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picaros in Bildungsroman worlds


Trying to untangle our life’s string we usually follow an emotional and behavioral trail back to our first interpersonal relationships. We emphasize on who our parents were and how they treated us, what traumatized us and how our sexuality developed. We create connections between life events and traits, essentially weaving a strong narrative that will contain us. It is these stories that we tell ourselves and the ones we are being told that shape the way we see both ourselves and the world.


It shouldn’t be hard to imagine then the importance of narrative and its greater implications for an animal that evolves and prospers largely through mimicry. We take the forms presented to us and make them ours, rehearsing and spreading our stories through a certain prism, creating social norms, ethics and stereotypes to which we feel the need to abide. Since approximately the second half of the 19th century, storytelling, and not just in literature, as S.J. Moenandar acutely points out in this inspirational article, has been dominated by the Bildungsroman, the genre that has ‘helped’ shape our common worldview and personal aspirations. The Bildungsroman favors character evolution through personal work and fruitful interaction with the environment and it is no wonder that it also happens to be the genre of choice in most advertising, as in its crudest form it encourages safe, infallible causality.


So when a friend, who I will call Naive for the purposes of this discussion, told me that life owed him, he was obviously affected by the too much Bildungsroman flooding his favorite medium, which is no other than television. This is where his trust in metaphysical justice, as well as his conviction that things will change for the better as long as he tries more are rooted. This is the particular reading of the world promoted in our (neoliberal, as Moenandar doesn’t fail to mention) society. My answer (and you’re welcome to call me Cynical, if you’d like) was that life doesn’t owe anyone shit and it could just keep on screwing you up right ‘til and including the end. Just like many before me, I’ve gone rogue.


This is what happens to the disenchanted, alienated children of a prevalent narrative that seeks to abort them. They come out of the marginal worlds of the picaresque, misfits as they are ‘by nature’, and become the defiant questioners of the Bildungsroman world. They resist appropriation and pose a genuine threat to the dominant culture. However, in all their (unintentional) chivalry,  the Cynicals often fail to see that, just like the Naive, they only have limited, imperfect interpretations of the world at hand. Unless they detach themselves from the fallacies of narrative altogether, they are at high risk of becoming tragic, doomed to be chasing after a literary happiness.


To escape the limitations of the form one must, as Moenandar suggests, break the narrative itself. In art this has proven to be quite tricky and in many cases too ‘difficult’ to have a lasting impact on the general public (and yes, I’m thinking about jazz). In real life, I only know two immediate ways to reach the dissolution of the Self, which I suspect it takes to truly break the narratives that shape us from within: The second is hallucinogens and the first and foremost is death. Nevertheless, the Arts have shown the way at least since modernism was born, and we have never been more suffocated, but also more equipped and thus more prepared to carve a new kind of identity – on a social and personal scale – not crystallized as usual by the exclusions of narrative but fluctuating and open to coexisting, parallel possibilities.



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Friday, 29 September 2017 12:11