The “basher” and the “immortal”
On Anousheh Ansari’s space travel and her critics
November 16, 2006
For Hegel, the primary factor of human history is not modern natural science or the ever expanding horizon of desire that powers it, but rather a totally non-economic drive, the struggle for recognition.
-- Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man
I read Azam Nemati’s article on Anousheh Ansari, "Money doesn't buy you brains". The deep-seated human desire for recognition cannot be denied. In our quest to combat our perishable existence, we all wish for our names to belong to history books. Some of us are, at least, conscious of this fact. Others amongst us are unconscious of it. The more we react rather than respond to the mirth of someone else’s success, the more in common we have with the object of our bashing.
Milan Kundera, in his signature book, Immortality writes of a fictional conversation between Hemmingway and Goethe:
“You Know, Johann,” said Hemingway, “they keep bringing up accusations against me, too. Instead of reading my books, they’re writing books about me. They say that I didn’t love my wives. That I didn’t pay enough attention to my son. That I punched a critic on the nose. That I lied. That I wasn’t sincere. That I was conceited. That I was macho. That I claimed I had received two hundred and thirty war wounds whereas actually it was only two hundred and ten. That I abused myself. That I disobeyed my mother.”
“That’s immortality,” said Goethe. “Immortality means eternal trial.”
I like to defend Ansari. I like to say, let’s not foist our ideals of right and wrong on the object of our bashing. I like to say, let’s avoid the temptation of crediting ourselves with moral superiority. Let’s leave the problem of Darfur and other impoverished nations where they belong. I like to say, there are many others who earn more than Ansari or who have accumulated more wealth than she yet they live in stark oblivion of their own back yards. I like to say, Ansari treaded on foreign land and made her childhood dream materialize: now, she is treading on space! I like to say, by inspiring young children to believe in their dreams Ansari has made a contribution to humanity more important than what her money could buy. I like to say, Ansari is well-educated, brilliant, in fact, and a self-made entrepreneur who has received numerous awards.
I like to say, that in exercising her passion, Ansari has exercised godliness and perhaps attained it. One only needs to read her blog to sense the childish enthusiasm that imbues her words as she shares her space travel experience. I like to say, if Ansari could have explored space without paying a hefty sum of money, she would have done so; that unfortunately, the price tag of following our dreams is often hefty. I like to say, she is non-partisan, just a curious soul following her dreams. I like to say, the contribution she is making to furthering humanity’s vision beyond the boundaries of our earth will have a profound shift in our consciousness beyond what our limited vision allows us to see at this time. I like to say, we each have a song and surmounting the world’s hunger problems should be left to someone other than Ansari. Finally, I like to ask, why we burden Ansari with solving the world’s hunger problems when she never acceded to such responsibility?
But no matter what I say or how I try to defend my case, Ansari is doomed to eternal trial. Ansari has now joined the ranks of the immortals. Her name will be in history books and like Aghdashloo before her, her immortality carries the burden of eternal aspersion. How is that for a price tag of living one’s dream?
Let me take you back to the conversation between Hemingway and Goethe.
“If it’s eternal trial, there ought to be a decent judge. Not a narrow-minded schoolteacher with a rod in her hand.”
“A rod in the hand of a narrow-minded teacher, that’s what eternal trial is about. What else did you expect, Ernest?”
“I didn’t expect anything. I had hoped that after death I would at last be able to live in peace.”
“You did everything you could to become immortal.”
“Nonesense. I wrote books. That’s all.”
“Yes, precisely!” laughed Goethe.
“I have no objection to my books being immortal. I write them in such a way that nobody could delete a single word. To resist every kind of adversity. But I myself, as a human being, as Ernest Hemingway, I don’t give a damn about immortality!”
“I understand you very well, Ernest. But you should have been more careful while you were still alive. Now it’s too late.”
“More careful? Are you referring to my boastfulness? I admit that when I was young I loved to blow my own trumpet. I loved to show off in front of people. I enjoyed the anecdotes that were told about me. But believe me, I wasn’t such a monster as to do it on account of immortality! When I realized one day that this was the point of it all, I panicked. From that time on I must have told people a thousand times to leave my life alone. But the more I pleaded the worse it got ... ”
This is the fate of the “Immortal”. The Immortal is one who has achieved stardom, celebrity status, fame or worldly power. The Immortal becomes the indelible muse of the Basher, one who bashes the Immortal. But the “Basher” and the “Immortal” are flip sides of the same coin. Entrenched in their being is their insatiable appetite for
recognition. In bashing the Immortal, the Basher feels a sense of relief that life is, after all, egalitarian. If she, the Immortal, possesses external or worldly power, the Basher convinces herself that she possesses other attributes perhaps morality or humanity if nothing else. The Basher bashes because she is fascinated by the object of her bashing. She bashes because she needs to justify her own existence and the pettier it seems to her, the more she bashes. Perhaps through her bashing she also vicariously experiences the life of the Immortal. Such exhilaration! But whereas the Immortal is doomed to eternal trial, the Basher is doomed to eternal envy of the object of her worship. The fate is inescapable. As Jacqueline Susann, the renowned author of Valley of the Dolls once said:
“I write for women who read me in the goddamn subways on the way home from work ... I know who they are because that’s who I used to be. Remember Stella Dallas? My readers are like Stella. They want to press their noses against the windows of other people’s houses and get a look at the parties they’ll never get invited to, the dresses they’ll never get to wear, the lives they’ll never live, the guys they’ll never fuck.”
In conclusion, developing an “awareness” of the common thread the Basher shares with the Immortal as each seeks to validate her existence in light of her inevitable death may minimize the Bahser’s human impulse to deprecate the Immortal. On that note, since it all began with Ansari, I leave you with the following heartfelt passage from her web site:
“A long, long time ago, in a country, far far away ... there was a little girl who had her eyes fixed on the twinkling stars of the night skies over Tehran. Back then the air was not so polluted and you could see many stars in the night skies. Summer time, when they would set up the beds outside on the balcony to sleep, she would lay in her bed and look deep into the mysterious darkness of the universe and think to herself, What’s out there? Is someone out there awake in her bed, and gazing at her in the night sky? Will she ever find her ... See her ... Will she fly out there and float in the wonderful, boundless freedom of space?”. Comment