possessive attitude and pettiness (with her later in life having a daughter being roughly equal). At about the age of 30 Sabine meets paternal billionaire Pierce Inverarity (an allusion to Thomas Pynchon´s kind of „dead fool“ billionaire in The Crying of Lot 49) with whom she becames romantically involved – as long as she gains some kind of upper hand and becomes able to play out her own talents, which makes Pierce, despite being very helpful for his activities, abandoning her again. As a stalker she does not realise the situation as long as she finds out after her father´s death (when taking a look into his secret diaries) that her absent father was not some kind of ominous genius or a great man she assumed him to be but an idiot (suiting him however perfect for high level jobs in the bureaucracy) and that all her fixation toward father figures was pointless – which finally makes her a competent individual – yet maybe too competent to fit into society again. Schorsch meanwhile writes on a great novel himself and gets lost in it (before becoming posthumously recognised as the greatest writer of all time). In an allusion to Beckett´s Krapp´s Last Tape we see Sabine in the future reflecting upon her unfullfilled life which gets echoed by meditations about the nature of the universe.
Since a sort of running gag throughout the novel is the fantasy of people meeting aliens, or being, unconsciously, aliens who have to suffer on Earth a lot before they finally get abducted to another planet or sphere („where suffering does not exist“), in a short epilogue it is revealed that Sabine and Schorsch (and other characters) were indeed aliens who were on the mission of studying humanity before they are finally taken home by a UFO. A girl on Earth who serves as a middleman between the aliens and humans takes a look into Sabine´s „report about the human race“ which turns out to be the Yorick novel so that, despite all the eccentricities in trajectory, you have a closed loop.
The problem of Yorick – Ein Mensch in Schwierigkeiten is the problem of ipseity, of the prison-like character of subjectivity, casting serious doubt on any vision about that „we shall all come together“ could ever become true, if we are, due to subjectivity, aliens to others as well as (due to common lack of knowledge and self-reflection) to ourselves – on the individual, the social, the political… the epistemological and philosophical level, leading to questions whether there can ever be entities without constraints, respectively if it is not constraints and seperatedness which keep things afloat in the first place. – Such a kind of dialogue between forces of opening and closure you have at all levels, and like in Tristram Shandy there is a stark (painful? playful?) contrast between the creativity and the richness of the text and the worldview it exposes and the stuntedness of its characters respectively of the people that inhabitate this world. Like in Tristram Shandy the exposure of human stuntedness comes both in a comic and in a tragic way (although the occasional – respectively, in a latent way, permanent – leaning into human horror happens more often than in Tristram Shandy), leaving it open to debate whether human stuntedness itself is comical or tragical, respectively providing the answer that it may be both. – Yorick is treated as an archetypical figure: The fool who is the only one who says reasonable things, yet is powerless, since the kings and queens and commons do not listen to him as they are trapped in their own fervours and let the world go to hell, and his humour is not well received, since people lack humour, or if they have humour it is stunted as well – extended into the question about whether the „holy fool“ does not suffer from a similar (ego-)pathology all alike. More general, Yorick is a (bit of a) blunderer as we all are, therefore the figure of Yorick may serve as an ironic role model for everyone, and as the universal subject which embodies humanity – indeed, the subtitle A Person in Trouble is a reference to David Lynch´s film Inland Empire – A Woman in Trouble: Like many films by David Lynch Inland Empire seems difficult to decipher, yet it somehow becomes apparent that in Inland Empire the inner drama of a person is projected onto various other persons and (hypothetical) situations through which this drama is played through – finally the (hidden) main character finds some sort of relief and consolation as she witnesses her own drama projected into art (making it a film in the film) – and this is also what happens in Yorick – Ein Mensch in Schwierigkeiten as Yorick is revealed to be „a novel in a novel“ actually written by Sabine to make sense of her existence, with her endeavour to do so coming from obscure urges (which are finally revealed to her being an alien studying humans, where this revelation makes the whole novel a Möbius strip, i.e. establishes a hybrid between opening and closure). – The plot by itself is, from a common viewpoint, rather impoverished, but there is an immense richness and variety of contents and there is a focus on depicting characters and anecdotes (to illustrate the characters and their functioning in society) in a dense way. You don´t really have details about places, times and the ages of the characters (or, occasionally, contradictory ones) – not only to make a counterpoint to the over-detailedness in writing about such things which is so common in fiction (for the sake of covering lack of other substance, as it seems), but also to illustrate that it could be anywhere and at any time, that the things depicted are human universals – and that it seems unclear whether the behaviour of grown-ups differ substantially from that of children or adolescents (especially in the first part of the novel the characters somehow could be any of those, or the thrid part relating to a substantial degree to childhood trauma). Dialogues (respectively monologues) are mostly in indirect speech, not only for the sake of maintaining tempo and melodiousness but also to ironise the things the characters say, respectively to leave it open to everyone to call the content into question. In effect, I would call Yorick an anti-anti-novel, since the conventional form is subverted, but also the subversion gets subverted, and actually the whole thing is not as „eccentric“ or otherworldly as it may seem, but the endeavour is to finally find rest in a „classic“ form – revealing of course, that our understanding of what is „classic“ is not simply static but elastic through time and periods.
I forgot to mention yesterday that the juxtaposition of the highs and lows of the intellect, of the social realm, etc. is also a current feature. It happens both purposefully as well as accidentally.
A kind of „running gag“ in Yorick – Ein Mensch in Schwierigkeiten is that people are in trouble because they want to (be) write(rs). Which brings me to the idea that it might be appropriate to bring in some casual observations about the psychological difficulties artistic creation – and holding on to it – might bring about, including „Dichterwahnsinn“ (for which there seems to be no direct English translation, it would most directly translate into „poet´s frenzy“).
Kafka is an extreme example but nagging self doubt, being overly critical towards himself and never quite sure about the actual quality of his own work are features quite common among writers and artists (which does not rule out that they may have an inflated ego or a legitimate awareness of their grandiosity at the same time). Indeed, writing and artistic creation happens in relative isolation, and the more genuine and innovative the work is, the more it happens outside established categories, the deeper, if not absolute, is the isolatedness. Being cut off from the possibilities of productive dialogue with the environment and with other people while holding on to his own vision which deems the artist the most legitimate brings about a disharmony that is actually equal to neurosis. It brings about bodily pain and intellectual pain since you repeatedly don´t know what is actually true and legitimate. The higher the intellectual, emotional and ethical intensity of the artist, the more intense will the spheres he is about to erect frequently crumble and crash down on him. The more things he sees and the more he is aware that things could also be otherwise (in case he is a highly divergent thinker, see next section) the more intense will be the recurrent doubt about the legitimacy of his own work. All these processes may actually lead to occasional and recurrent psychosis-like depressions or psychological upheavals, inner states of mind which seem difficult for the artist to effectively communicate to others.
Another category of trouble revolves around the impostor syndrome. Artistic creations of others seem to be so monolithic when you look at them from the outside, yet when you are at the inside of your own work you see that it is much more patchwork-like, if not a cobble job which you may become dismissive of periodically. The ideas of other writers seem to be genuine creations while in the case of yourself you see that they are often „simply“ modelled around personal memories. Likewise, your own ideas are known to you whereas what another writer comes up with may seem as so spectacular and brand new in contrast to your well-trodden shit. You may finally want to reach the stars, the absolute, but find out that „the absolute“ as the horizon or the ineffable spheres the craving artist wants to reach are forever transcendent, or actually a transcendental category of the mind (into which the craving mind, the unrest of the mind projects itself into and which, in a way, productively tricks the mind). „Creativity“ comes in quite different fashions: there are writers who are able to invent stories in a non-stop way (and that is what you usually think of when you think of the capabilities a writer need to possess), whereas another writer may simply be good at writing his (creatively extended) autobiography – where – irrespective of that that a writer of the second category might be a genius whereas the other one does nothing but to write light fiction (which may, however, make him rich, while the genius finds out that his specific talents impoverish him) – the grass always seems to look greener on the other side. In my specific case I started to write to establish myself in life by earning money, but had to find out that my specific talents are a hindrance to that, however grandiose they may be. On a more personal level and more specifically, I had never written literature before and did not really know what to write after Yorick, throwing up the painful question of whether I was just a dayfly…
Apart from that, in contrast to science, art does not carry objective truth that can be verified. Therefore the artist can never be sure about the actual quality of his work. The truth of an artwork, and an artist is a subjective one, in the case of great art the subjective truth becomes so relevant and universal that it reaches into the objective. Because of this, the artist may easily be under the impression that his whole personality is at stake whereas in the case of the scientist it is only a part of his personality – although I actually do not know, and do not think, that rivalries between artists are more intense than between scientists. It is, I guess, a different inner experience to do art than to do science (and I originally come from the sciences to which I, however, also always had an „artistic“ approach), and then again, the grass may look greener on the other side…
Swinging between all the poles of existence is a glorious business but usually also involves the negatives outlined above. The only advise I can give to fellow writers is to acknowledge them as a part of our existence and, therefore, become more relaxed about them. If the questions you throw up are genuine questions, there will come up solutions… though, probably, alongside the eccentric pathway…
The question may appear – and may be of interest – of how it would be possible for anyone to write such a „weird kind of text Tristram Shandy is“. Especially in our days literary critics are fond of relating texts to traditions (which in my case, for instance, lead to assuming that I had read and been influenced by books and writers I actually had never read, and despite I am a well-read person I had not been particularly educated concerning literature before.) Tristram Shandy, as it is obvious however, is a most authentic, unspoilt creation of the human mind (that any creation of the human mind does not happen in a vacuum but of course is influenced by the world the creator inhabitates does not mean that authentic creation and genius is a myth). Sterne´s brain indeed was very peculiar, nevertheless it was real, and in his typical manner Sterne himself refers to the presumably unusual structure of his brain in Chapter 33 of Book 6 of Tristram Shandy, in his usual way as to reveal something in a way that makes it even more enigmatic than before. – Nevertheless, with some of today´s knowledge and categories we can try to anatomise a Shandean brain.
To write a novel like Tristram Shandy you need to have (very) high intelligence and a very high creative intelligence comprising an unusual versatility for (seemingly) paradoxical thinking. These ingredients are not necessarily the same or of the same origin. Highly intelligent people usually aren´t genuinely original (despite their unusual intelligence may make them appear so), highly original people who have an eye for the absurd are not necessarily intelligent. Both Lisa and Bart Simpson are relatively rare characters: Lisa due to her high intelligence and sensitivity, Bart due to his humour and rebelliousness – that both of these characteristics merge in one person, which then makes a genuine genius, is absolutely rare.
High intelligence does not only mean that you are quick at thinking but also that you can hold a lot of (various) material together in your head. It also means that you operate at progressively higher levels of abstraction. Great and greatest – „timeless and universal“ – art operates at the highest levels of abstraction.
Yet art does not only happen at the level of the abstract but also of the most peculiar and the most concrete – in fact, art happens when characters are created in which the most abstract and the most concrete and individual mirror each other in an unexpected yet seemingly perfect way. To have a genuine sense for individualities and for the peculiar is a faculty different from raw intelligence. It commonly refers to divergent thinking (in contrast to convergent thinking) or being the cognitive type of a mismatcher (as opposed to a matcher). Convergent thinking means thinking in a linear, logical, methodological way in order to come to a solution (which in our society and in our age refers to what is understod raw intelligence and what is, generally, tested at IQ tests), whereas divergent thinking means trying to come to a solution by looking at a thing in a different way, throwing up many ideas and sorting them out in a non-linear way. Likewise, being a matcher means you look at a concept an aks yourself „What is true about that? How can this be confirmed?“ whereas a mistmatcher will ask himself: „How can this be viewed upon differently?“. A mismatcher has an eye for that which is deviant and escapes the norm and he will rather think in nuances than in oppositions. (Somehow the whole complex also resembles Nietzsche´s view upon the Apollonian and the Dionysian). Sterne provides the example of an extreme mismatcher with, however, also very high convergent intelligence who is able to successfully navigate through his own apparent mess and establish solid forms and connect his casual observations to the highest kind of meaning in the abstract sense. Intelligence psychometitor Paul Cooijmans has introduced the less well known concept of „associative horizon“, refering to a faculty of being fluent at seeing many associations to any given concept (including seemingly counterintuitive or paradoxical ones), to see relations between remote concepts and to switch between background and motif with great ease, likely making such a person a nonconformist, if not a misfit. Whereas a person with wide associative horizon may be a humorist or simply the class clown at school, high intelligence combined with wide associative horizon and high (intellectual and ethical) conscientousness are, in accordance to Cooijmans, the three pillars of genuine genius (among the many concepts of genius I find Cooijmans´ highly accurate, for further reading please visit his homepage www.paulcooijmans.com). And then, there is also this old issue of the presumed thin line between madness and genius. While this is overstated it legitimate to assume that Sterne, like many other geniuses, was a schizotypal. Schizotypy originally refers to a personality disorder whose elements consist of magical (associative) thinking, odd thinking, disorganised thinking, excessive daydreaming and ruminating, having unusual experiences, introversion and social withdrawal, occasional paranoia, making a person odd or in the more extreme cases (borderline) schizophrenic. In a more general sense schizotypy refers to a continuum of personality characteristics where healthy schizotypals are highly creative, ruminative and thoughtful and with a vivid inner life and a low latent inhibition which means that they experience much more than ordinary guy – often to their displeasure since this makes them prone to experience negative aspects more intense and it makes them unable to shut off leading them into arousals they cannot effectively control (the positive aspect is that they may have high empathy and be very – sentimental in their trips to France and Italy). Sterne´s writing, and his peculiar writing style are highly schizotypal.
And Sterne´s work most explicitely is an interplay of both maneuvers: trying to reach into the most abstract – and, despite that, megalomaniac and pompous – while always finding himself coming to a halt when experiencing and meditating about the most trivial and concrete – a movement that consists both of progression and disgression as Sterne calls it himself. Yet it becomes apparent that via his extraordinary capacity to make experiences and see both the peculiar magic in everything as well as the most general meaning (and we might say that the „magic“ in a thing is when it provides the most peculiar and the most meaningful to meet) Sterne actually becomes a universal subject and writer. The (apparent) fragments of plot his works consist of are actually seeds in which a larger structure – respectively totality – seems to unfold, they make up a cabinet of mirrors which finally reflect everything. Likewise thinking, feeling, perceiving and experiencing obviously become one – a seemingly complex mode of processing data which – in contrast to the permanent disruptions which make up the narration – seems to be undivided in itself and completely at peace with itself. Sterne reminds us that to look at totality simply means constant shift of ways of perceiving things to grasp them in all of their aspects, where this gaze seemingly does not come out of unrest but of stasis (which finally turn out to be different appearances of the same thing – a general capacity to be affected). Tristram Shandy, by being able to process so much, actually ceases to be a subject and a human but becomes a free-floating entity that extends into the universe.
What motivates someone to become a writer/artist, and what does a writer/artist actually want? Someone as prominent as Freud says, it is all about getting the chicks. Others say, it is about self expression. I do not deny that, but to reduce any true artist to such simple motivations is, of course, ridiculous. The artistic urge comes out of itself and is nourished by itself. At its apex stands the genius who is intensely driven by the urge to do something constructive. What lies at hand, what society, what cultural heritage has to offer, he embraces like no one else does but he finds it insufficient. He has to find his own solution alongside a pathway which is most likely to be eccentric (as Hölderlin puts it), and in the case of Sterne that pathway is, in a way, most obviously and proudly presented.
It has been noted by many that art is spiritual, that art is an exercise in spirituality and that the goal of art is spiritual transformation. Indeed, art mixes urges that stem out from the sensual as well as from the intellect and these urges long for their own expression, purification and pacification, with the goal to finally reaching into their own Nirvana. Spirituality may mean looking for other, more perfect worlds – and the purpose of the artist is to create other and new worlds – alongside this trajectory you will find out that spirituality and religion lies in getting into closer touch with the multifacetedness and the chaotic order/ordered chaos of the world. Religion means awe and great respect for a higher order through which reality unfolds, and is perceived as to unfold, spirituality means actively getting in touch with all aspects of the world („Genius spiritualises everything“, says Dali). Many artists say that their work has religious dimensions (even if they cannot exactly tell what that would mean), Sterne was a man of God who spoke relatively little about God in his works, and even seems to mock his creation. But he actually mocks philistine modes of perception. His art is a dialectics established against closure, not only in the respect how it turns the formula of how to write a novel, and what readers that approach a novel would expect, upside down, but finally a dialectics against itself, an ultra-dialectics, with its humour becoming a meta-humour, respectively an Über-Humor (as Nietzsche noted it), which surrounds and encircles the world by the way of eccentric flight. Whereas in Tristram Shandy the characters are, in their exposure, relatively left alone in their subjectivity and closedness, Sterne shows that sentimentality is a – is the – method of how to actually approach the world and to approach people in the Journey.
Genuine art and literature also evolves from a dialogue with art and literature as it is to be found in society. There will be some rebellious, iconoclastic instinct in the artist, directed against what he deems to be wrong, feeble, phony or fake. Today that is most likely to be the perceived standardisation, normalisation and commodification of art and literature and the obvious lack of true greatness. Yet the genuine artist will also be somehow conservative as he has a deep respect for traditions as long as they are worthwhile, and will seek to realign with them. A true artist wants to create value and due to a mixture of high intelligence and extreme individualism the art genius is able to (re)discover authentic human values which are then used to revivify procrustean social structures.
However, neither the „rebellion“ nor the final „solution“ will come in an obvious way; the greater the art the more unexpected it is how it can be expected to come in with Sterne being one of the high points of this tradition. Philosopher Gilles Deleuze (usually in the tradition of his intellectual companionship with Felix Guattari) emphasises that genuine literature is a „minor“ literature, written in „a kind of foreign language“ by (natural) outsiders of society, with the determination to „call for a new earth, a new people“, not actually to become majoritarian but to become an accepted voice, a new, powerful way of looking at things – it may be that the „minor“ language becomes a „major“ language/code, a new classicism (respectively a new way to look at classicism) though Deleuze/Guattari emphasise permanent „Becoming“, transformation, de-subjectification. Although an adherent of Deleuze, it naturally evolved that I wrote my Yorick also in a way of a „foreign language“ to the established literary language – a mixture between a somehow childish, and an old-fashioned language, often long meadnering sentences with doubtful grammar which actually relates to a „classic“, yet unmodern language (or, for instance, the papers Yorick writes for a consulting firm being, in their language, inspired by Schopenhauer´s style). And that is the spirit of the entire book. De-subjectified Becoming and permanent transformation for me, as it turned out, is not a matter of choice for me, but rather a feature outside of my control…
As I have mentioned, my Yorick was turned down by all publishers and finally got published by the end of 2010 when friends of mine founded an art project which also involves publishing books, Trauma Wien. It provoked response however by (some of the more „independent“, yet, because of this, also more trustworthy) literary critics. One of them particularly liked the „megalomania“ to put „everything into one book“. To put „everything“ into one book was indeed calculated but also more or less „all I had to offer“ and appeared natural to me (and made me confront difficulties in imagining what I could write next). – Why this book was not well received by publishers but had only been allowed to grow in a very exurbian region I cannot say; that it is not likely to be a great commercial success is clear, but 90 percent of all books that are published aren´t a commercial success either. Laments that – contradicting that our age seems to be so liberal, enlightened and individualistic and hip – true intellect and originality is actually not what is wanted, respectively is actively punished and suppressed in our time are commonplace. However it is also somehow natural that „minor“ literature is likely to only grow in exurbia in its first place and that very original and intelligent art is likely to be neglected for a long time – that is how it usually always has been, and that Sterne was a immediate success may rather strike as a surprise. Uncanny, however, is that this never seems to change, that you seem to have the „eternal recurrence of the same“. However, I guess we cannot exactly tell what would happen if Sterne came today – he surely would do something of genius today, but we cannot say at all how it would look like. And we cannot say if he became a success or if he even became published (that is to say I feel like I cannot tell, if anyone thinks he can, thoughts are welcome). – And maybe my book did not become published because it simply isn´t good enough… the old doubt that haunts the thoughtful artist time and again.
At least with Yorick – Ein Mensch in Schwierigkeiten I established myself as a writer. But what to do next? I became increasingly desperate that, despite having some minor ideas, nothing really came to my mind what I could write next, mixed with a desperation that I was obviously unable to write in a way that would make me a commercial success. Somehow, with Yorick – Ein Mensch in Schwierigkeiten I started already with an opus magnum. Then one night I dreamed about reading a book which started with a sentence expressing that it tells a story which happens „along the line between cosmos and chaos“. I set the rule that my upcoming book should start with such a sentence – and later that it would end with the sentence: „All that life, a dream; uninterpretable“, and that it would be about a person I gave the name Rompf. These became the set of rules which established a coordinate system in which the book would unfold; providing me with the vision that the book would establish itself as a multidimensional space. Rompf, as the archetypical character, was an allusion to Ibsen´s Peer Gynt, with which I now tried to grasp humanity not as the misunderstood fool, but as an egocentric narcissist of average intelligence and ethical standards who does not develop during the course of his life. The mode of writing and storytelling was, following the line between cosmos and chaos, deliberately aleatoric; it begins with a kind of big bang which throws matter into the universe which gets structured after a while just to differentiate and diffuse again. Rompf is a farmer´s boy who dreams himself being a high politician in India, Algeria, a sheik in Saudi-Arabia, a king in Africa or a kind of puppet master in the American deep state. Alongside that my own reflections as the author, my dialogue between the reader and my own characters are juxtaposed to the plot as a sort of second storyline, dream-like passages are included as well as dream-like characters alongside the coordinate of „life being an uninterpretable dream“ (which finally became the title: Der uninterpretierbare Traum (die Geschichte von Rompf, dem Universaltrottel) = The uninterpretable Dream (the Story of Rompf, the Universal Idiot)). Whereas Yorick may have been a book about the entire world, Dream rather reaches into the cosmos, and Dream deemed me an ecstatic exaggeration of Yorick. Dream is very explosive with the purpose of displaying the richness of the world, of existence, juxtaposing it with human stuntedness again. Dream finally is an ethical book, as it dismisses the human ego (for which the character of Rompf is actually a mere chiffre) and calls for holding on to ethics, constructiveness and establishing a sense of connectedness between all things. – unfortunately Dream sort of overcharges people and it has not been as „successful“ as Yorick.
Same goes for the other book I began to write (and finally released) at the same time was Das Buch vom seltsamen und unproduktiven Denken (The Book of Strange and Unproductive Thinking). It began to write, as a pure concept, in my mind when I heard the song Strange and Unproductive Thinking, again by David Lynch. I was quite depressed at that time because no actual ideas seemed to develop in my mind, finding however out that such a kind of stew, such a kind of goulash as my mind felt like, simmering and occasionally releasing an uneventful blob, is also a creative state of mind, which, actually due to its reducedness could ignite stuff. I began to take dream scenes or that hallucinations you have when you gradually fall asleep as foundation to write (purposefully a-logical) texts which developed into kind of short stories, metaphysical reflections and, finally, meditations about geniuses like Kafka, Beckett (who was actually the most inspiring figure for me at the time of writing), van Gogh, Dali, Nietzsche, Hafez, Rumi, the Zen masters, etc., concluding into meditations about the meaning of life and the meaning of art. „Strange and Unproductive Thinking“ became a chiffre for genuine creative thinking which happens outside the mainstream with the purpose to establish new forms (and new thoughts). The Book of Strange and Unproductive Thinking is a kind of scrapbook containing all sorts of (heterogenous) texts and it is a hybrid between literature and philosophy and it is a complement to The Uninterpretable Dream as it employs the same method but with different outcomes. Likewise, also the Book of Strange and Unproductive Thinking hasn´t been a commercial success so far. It is true that in my trilogy you find answers to all those questions about life, about what is the meaning of life or what is the meaning of art – what i have not contemplated so well is that people actually aren´t actually interested in such questions although they occasionally pretend to be. There conversations are almost always about other, and more mundane subjects. Nevertheless, take away the efforts to give answer to the great questions, and the whole human experience is reduced to nothing. Therefore I found it legitimate to write my books against all these odds.
I have to tell you that the innermost secret of art is to directly gaze into the chaosmos, the interplay of cosmos and chaos, the vision of order which unfolds and expresses itself aleatorically or, seemingly, and in a sublime way, through chaos. I finally found myself having such visions of moving totalities before my inner eye which often made my creative process quite painful, since they are finally visions of eternal compositions and dissolutions of forms themselves which are, then, maybe the last outposts before psychosis and uncreative destruction sets in. Such kind of texts were also the final texts by Arthur Rimbaud; Georg Büchner´s Lenz or Lautréamont´s Maldoror strike as other examples in this respect. These are visions that do not have very much in common anymore with the human experience, „at the line between cosmos and chaos“, the communicative element of art is impaired, schizotypal isolation prevails – in the interplay with seeing, and beeing in communion with the all which, however, always transforms, which you both possess and which slips away from you – and which never has been actually yours in the first place….
I started to write another text of literature a bit later after my second books have been released by the same means (in 2015), but have suspended working on it. Instead, I now write all kinds of intellectual texts which I publish on my homepage. My mind is open excessively, which cannot be translated into literature effectively for the moment, but, as I guess, further syntheses will come.
Philip Hautmann (b.1977 in Linz, Austria) is a writer and philosopher who lives in Vienna. www.philiphautmann.at