Man is a flying animal, according to Arnon Grunberg

Harry Houdini (1874-1926), born in Budapest as Eric Wise, the third son of Rabbi Samuel Meyer Wise, became world famous as a vaudeville performer and blackjack king or escape artist. Vaudeville is nothing without an audience, and that audience asked Houdini to get closer and closer to death before he narrowly escaped from it. Houdini’s art of escape consisted not only of chains and cages, but also of sight: he was good at invisibility and invisibility.

In 2001, the English psychoanalyst, translator and Freudian writer Adam Phillips (1954) wrote a book about Houdini under the title Houdini’s Box: The Art of Escape. Like Phillips, I am fascinated by this escape artist, and I believe, again like Phillips, that Houdini knowingly or inadvertently reveals something about the human condition.

Man, like a horse, is a flying animal, but the horse – I hope not to offend anyone – has a consciousness different from that of a person. In short, humans have knowledge of their own mortality that other animals probably don’t have to this extent. Man is bound by this knowledge and his life is characterized by it. His evolution into a nervous person is due to this awareness.

As a nervous person of sound mind, people will in many cases try to escape from imaginary dangers. Often he will try to escape from his desires because they conflict with other desires or demands placed on him. We must say of our species: it flees, then.

What is important for Houdini, and for people in general, is that the escape (the journey) must be repeated over and over again. There is no country of arrival and there is really no country of origin, people constantly shackle themselves, and one can call these shackles the country of origin if one wishes.

Today, such repetition at speed of reviving and primitive flight is called shock. Phillips refrains from such speculation, though he probably considers the fists people are born with trauma today to be another form of escapism. At least I think so, and I would add that in our culture of victimhood, where people are proud not of what one can do but of what one has endured, it won’t be long before egalitarianism is read this way: Trauma is a human right, just like the name.

The escape features two locations, one of which is an escape and the other to which the escape artist wishes to escape. So we’re mainly talking about the elderly couple, Fear and Desire.

Stoics – sometimes working under other names, Buddhists and Taoists; I myself have sometimes thought I was a Taoist—believing that suffering and, indirectly, death, or at least the fear of it, could be overcome by desiring as little as possible.

Phillips specifically believes that man, as a desiring being, fears little more than death because of his desire, because this is the initial stage of death: first my desire dies, then I. This is why there is such an intense battle to keep the desire alive.

The death of desire, and not necessarily sexual desire per se – though this particular death is very terrifying to many – is actually a harbinger of this other unmistakable death. Whatever the desire, and whatever object you cling to, all these desires have one thing in common: the desire to escape from the shackles that bind man to his own mortality, to realize that he is doomed to death, and food for worms. We should not be particularly pessimistic about it, and certainly not pathetic, the various escape attempts provide room for joy and pleasure, and if you look closely you will see that there is much to laugh at. There is also always, think of Houdini, suspense.

We live in a culture that has put desire on a pedestal and for that reason alone I believe there is more vitality in this culture than is often assumed. Phillips says that in a consumer society, desire should never take so much time. Each desire is fleeting, just a foreplay of the next. In addition, desire, and with it escapism, regularly finds itself in places that are not immediately recognized.

The consumer who wants to consume less and may or may not say so on the opinion page is also concerned with desire. His desire is not for the upstairs neighbor’s car, or the upstairs neighbor himself, but for a satisfactory inventory of what he already has. Desire itself seems primary to me, and what you focus on is secondary.

With this side issue, ethics come into play. Phillips believes, and it seems plausible to me, that this man, the escape artist, the flying animal, is always faced with a choice of where to escape. A good choice is often called the “ideal”, and a bad one is “escapism”. See above: Upstairs neighbor escape, consume the ideal.

The way it is formulated shows that Phillips doubts whether this strict division between idealism and escapism can persist. Idealism is polluted by escapism from reality, and escapism from it is associated with idealism. Philips also firmly maintains that escapism always lurks in the least expected places.

Conscious escapism knows that it is trying to hide from a reality it considers unlivable, and it is entirely possible that something similar is true of many idealists, and that idealism is, after all, also a form of disappearance. Appearing and disappearing, Houdini did it every day, for a living, we do it after him, often for free and less exciting. By the way, not only did Houdini disappear himself, he made a live elephant disappear from the closet in 1918. The trick he said was “Modern Show World“It used to be.

One person who has dealt with this problem, albeit on a more cultural and less individualistic level, is the cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker (1924-1974). He won a Pulitzer Prize for his book The idea of ​​denying deathI can also heartily recommend this book. What we call culture, Baker argues, fundamentally facilitates the human need for escape: culture as an indicator of escape.

To this end, each culture creates its own hero system that enables humans through seemingly advanced posts (heroes) to free themselves from the shackles already mentioned. Now that we’ve reached a point in history where the victims are the heroes, it’s interesting to think about how this development might affect our cultural escape.

Phillips suggests: Ethics is nothing but a flight from the worm. Becker puts it more clearly: people are gods and worms at the same time.God is with anus„. Gods with an anus, he saw it right.

The anus, of course, is a symbol of putrefaction and death—for this reason alone no deity worthy of that name has an anus—and also a symbol of lust. Death, decay and eroticism – read Patai – are closely related. As it has been said, where desire dies, death is not far off. Meanwhile, the slow death of desire is due not so much to the proximity of death as to the distance we were created from it. The anus deity, the fleeing animal, sometimes bites its own tail.

Escape is also a political phenomenon. One who clearly thought of this was the political philosopher Leo Strauss (1899-1973) who believed that the state and politics were the only guarantee “against the world becoming a world of entertainment”. Entertainment, I understand that when he sang escapism, and when Strauss talks about politics, he always means a struggle that may be a struggle between life and death.

Liberal democracy, with good reason, has tried to weaken this struggle as much as possible. Liberalism took the position that people could live better together if they made as few judgments as possible about each other’s hobbies; A far-reaching bequest because everything in liberalism is actually a hobby. Whether you want to get a tattoo every day, wear a burqa, try to save the world, or basically wear a schubert.

Even the search for truth, always subject to taste, has become in principle a private matter and therefore a special form of hobby. The flaws in this democratic pursuit, which enjoys legal protection under the name of freedom of speech, became evident when it became apparent that there are as many truths as there are hobbies and that many cling to this subjective truth as if it were their last lifeline. .

Would Strauss still characterize the state and politics as shaped by today’s liberal democracies as a safeguard against “the world becoming a world of entertainment”? Meanwhile, Parliament itself was integrated into the world of entertainment. I’m afraid this is a model of parliamentarism.

Anyone trying to save the world through Parliament, with its elections every four years, knows that it will survive by sympathetic attempts: at the end of a successful career, one can look back on a thousand square kilometers saved. Those who want to save the world with a great gesture have no choice but armed struggle.

If you have the time, ask yourself: Am I willing to die for my art of escape?

Although Leo Strauss is often seen as an anti-liberal, you can also see his critique of liberalism as an attempt to save it. I prefer this interpretation, at any rate it would have predicted the collapse of liberal society, a decay perhaps inevitable when gods with orifices of delight and forgiveness try, forced or not, to live together. Because of this decadence, people as diverse as Putin and Bin Laden have called the Westerner (read: liberal) soft in many words. They saw everything in the West become a park, including politics. However, with Phillips, we know that Putin’s or Bin Laden’s idealism is just the flip side of the escape coin. and the park contains, I think, more traces of idealism than many suppose.

However, the question arises within liberalism: if every emotion is privatized, what common goals are people still willing to die for?

Interestingly enough, escape artist Houdini once again provides an answer. In 1926, a student named Whitehead entered his locker room. This student asked if he could hit Houdini in the stomach a few times. Houdini believed that as a true artist he could never say no to this. The student hit, a few days later Houdini died of a ruptured appendix. His last words seemed to be, “I can’t fight anymore.”

Here near me in New York it says on the church: Enjoy your forgiveness. Every time I walk by I have to smile.

I want to tell you, dear reader, enjoy escaping from reality.

And if you have time in the next few days, for example if you are alone in the toilet with an anus open, ask yourself: Am I willing to die for my art of escape? (And there are no easy answers.)

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