Tag Archives: terrin

Het gelukkige toeval van de volstrekte machteloosheid (Peter Terrin, Monte Carlo)

In Monte Carlo beschrijft Peter Terrin de heldendaad van een automonteur die in de baan van het vuur springt en verhoedt dat het beeldschone gelaat van een jonge filmster wordt verbrand, maar niet wordt erkend. Terrin laat in dit boek de achterkant van het gelijk zien, dat wil zeggen de spaanders die noodzakelijkerwijs moeten vallen om het werk van de mediacratie – van Monte Carlo tot De wereld draait door – tot stand te brengen en in stand te houden. Tegelijkertijd laat het boek zien dat de volstrekte machteloosheid van de vergetenen niet perse negatief hoeft te zijn. Terwijl het toeval wil dat de monteur zijn leven lang het ongeluk van zijn miskenning moet smaken, voert Terrin een ander vergeten personage op die zijn succes juist aan een dergelijk toeval dankt; de fotograaf die jaren later, als de filmster alsnog verbrandt bij een autocrash, door een gelukkig toeval van volstrekte machteloosheid de beeldbepalende foto’s schiet die de mediacratie nodig heeft om te kunnen blijven schitteren. Daarmee verschuift de aandacht van de volstrekte machteloosheid naar het gelukkig toeval dat ons denken en doen omgeeft.

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.