1. Intellectual Labour of the Second Kind

Mental labour is caused by perplexity: about oneself, one’s place in the world, or the world itself; by perplexity and anxiety, if not outright loss of mental equilibrium. Anxiety directed inwards excites interest in all things human; directed outwards, in the arrangement of external things; and there is never, or almost never, interest in both at once. More than that. The very things to which the activity of the mind is directed are arranged somehow differently. What is good with some things is not good with others. Some things can be ‘studied’ and others only ‘understood’. Understanding in general is in some strange relation to learning. One can study without understanding. Learning reduces things, as they are, to systems and schemes, but is valued by our time because it is ‘scientific’. Understanding is not scientific. It is holistic, does not compartmentalise the object of observation for the sake of convenience, as study does, and implies a close relationship of the understander with the understood. Understanding is not only worth the ‘worn-out trousers’, but also the soul work, that is, (to avoid the vague word ‘soul’) the efforts of the whole person, not any one part of it.

Here is the watershed between science and understanding, between ‘exact’ and ‘deep’ truths. The profound ones require the whole person, and are not simply ‘produced’ by the mind, like boots by a cobbler. Inwardly directed thought is produced by the mind and simultaneously produces it itself. Creation creates the creator. According to this attribute — the ability to reverse the creator, or the lack thereof — we could divide mental labour into two kinds: labour that leaves the worker unconcerned, and labour that changes him or her.

The first is light and is learned and taught; the fruits of the second may be light, but the foundations are in the dark. The predisposition to such work, the ability to find access to the dark depths, is innate rather than nurtured. Here everything is personal and inimitable, whereas the power of science is in the impersonality, the substitutability of one figure for another.

The mental work of the first kind — calculation and measure, the truths of statistics plus a little imagination where the roots and origins are concerned, which cannot be deduced from any statistics. The second kind of mental work is alchemy, the transformation of gravity into clarity, the transformation of writing by the power of writing.

Both kinds of mental labour begin with bewilderment. From there their paths diverge. The one who studies goes to the observation and evaluation of facts; the one who understands these facts must first of all experience, observe in oneself — or at least be closely touched by them.

Without certain conditions there is no such engagement, and the conditions are unfavourable.  The person who understands needs a gap between the mind and its environment; an underlying dissatisfaction with the existing; a desire to clarify the unexplained; a constant restlessness. From this it is often deduced that a thinker (poet, creator in the broad sense) should be unhappy, but no. Anxiety is inside, before any external happiness or unhappiness. (This is why, by the way, material wealth in itself does not extinguish the spirit. Pushkin was, in the domestic sense, incomparably more prosperous than his peasants…) And then there’s the isolation, the uniqueness of personality.

‘Deep’ truths can rightly be called ‘personal’. In reality, any ‘fact’ consists of at least half of personal evaluations and interpretations; mental work of the first kind, ‘scientific’ work, works in the same way with inseparable ‘facts-presentations’ —  not with primordial data (which, however, is constantly forgotten — why the funny belief of the scientist that he studies not his own mind, not the mind’s idea of the world, but the universe as such). But in mental work of the second kind, the uniqueness of the personality, its understanding of things, is even more important.

The less detached a person is, the easier it is for him to find common ground with others, the less troubled he is; the more uninteresting his writings. A calm writer, a calm thinker — a contradiction in definition. Vulnerability, surface thinking is usually associated with coldness. Superficial judgement is chilled and indifferent. Said with passion is rarely at all flat and passing. The more deeply the mind is affected, the sharper the view.

And from a purely literary point of view, the lack of tension, the ‘difference of potentials’ between writer and environment, between writer and reader, destroys literature. There is no need for a writer who is quite like the reader… Nor is there need for a writer who is on the best of terms with his environment. A person fully and finally inscribed into society, devoid of all difficulties of self-assertion, communication, trust, a person uncomplicated in all respects – does not create literature.

A ‘detached person’, among other things, is one who values himself, I don’t say ‘loves’. What do you mean: self? What do you mean: loves? Let me put it this way: without the certainty that the weight of memories, mistakes, weaknesses, unspent power and wasted time, unrewarded love mean something; that it is not just ‘extraneous circumstances’; not something that can be drowned out by vodka, ‘work’ or external impressions – there is no need for that work that ploughs over the personality itself, turning over its layers. Cognition makes sense under the condition of the value of what is cognized.

For all the differences between mental work of the first and second kind, they have one thing in common. The mind wants to bind as many things as possible in mutually inconsistent connections, whether it is looking into itself or into the world, here its irresistible voluptuousness.

Is it even possible to talk about the voluptuousness of the mind? Isn’t it belittling to the mind? I don’t see anything inferior. We talk about the voluptuousness of feeling, seeing the power and depth of impressions with an unquenchable need in them. The voluptuousness of the mind is in the unquenchable need to produce and bind concepts. Sense and mind both seek close involvement, spinning a web of connections between themselves and things; in the shivering of this web is pleasure.

The promptings of the knowing mind are beyond reason. The call of cognition, like the ‘call of sex’, comes from the unconscious realm. Its origins can be traced, with some effort, but it cannot be resisted. No one can say, ‘I seek cognition because I choose to!’ Nor can one stop at will, like anyone driven by passion. ‘Knowledge is a great and dangerous love’. Any ‘goals’ in this field are self-justification of the mind; they are made up in hindsight. The behaviour of atheist scientists is a prime example. If everything is pointless, then cognition is pointless too. Yet even in the midst of a supposedly meaningless world sits a scientist. Why? Because painful anxiety, that same lust of the mind, is stronger, more primal than reasonable arguments. The richness of life comes from the ability to lust; no insatiable hunger, no fullness of being; so in everything: in thought, in feeling…

For all the common features of mental labour of the second and first kind — their fate is different these days. Mental labour of the second kind is increasingly losing ground to the first. Is this a bad thing? Science and ‘the happiness of all mankind’ have recently been linked, and many still link them. Science feeds and warms; ‘deep’ truths have not made anyone richer yet…. And creativity engaged in human cognition can be declared a mere sign of illness, like a fever with the flu. The healthier a person is (says our caring epoch), the less reason he has for self-knowledge, improvement, search of inner light. In that case, the poet’s cat is healthier than the poet himself… However, one should not exaggerate the ‘health’ of personality which modernity cultivates. Not so high is its development as its needs are limited; not so high has it grown as it has learned to mark lower…

Besides, a question has risen: does the amount of happiness increase with growth of material well-being, which, admittedly, is served by mental labour, directed to external things? The answer is known: temporarily, up to certain limit while wealth and happiness are accepted as well-being, but not as a final goal. Then Providence does not care whether to punish well-fed or hungry humanity; the rich, perhaps, it hits harder… And the rejection of ‘deep’ truths, with all their practical ‘irrelevance’, does not go in vain. Man begins to be ‘studied’, like a molecule or a nebula, which means that he is finally no longer understood.

Timofey Sherudilo.
From the book Twilight Time.

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