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Neuronovelizing Nausea

In a neuronovel, human behavior is explained in terms of the brain, neurochemistry and synapses firing. There is usually a disorder seen reductionistically and the narrative is characterized by biological determinism. For instance in Ian McEwan’s Sunday, the main character has Huntington’s disease; his life and behavior are explained in terms of the flaws in his DNA. In Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex, the main character’s life is determined by his hermaphroditic condition caused by 5-alpha-reductase deficiency. (More about neuronovels here.)

It is 2011 and neurons are in vogue. It may seem plausible, interesting and cool to examine a protagonist completely at the mercy of his hardware, when there is an exotic disease to act as a barrier, distancing you from him and shielding you against identifying with him. There is, however, yet another step the deterministic neuronovels haven’t taken – would they ever dare to explain everything in terms of neurons, however popular they are? Can you describe the whole human experience solely in terms of neurochemistry – reducing everything we are into biology?

I have attempted to get closer to this by trying to neuronovelize a novel. I’ve (pretentiously) chosen Sartre’s ‘The Nausea’. The main character, Roquentin, can arguably be diagnosed with a myriad of psychiatric disorders – at least OCD and Major Depressive Disorder with occasional psychotic symptoms. Even though these too are disorders, they’re far more common than Huntington’s, allowing identification with the protagonist. Now, if we assume the widely accepted neurochemical model behind depression and OCD, suggesting serotonine imbalance as well as impaired hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal gland -axis, we can see that much of Roquentin’s narrative throughout the whole novel is heavily influenced by his synapses gone astray.

Through Roquentin, Sartre conveys some of his widespread thoughts of freedom and the nature of existence. Are these thoughts to be understood as symptoms of a disorder, rather than a portrayal of the human condition? Are the meditations on total freedom nothing more than expressions of obsessive-compulsive disorder treatable with Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (e.g.Prozac)? Also, the novel came out 1947 when the western world had a lot to be depressed about. Why would the novel be considered as anything else than a voice of collective ‘reactive depression’?

I think the neuronovel experiment can only exist if it’s about somebody you can’t identify with. It’s ok if Baxter’s life was all about Huntington, but there is something creepy about a character closer to be able to be identified with being just a soup of chemicals. Hurts the pride?


Looking at it from another angle, if you examine the Nausea in terms of biological determinisim, what would the evolutionary implications be? Why would natural selection have brought forth anyone who thinks like Roquentin? Is he ‘flawed’ or diseased, expressing a malfunction or an undesired by-product of our massive neocortices? Or is the chemical ‘imbalance’ in his brain in fact somehow good for preserving the species? The depression is what brings Roquentin into contact with existence (in the scene with the chestnut tree); is there some evolutionary advantage in understanding this?

Or, why else would so many people in the western world be depressed, if it wasn’t that our genes produce this chemical imbalance as a result of the environment we live in?

Of course one can argue that natural selection is out of the window now that modern medicine saves us from so many external pathogens. Then again, it is also possible to ask if depression, is in fact ‘nature’s’ way of countering how we tamper with natural selection? If we spend so much time curing all diseases, nature will have found depression – and it’s complication suicide – to act as the instrument of natural selection?

A final word for a cool determinist to ponder; if I’m just a soup of neurotransmittors, why would I choose to write this text. I don’t believe I have a disease. Why are my genes making me do what I’m doing right now? There cannot possibly be any evolutionary advantages to writing this text right here and now.


Post-postmodern self-reflection

Here’s how hanba is post-postmodern, as defined in the previous article.

-Nurses a belief in local food, good food. Trying to reduce the grocery shopping, because it’s depressing and the food has low quality. Ordering organic vegetable boxes delivered to the door.

-Bought a really expensive blender instead of a cheaper one, because after reading hundreds of customer reviews, we realized that we just cannot afford a mid-level priced blender, since they only come with a 6 months warranty and a user base complaining about the poor quality.

-Prefer “proper” beers.

-Took up carpentry for three weeks ago.

And for those of you thinking, oh hanba you’re such a snob, I’d like to add that Hanba doesn’t believe in wasting money on things like housing, transportation or clothes.

Post-postmodern stuff

Postmodernism is over, at least according to V&A museum in London. On 24th september a new exhibition is opened, titled postmodernism.It’s really interesting to see what’s coming after. A few posts back I covered “Alter modernism” as  a suggestion to what might come after. Now I came across an article in Prospect magazine’s, where Edward Docx describes what he believes is on the rise. He believes what’ll come after can be defined as specificity, authenticity and values. He exemplifies it as the rise of the local food movement, of the bar menus that use the word “proper” to describe beers. A revival for craftmanship, in short, something “real”.

My favourite blog Partial Objects refers to this article. The article in Prospect magazine made the blogpost author Pastabagel think of Arcade Fire’s lyrics:

Now the kids are all standing with their arms folded tight
Kids are all standing with their arms folded tight
Well, some things are pure and some things are right
But the kids are still standing with their arms folded tight
I said some things are pure, and some things are right
But the kids are still standing with their arms folded tight

So young, so young
So much pain for someone so young
Well, I know it’s heavy, I know it ain’t light
But how you gonna lift it with your arms folded tight?

-”Month of May” by Arcade Fire

In this article, a future with the end of “cool” and “I couldn’t care less” – type of trend is proposed. According to the article and its comment thread, there are people who expect the future to be a bit optimistic, naive even, featuring things “pure and right”. Commentators suggest for instance, that new idealism related to environmentalism or optimistic absurd existentialism may be on the rise.

The discussion inspired hanba to find a few artworks to illustrate the comments.
Here is an artwork by an Alter Modernist Pascal Marthine Tayou exemplifying environmental idealism. Erin Hanson can serve as an example of optimistic absurd existentialism. A comment about not keeping the arms folded, doing something pure and right suggests idealism, which makes me think of the Alter Modern artist Bob and Roberta Smith. (of course you can see it as irony that the artist is charging for the postcards portraying “things pure and right”)

The comment thread also lifts up a question about all the people who don’t “fit in” the alter modern world. Who don’t subscribe to the creolization and are anti-immigration. The question is if this “flip side of multiculturalism” is also post-postmodern? The author of the blogpost, Pastabagel, describes that the last line in the Arcade Fire excerpt sounds like a grandfatherly advice. Perhaps the next generation will look up to the grandparents’ generation for “things pure and real.” Well, the grandfathers fought wars affiliating with a national state. Borders and fronts were in vogue. Perhaps the rise of neo-nationalism and anti-immigration can be seen as an undesired effect of being inspired by the grandparents’ generation?

Can post-postmodernism mean both alter modern and the negation thereof? Sure this “creolization” is going on, but the anti-immigration narrative is also on the rise (speaking with an European perspective here.) For example, a nationalist anti-immigration party in Finland had a very long art manifesto in its party program, suggesting state funded art grants be given to artists that portray Finnish national values and the Finnish experience.

Postmodernism started in architecture, and in architecture it has ended for a long time ago. Can we use architecture as a crystal ball to see how the post-postmodern narrative will turn out? Let’s see what’s the fashion in architecture today. The answer is white, plastered, simple lines. Only a few ornaments, lots of light. Bauhaus is as cool as ever. In other words, neo-modernism is in vogue. Neo-Bauhaus is here, suggesting we may well see more influences from the grandparents’ generation.

Is the rise of the “pure and right” a form of good old modernism rising its head again? Back to idealism, back to the modern project, man on his way to the moon? Can post-postmodernism be a form of neomodernism? Environmentalism, for instance, can be considered an idealistic project. (I guess one difference between modernism and post-postmodernism is that the latter seems to have risen from the grassroots rather than top-down.)

Time will tell what will happen. I think we’ll see the rise of things “good and pure”, but that it means quite different things to different people.

Taking an unexpected break from blogging…

Sorry guys… The hanbablog is temporarily on hold.

Everyday life

Having some morning coffee, getting ready to go. Making a lunchbox, thinking all these thoughts.

Hanbablog will be back in action soon. I have all these thoughts about art, architecture and life in general. The only problem right now is that I have to catch the 6:47 train.

Excuses excuses. Everyday life is such a good excuse for not making efforts. Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making lunchboxes.

I really need to …

… have a serious look at my blogging strategies. Nobody ever reads this blog. Gotta roll up my sleeves and start advertising. I need to work  on my search engine optimization. Participate more in discussions. Become hip. Engage myself with cool topics. Gotta write about current hot stuff. Be the vigilante hothead star reporter.

How to do this? I’ll just tag this text with Patrick Swayze’s name and people will flock to the hanbablog. That way I become famous and influential. I become somebody. Hanba the famous blogger! I will take over the world buhaahahahahahhaa

Did you think it is insensitive to bring a dead person up just to get more readers?

Any publicity is good publicity. There are no tricks nasty enough. Contemporary journalism. The time of gentlemen is out.  I satisfy your very basic human need of tearing things apart.

Off to the Arctic

I’m a bit fired up tonight. The reason: an upcoming 5 day camping trip, starting tomorrow night. My friends and I are going way up to the Arctic Circle. More specifically, to an area called Salla in Northeastern Finland. I’ve still got a lot of packing to do…. 🙂