Private mythology

by Steve


Presumably all obsessions are extreme metaphors waiting to be born. That whole private mythology, in which I believe totally, is a collaboration between one’s conscious mind and those obsessions that, one by one, present themselves as stepping-stones.

J.G. Ballard, interviewed in the Paris Review

Identity as a sum of interests. A sum of obsessions. A sum of rabbit-holes to fall down again and again. More than the sum of its parts. More than identity. A glance inside whatever murk lies inside. The clues. The red herrings.

I feel incoherent, in many senses of the word. Those obsessions mentioned in the quotation above don’t all necessarily hang neatly together. They don’t tell a simple story. They probably contradict. “So, what are you into?” is an impossible question. To answer would take forever, and I’d probably get it wrong, so I answer, “You know, lots of things, the usual. Not much time these days.”

Yet I know all of these interests, obsessions, are an important part of me, probably a route in to whoever the hell I am.

Some tell my history. I can pinpoint the first time I heard a particular band. I can trace my love of a certain book because that band talked about that author. I watched a film because it related to that author. Listened to a piece of music because of that film. And so on.

Other things have always just been there. And were there for my forefathers too. There is a sense of belonging. A sense of comfort in the familiar, in the constant, in routine.

It is a home. My home. The homes of others. But home nonetheless. A refuge.

There is nostalgia too, or at least a sense of looking back. Either for my own past, or for a past before it. To delve into others’ history. Perhaps to understand. Perhaps to escape. Perhaps to offer a way to live now. Or as a warning of how not to live.

I follow these trails. The fuzzy glow of recording of an old TV show, dubbed one too many times. The eerie comfort of water. A particular guitar sound. Lost pubs. The smell of cigar smoke in old football grounds. A luchador unmasks. Sitting in a church on a weekday. European stationery. Grumpy Germanic writers.

Each interest, each obsession, chips away at me in a thousand indiscernible ways. Would I be different without them? If I had followed other inspirations, influences? Almost certainly, yet I don’t quite know how. I guess that is why it is a personal mythology, rather than a personal history. There’s a tale to be told, but it is a slippery one. Unverifiable. Constantly shifting.

To trace the private mythologies of others. Perhaps to know them better. Probably just so I can add to my own. Making new connections, unlikely ones, between books, music, culture, place, whatever else. There is a certain honesty in the person who flies in several different directions, who delights in the contradictions, shares the confusion. They are worth knowing. We “read around” the subject. Follow what they followed. Circle in again.

I don’t think anyone needs to offer a singular voice, a clear line of communication, a brand. We’re all much more than that. A polyphony.

The greatest writing, or music, or whatever else, can somehow tie all manner of things together, show new connections, new juxtapositions, new perspectives, and ultimately create new forms. A private mythology, made public. Ready to be absorbed into someone else’s private mythology. Really, what even is writing, or any form of creation, without this? And the trail continues.