ROTTERDAM – The conclusion to our adventure has been slightly delayed and if anyone has been wondering as to why – I have been thinking about how to end it.
I have written about the universal culture of misogyny, made a few remarks on what a modern man is and then wondered why we need these lists of manliness in the first place. My conclusion was that no one told us we are men. We need lists like these, we need the entire oeuvre of masculinity because no one told us.
Instead, we are given thirty days to get there. We are presented with lists and lists of traits and behaviour, tips and advices on how to become who we were in the first place. But that is not all; the Art of Manliness aims higher than mere masculinity. It dreams of Greatness.
I have referenced to this romantic vision of the past and of deceased Great Men on multiple occassions in the last months. Great Men wrote journals for themselves and letters for each other. They gave great speeches about their great principles, and they achieved great things.
The underlying message here is that this Greatness was inspired by their masculinity. They had all the right traits, made all the right decisions, said the right words, and they are now immortalised in some metaphorical hall, with a bust made out of marmble.
Their starry faces shine upon ours, and if you do not read Roosevelt’s biography in the train, if you are not inspired by Carnegie’s little financial adventures, then you will never aspire to Greatness, either.
We, after all, possess all the ingredients for the recipe. We know exactly what to do in order to become great and have our own bust in the hall. All that is left to measure ourselves with, is our willpower to conspire against those who conspire against us in order to stand besides these Men.
In the Renaissance, any aspiring craftman dreamt of going through three phases in his artistic career: one starts with imitatio or imitation of the Masters. Then, once imitation is not flattering anymore, you move on to translatio or the translation of the Masters. Finally, after years and years of training and hard work, you surpass the Masters (aemulatio). We know how to get there now, don’t we? How to become Great?
Consumerism is based on selling ingredients to a dream, whether it be happiness or success or greatness. Only a particular combination of products and services will get us is *there*, wherever *there* may be. But just as we are about to arrive, the ingredients change and so we are stuck in a perpetual cycle of consumption.
Few things besides food come with a recipe and with ingredients. Greatness stems from the need to speak. Not just any words, but the ones that matter. Any great person who ever lived was just someone who lent his or her voice to an idea that was so brilliant, so ingenious, of such pivotal importance, that the person itself became secondary to the entity itself. We revere the people for their accomplishments, but in reality it was their ideas that made it there.
And there’s simply no way you can imitate, translate, and finally surpass these ideas if you don’t have your own. Charles Bukowski said:
seek what you love and let it kill you.
There’s really no identity in greatness. I am thoroughly convinced that any person who is perceived to be great by others understands this. They possess the wisdom to realise that they are mere vessels; that it is ultimately not them, but this abstraction that borrows their voices, that will change the world.
In order for you to be great, you’ll have to let what’ll make you great, kill you.
To be honest, I think most of these Great Men would turn in their graves to know that the people who stand on their shoulders are too busy shouting “look at me! look at me!”, frantically jumping up and down again, waving at the crowds below. The fastest climbers reached these heights, but their motivation is depleted once they get there.
The notion that these actual Great Men were inspired by their own penis is beyond ridicule. You can’t have greatness and take yourself as the pivotal point of it. You’re going to have to sacrifice your ego in order to actually get there. And this is not a strategy or another recipe. You cannot go meditate, do a course and call yourself a Buddhist, either, in your hope to become Great. You just have to find something worth saying, and then let yourself be consumed by it completely.
I wonder whether all these Great Men decided to be Great. At what point did Ghandi say to himself: I am surely going to be Great one day! Some of them were groomed, but the compulsion of speaking that comes with having a great idea really isn’t a matter of individual perseverance or decision-making. I think that once you truly realise you have something important to say, nothing will stop you from speaking up.
And the next time I see someone reading inspiring literature in the train, I will tell them this. You cannot steal Greatness, you can merely imitate its expressive fruits. Great Men speak eloquently, and if you do too, that doesn’t make you a Great Men. But some people might think that you are, and maybe you do too.
After all, Charles Bukowski also said:
We have wasted History like a bunch of drunks shooting dice back in the men’s crapper of the local bar.