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HARDBACK RE/Search #6/7: Industrial Culture Handbook Excerpt: Sordide Sentimental

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YVES VON BONTEE: Everything people talk about is perhaps true and perhaps wrong. You have to take in the world and not just consider the words in themselves. When you use words, you use them with “meaning” but also you use them with your own experience, your own symbols, your complex imagination, dreams, everything. People will receive that . . . But they also don’t receive that at all.

When I am writing, most of the time I try to stop in the middle of a sentence, just to try to oblige people to continue the sentence with their own imagination, and to work with the meaning. I hate people only wanting to receive, who don’t want to give anything, who don’t want to participate. You stop, and that is all.

When I write for myself (in my journal), I’m writing in French and I stop writing in French and write in German, and then I stop writing in German and put an English word into a German sentence, and I mix it up. I put my own experience into words and if it sounds better in German, I do that.

R/S: It might be funny to compile a list of half-sentences that anyone could finish as soon as they read the first few words—a lot of our communication could be reduced to those.

JEAN-PIERRE TURMELPT: Yes. It’s an interesting game to play with a group of people. They may be discussing one subject, and at one moment everything seems to be okay. Suddenly you ask them, “You talk about this [concept]—what does it mean?” And one by one, what you see is that each person has a different definition of the concept. Finally, it seems that they understood each other, but in fact it was a complete illusion.

Often people use words as slogans, but they don’t really know the exact sense of the terms, the words. For instance, if you ask people, Tell me, what is a fascist? You will have one hundred definitions (or more). And if you tell them, A fascist is one who wants to destroy capitalism, they will say, Oh, you are crazy! But it’s true—that’s found in texts—fascists wanted to destroy capitalism. So, where is reality?

YVES: Yesterday I was in Germany and an 80-year-old man told me, “Yes, there is a great difference between fascism which was Mussolini’s, and Hitler’s which was National Socialist. Hitler’s wasn’t fascism.”

JPT: In a way he was right, because “fascism” came from the word fascio which is an Italian word. Always the same problem: words are basis of all illusions.

R/S: I think one of the big problems today, which J.G. Ballard has illuminated, is that the myths that really matter, that affect people the most powerfully, are not the ones held up that we ordinarily think of as myths. For example, the space program, the car crash death, the great collective myth of the coming nuclear destruction—one doesn’t necessarily regard these as myths.

JPT: I like very much Ballard—he really sees the world like a forest of symbols, myths and so on. He describes worlds which are mythological worlds. The new gods are not very different from the gods of antiquity—for instance, the movie stars, monsters, everything like that.

R/S: He’s brought precise medical and scientific terms into the vocabulary—

JPT: I like the fact that behind the man you always see the animal. And the difference is very thin. I think a good question would be to ask: What is the difference between man, and the new man—

R/S: If there can be one—

JPT: Because we can’t ask now what is the difference between animal and human. Everybody is trying to answer those questions, but there is no real answer.

R/S: Ancient Egyptians had an interesting model to explain the diverse abilities humans display; each animal represented a principle of nature, or neter, and humans embodied different neters—not necessarily just one, although usually one predominated.

JPT: Some humans are very intelligent with a little brain, and some humans with big brains are complete idiots. What is the conclusion? An elephant has a very big brain—

YVES: But it doesn’t have any cortex.

JPT: I like very much theories. Theory is a pleasure in itself. I like theories not because they reflect the truth—

R/S: Oh, theories—I thought you said fairies!

JPT: Most of the time theories are fairies! That’s excellent—you have a very good unconscious.

R/S: That’s part of the big game—to gain more and more access to the unconscious, where creativity comes out of—

JPT: Yes.

YVES: I like theory too, because it’s used to destroy meat—

JPT: —of reality, of the truth.

YVES: We use it in a simple way. We are always building lots of theories with which we can destroy reality, to make a splash.

JPT: When somebody asked Epicurus a question, he used to give 10 or more answers, saying to the person, Choose. It is astonishing to me that this simple evidence was known in the past, thousands of years ago, but it’s not still understood by people. It’s more than a problem of culture—the problem is they refuse. Something which is very constant is imbecility, and you can do nothing against that.

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