Biophobia and the Banality of Transparency (Peter Terrin’s Post Mortem)

At first glance, Peter Terrin’s Post Mortem is a book about an author who is writing an autobiographical book about his alter ego, while his four year old daughter is hit by a cerebral infarction. In fact, it describes the struggle of an author in the current age, in which the complete revelation of yourself – the transparency of our biography in literary works but also at social networks like facebook and wordpress – is celebrated as the greatest good. Steegman, the main character of the book, is a child of his time and completely transparent for himself; he recognizes and knows himself, writes an autobiographical book and even tries to have control over his future biographer. At the same time, he suffers from biophobia and wants to escape his biography. Why? Because of the banality of transparency in which there is no room anymore for any difference between what you are and what the world knows about you. Originally, it was precisely this difference that drove authors, poets and philosophers to write their books and sing their songs. In the age of transparency, Steegman’s idea is to move in the opposite direction; he becomes completely transparent in his book (“he has become his books”) and at the same time, he explores a diversionary tactic; the exploration of another possible meaning of his biographical events and based on this, the establishment of an ambiguity and secrecy in which Steegman can withdraw and escape the transparency of his biography.

Although I acknowledge that Steegman’s diversionary tactic is promising – especially the tactic to raise dust clouds in which you can hide yourself in the age of transparency – the focus on biophobia and the biographical is still subjectivistic in this novel. I would like to propose another possible meaning of Post Mortem, inspired by the temporary amnesia of Steegman’s daughter. After her cerebral infraction, she suffered from temporary amnesia as a self-protective reflex of the bodily system. Maybe, we have to conceive the banality of transparency as a temporary amnesia with regard to the difference between ourselves and what the world knows about us. This amnesia is nothing negative. On the one hand, it is precisely this amnesia that has to be conceived as self-protective, i.e. as a protection of the self in the age of transparency. On the other hand, it is precisely this amnesia with regard to myself, which provides the only access to the difference between myself and what the world knows about me in the age of transparency. In this respect, not biophobia but a non-subjectivistic desire for the “self” should be key in future literary efforts. Coetzee’s descriptions of the personal over the universal in ‘the Childhood of Jesus’ – see my previous blogs – could be seen as such an effort.

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