This summer’s comic fantasy spotlight is on… Charlie Kaufman!!!
Everybody knows Charlie Kaufman, right? He’s an American screenwriter, producer, director. He wrote, among many others, the films Being John Malkovich (1999), Adaptation (2002), and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), three scripts that appear in the Writers Guild of America‘s list of the 101 greatest movie screenplays ever written. In 2020, Kaufman made his literary debut with the release of his first novel, Antkind.
It makes sense that such an imaginative thinker would want to write a novel, and of course, it’s about the self, a solipsistic journey into the mind of yet another of his famous neurotic narrators.
Quick synopsis: The story runs over seven hundred pages and deals with the mind of B. Rosenberger Rosenberg, a flailing, middle-aged film critic, who falls in love with a stop-action animation film whose run time is three months long! He decides it’s a masterpiece—the “last great hope of civilization.” When transporting the film back to New York, the truck catches fire and Rosenberg wakes up some months later in a hospital. The second two-thirds of the story involves Rosenberg’s attempts to remember what he saw of the film and recreate what he didn’t, often with the aid of a dubiously qualified hypnotist.
This book is hyper-metafictional, as any Kaufman fan probably expects.
Obsessive compulsive disorder —and if you have it, then you likely won’t be physically able to stop reading because you will need to see what happens.
Every film technique Kaufman ever used he uses again in this book. He even invents many film ideas he may or may not make. All of his films are contained in this book in one form or another. Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind within eternal sunshine of the spotless mind, etc; dreams within dreams under hypnosis inside a remembered film that could be a figment of his imagination. Are you bothered by dream sequences? There are a lot.
There are also time reversals and time extensions, and a lot of general clowning. And clowns. Literal clowns. Are they supposed to be symbolic? Everything is symbolic. That’s the first assumption we have to make. Time malleability, the marketability of memories.
That’s just a small part of what I got from the story, but I’m still trying to process what I read. The title—Antkind— comes from (I think) a futuristic civilization that’s superior to our own because ants “know who they are without knowing they know who they are.” In other words, Antkind is free of the curse of self-consciousness, and, therefore, of self-criticism.
That’s some of what I got, and I’d like to hear what you all think of the book.
I write this newsletter alone in the Kyoto house. I haven’t spoken to anyone—by actually opening my mouth and speaking words—for a good long time. Communication with the family, now living in Malaysia, is mostly by text. They’re busy.
So I’m isolated. Aren’t we all?
That brings us to this month’s topic: Is isolation beneficial to the creative process?
The lockdowns around the world have led to millions of people being shut in at home, unable to go about their normal lives, and, frankly, becoming increasingly bored. But might that actually be a good thing?
On The Agenda, Sandi Mann, senior psychology lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire, has carried out research to prove that boredom can be a creative force.
“I’ve done a mini-version of lockdown near my university in Preston in the UK, where we’ve got people into isolation cubicles,” she revealed. “We’ve seen what happens when people are really bored, and it actually makes them more creative.”
Mann explained that it’s crucial not to fight that boredom. “The key to creativity is to let your mind wander, to daydream. So this period of lockdown that we’re all experiencing all over the world could turn out to be our greatest period of creativity in the whole history of mankind.”
Not everyone is thriving in lockdown, and Mann acknowledged that some people were suffering from anxiety or depression exacerbated by isolation – but noted that “it’s human nature to try and get the positives where you can, from even the most dire of situations. It’s a bit like what we call ‘cognitive reframing’ – it’s seeing things differently, trying to get the positives out of a very difficult situation.”
Asked how to maximize this inherent creativity, Mann said the key was to embrace the boredom. “It’s not just about being bored and going on the internet and trying to swipe and scroll boredom away. Let your minds wander. Be mindful.”
She goes on with, “Just watch the world go by or even just stare at the ceiling and let your mind find its own entertainment and its own creativity. Your mind will do the job, you don’t need to do anything else – that’s what your mind is programmed to do after millions of years of evolution, it’s programmed to find its own stimulation. And it will.”
Watch The Agenda’s full interview with Sandi Mann here:
See you soon!