Privacy, Secrecy, Pseudonyms: between Kurt and Pandora

Productivity and secrecy don’t go well together.

I’ve been slow to accept this, because my private emblem of productivity is the neurotic workaholic. I find it most comfortable to imagine people driven by self-hatred, flinging themselves into creative obsessions to justify lives they would otherwise consider unacceptable, or as a diversion from the emotional wildfires and the social obligations which would otherwise pursue them.

This, of course, says more about me than about the outside world. Sad-but-productive has always been a figure of hope for me, alongside all those people who claim to ride out emotional troubles by burying themselves in work. It’s appealing precisely because it’s never worked for me — because my ability to get anything done evaporates when I’m down. I’d love to clap my hands and believe that if I just learn to mope in the right way, I could be simultaneously sad and productive.

Because the alternative model of productivity — the stronger one, the one built around self-expression rather than self-loathing — is even harder to picture myself in connection with. But this is the more internally coherent kind. It comes from treating everything you encounter with open acceptance, welcoming all of life as material for creation. From not (as I do) ramming 90% of life into the closet, and trying to show people the remaining 10%.

Using your entire life in this way necessarily means abandoning the old pseudo-Romantic lie that each lifetime tells only one story. It requires saying “I am large. I contain multitudes”

Pseudonyms form one escape. Remember Weimar’s cluster of insanely prolific intellectual streetfighters, people such as Kurt Tucholsky. Most of them were forced to write under multiple aliases. Partly this was for political reasons, partly to deal with the sheer volume of their output. Also, though, it was (was it?) to allow free rein to the different parts of their personalities, without running everything through one brand. Multiple personality as lifestyle choice, 70 years before Grant Morrison.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *