Interview with the writer Radovan Brenkus (Touches 2008/3)

P. H.: Today’s world appears to me like a pot of water just before boiling. Don’t you have this feeling, too? Isn’t something hanging in the air? If yes, what is it? What can in the nearest decades happen in this huge pot? Who and what will be boiled in it? What will be the Slovak taste of the soup?

R. B.: Not only me, but major part of the society has the feeling that the Sword of Damocles is hanging above us. It does not present anything abstract – powerlessness, downtrodden dignity, loss of moral values, violence and several other negative phenomena, all these express the behaviour and action of concrete people embodying the social relations. And these are the direct consequences of economic mechanisms of the society. Politicians will hardly change them in the nearest decades, so I assume that such situation will, along with reforms, persist longer. Problems can be only solved by more effective ways of obtaining the financial means and more economic redistribution of the wealth. I remain to be an optimist in these questions, I believe that by entrance to the euro zone, the situation in our country will keep improving, although not everyone will benefit from it in the adequate degree. Globalization will cook a lot of mortals in its pot and I can’t prevent the individual executions. It’s about the repeating antinomy in basic sociological considerations. What is better, rule of the strong average that, sometimes composed of amorphous individuals installed by the capital owners and mediocracy, will finally subjugate the others to the slave, feudal or capitalistic manner or system with the strong organization hierarchy where finally any kind of individualism will be suppressed like in the anthill? Both solutions lead to the same result – to the dictatorships by the form of various kinds of pseudo-democracies. Democracy itself does not exist, each is autocratic. Although the whole history is the fight of antagonistic forces not requiring the first or the second model of the society, their movement finally alternates the power of some towards the others. About anarchy, we know a good deal. Religion, philosophy and works of art remain the spiritual and saving escape for us. Animals can perform the most beautiful dance figures, but for them, dance does not have the sense of ballet. I expect that the Slovak taste of the soup will not be so bitter. Countries in the European Union will certainly preserve their national identity, language and history, although the concepts of the single European culture, according to which the trend of common history will be created, already exist.

P. H.: Are you a convinced atheist? Who and why caused the big bang, creation of galaxies, stars and suns? Are the works of Baudelaire, Bach or Mozart really the result of absurd transformation of the burning space mud? Do we really exist? Isn’t it all a veil from the oriental philosophies?

R. B.: First, I’m going to specify how I understand atheism in order to be clear about this matter, because a lot of people identify atheism with nihilism, as though atheism excluded any kind of the faith. Atheism is a negation of any fiction of the ontological intelligibility, in modern concept even the unsubstantial one. The immanent quality of intelligibility is self-reflection. If this intelligibility is briefly referred to as God, then we can consider atheism as a conviction denying the existence of God. In the stated sense I can responsibly declare I’m an atheist. Basic theological category is best expressed by this terminological specification; moreover each of its anthropomorphisms is for the future theological conceptions excluded, because it leads to the substantial model of God. Of course, boundary, more sophisticated solution of defining the notion of God exists – God is something indeterminate, what can’t be determined in any way. In this case, we have finished: if we in advance deport God into the impenetrable exile of mysticism, it has no sense to talk about him; any theology is out of question. Reasoning of my conviction emerging not only from the science would require minimally the monograph. Since there is no sufficient space for it within our interview (and I don’t want to bore the readers), I will continue with the second part of your question.
We have the universe evolution mapped with great accuracy from 10-35 second up to the present, mathematical results of the Grand Unification Theory (GUT) are in measured agreement with observed parameters of the universe. Up to this moment, we know nothing about the universe, adequate theory is missing. Question what happened "before" or "during" the big bang has no physical sense nowadays. Details can be looked up by everyone in various publications. Although we still don’t know many details (we don’t know what was sooner, stars or galaxies, and further galaxies observations referring to their birth from dark matter clusters will certainly fill in the theories of galaxies formation), nowadays it is more than certain that so called inflation phase of the universe evolution is responsible for the formation of universe inhomogeneities (stars and galaxies). WMAP Satellite launched by NASA in 2001 with high accuracy confirmed the oscillation of relict radiation. When the big bang theory was created, it was natural that some too extrapolated opinions appeared which can be summed up as follows: Big bang is the origin of the world. God, possibly unnecessary like the creator of the universe, created the natural laws. Everything, including the basic physical constants, was adjusted in a way that life was finally created and man like the lord of creation, too. Since we are finding out with amazement that the universe is perfectly organized, exactly in a way it should be, it is impossible that behind its harmony, the universal intention embodied by never-ending intelligence is not hidden. My fundamental question bringing us back in the philosophy sounds: is really this world the most perfect from all the possible worlds?
Firstly, universe singularity (point state) represents a paradox of general theory of relativity emerging from applying the gravitational equations beyond the bounds of their validity. Like every new physical theory with other problems removes the paradoxes of the old one, the quantum theory of gravitation, that we don’t have at our disposal, will also show which right place belongs to the singularity. Point is explicitly an abstract notion of geometry. It is possible that big bang was caused by the repulsive gravitational interaction that is exhibited only at extremely smallest sub-quantum dimensions. In such a case we will wait to see a modern version of cosmological constant λ (it doesn’t have to be the version related to vacuum energy) that Einstein worked into his equations in order to avoid the dynamic model of the universe. We know that he considered it to be his lifelong mistake. At the same time we can’t imagine big bang like the classical explosion, necessary condition of which is the gradient of pressure of the internal environment towards the external one. Question what is outside the finite and boundless universe has neither philosophical sense. Secondly, serious philosophical dialectics sees the universe with present form of natural laws like one of the innumerable phases of ontological reality. Not only from its point of view, it has no sense to talk about the origin of the world, even the whole existence. Big bang is not so exceptional phenomenon. At the most, it can be the creation and extinction of the space-time in the physical sense, if the quantum theory of gravitation confirms its formation or extinction in the "singular" condition. Philosophy will make a lot of effort, until it manages to formulate the dialectical principles of natural laws development, immanently included in ontological reality. Multiverse theory, which doesn’t solve the question of laws origin and postpone it to another level, will obtain the real base by reasoning of the metalaws. The consequences will be significant, from the revision of teleology through the extinction of anthropocentrism leading to the universal divine intention, up to the revaluation of axiology. Thirdly, perfection of this world lies in its imperfection, because the ontological reality implicitly comprises in itself the inexhaustible number of worlds realized with other natural laws, currently possible and impossible. Since everything has not only the cause but also its meaning, intention is in teleonomic (animate and inanimate) processes dialectically realized in connection with causality. Their resulting function doesn’t have to have the form of the purposive intention.
You are asking whether the great works are result of the universe chaos. You are evidently alluding to the fact that coincidence itself can’t take share in the creation of such works. Really, otherwise houses would be normally built by throwing the grenade into the pile of bricks. Physics doesn’t exclude similar possibility of the creation of Shakespeare’s work from letters, but the probability of this phenomenon equals zero in practice. Problem of coincidence is more complex, because even the necessity itself is not sufficient for the explanation of causality of dialectical nature. We have managed to substantiate the formation of highly organized structures, where except for fluctuations (accidental deviations), additional necessary conditions come into play. We have managed to substantiate the formation of these structures by synergetics – science in which dialectics (evolution philosophical theory) gained the mathematical form. However, we still remain in captivity of classical understanding of the coincidence, we also see the necessity of phenomena as something what excludes the coincidence. Transformation of lifeless matter into the live one was not necessary even accidental, therefore it didn’t need the external (divine) intervention. Notion of deterministic chaos emerged from the synergetic considerations and it achieved great success in mathematical applications. Any great work, with which it is like with the mechanical alarm clock, was created in similar way. It doesn’t matter in what necessary way it was constructed. If it is, by winding, brought into the non-equilibrium state, any coincidence shaking it is sufficient for finally starting its tick-tack.
Life as a dream? Typical not only for Buddhism or artistic production. Oriental, religious, philosophical and religious-philosophical conceptions are for European knowledge permanently inspiring, similarly it has also something to offer to the oriental cultures. It is remarkable that all the thinkers have always had the same aim – sometimes they call it Brahma, another time Tao. Similarly, Anaximander introduced his Apeiron. Egon Bondy, who realized this fact, formulated in unsubstantial conception the category of ontological field. He did nothing else but adequately applying and developing the dialectics within the contemporary philosophical thinking. He managed to do that on the ethical base without the Marxist layers and in this way he unequivocally ranked himself among the top representatives of modern philosophy. Since I know the dialectical solutions of many philosophical questions of natural sciences, I was not surprised by the analogies between the physics and oriental conceptions which were introduced by American physicist F. Capra. Unfortunately, his holistic approach to the reality, quite understandable, not only has the serious scientific imperfections, but it is also unacceptable by modern philosophy for its exaggerated emphasis on mysticism. Although the life as a dream has always been the source of artistic inspirations, moreover for the creators it is unimportant whether its interpretation as a dream is true or not, nevertheless, from the pragmatic point of view of repeated figures of everyday activity, I have no doubts about my existence. I don’t even need to it the famous Descartes postulate. If the life were really a dream, I would be madly delighted – I would probably afford too much because I know that it would turn out well. I’m rather afraid of the opposite extreme: will the dream not become our life? Virtual reality, which replaces the living human, opens its arms like a new kind of the narcotic.

P. H.: Where did we come from in your opinion? And where are we leaving? Does it exist something like death? Why actually are we here?

R. B.: We are leaving there where we came from. Like the children of stars. Problem is that I can’t remember what is behind the imaginary gate. Sometime I often imagined how it was there, when the Milky Way was creating, when coacervates were floating in the ancient ocean, dinosaurs were running around the land, strange creature began to use the stone, Egyptians were building the pyramids, Christ was dying on the cross and physicists tried the nuclear bomb for the first time. Today I know that I won’t remember anything. And such is the death, it exists, but only for those, who stand in front of the gate. Do we have the right to bang on it by main force? Does the shout help us? No, because the death is eternal. Let’s thank before the entrance, let’s thank for seeing the sunrise, hearing the birds, smelling a flower, tasting the tea and stroking a man. Occasionally we forget it and shout, but she will forget us our powerlessness. Everything is ephemeral, only the death is eternal. Just as the transformation that connects the birth with extinction. Although we are here one for another in order to be fulfilled with any kind of love, for the society in order to contribute to its bliss by satisfying the individual needs, for the world in order to change it to our advantage by controlling the natural forces, nevertheless, our mission within the universe remains one of the biggest mysteries.

P. H.: Which authors and philosophers according to you best capture the mystery of the human existence? Do you have your chosen ones? Imagine, you should spend one day with someone who would be brought to you from the past by the time machine, who would be this person?

R. B.: Mystery of the individual existence lies in the fact that the real "me" is a contradictory unity of the general and unique "me". Common sense did not accept and won’t accept such "identity" of the opposites, therefore it will permanently ask the question – Who am I? What am I doing here in my skin? Why isn’t there someone else? I don’t know about the author or philosopher who would have best captured the mystery of the human existence, although I know what kind of answers are offered by other fields of knowledge, from Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, through the analytical psychology, Christian theology up to the modern psychology and ethics. Each of these depicted the mystery differently, I like the way they deny and complement each other, I savour their harmony in details and I can’t decide which view is the most correct. On one hand writers like Poe, Maupassant, Steinbeck, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, Bulgakov, on the other hand philosophers like Aristotle, Hegel, existentialists, from which some were also the writers. All these contributed by something valuable. From this it is evident that I have no chosen ones. And if I could spend one day with someone who would be brought to me by the time machine, it would rather be the person from the field of art or religion. Sometimes the art has such a strong cognitive function that some authors gave me more than the whole science together. Christ occurs to me as first, with him I would really have a lot to say, but I wouldn’t even exclude an Austrian poet George Trakl, a composer Antonio Vivaldi or a painter Vincent van Gogh. About what would I be talking with Christ? This I will keep to myself.

P. H.: Does the contemporary philosophy manage to reply to the latest scientific research? Don’t you have the feeling that the various bizarre universe theories are springing up like mushrooms and after a while they vanish like the ephemeral phantasms? Which are the latest trends in this field and what is in your opinion mostly approaching the reality?

R. B.: We are the witnesses of such sciences differentiation that people from the same field often don’t know about the special results. Not that they don’t inform each other, but the researchers have so little time on own projects that they practically don’t have a chance to discover the solution details of other scientific problems. If we don’t take into consideration some exceptions (for example informatics and neurophysiology have recently developed more than during the whole period of their existence), the contemporary science as a whole is not, despite the differentiation, changing too much. I can afford to say, that by the way of details, it only solidifies in answers to the fundamental questions. Modern philosophy should have had it much easier. However the truth is that it manages to reply neither to the science, nor to the art. In this respect it is better replaced for example by the literary science. Why? Because it simply doesn’t exist. A unified conception, respecting all the positive matters from the philosophical thinking history, is missing. In case of need, the scientists could also rely on it, because they wouldn’t see it as the enclosed cognitive system or as the speculative construction of the evaluative theses providing the arbitrary interpretations. Point is that materialistic dialectics in the original version is not longer applicable. The whole philosophical building related to it collapsed when the totalitarian regimes of former socialist block broke down. Other experiments, except for Bondy who went in the philosophy the farthest, discover the hot water as though in new clothes. Philosophy without ethical principles of the things is reduced to the science, without the orientation of man in the world it becomes the imperfect system missing some of its values. Science without such philosophy is like a child who is missing the parent and the philosophy without science is straying like an infertile mother.
With the bizarre universe theories it is like with others, not only physical theories: they either vanish or their historical place within the more universal generally accepted theory is showed. The latest trend in this field is research, focused, actually from the opposite side, on the elementary particle physics. Just the discoveries related to the finest substance structure will excessively influence the cosmology. Two basic pillars of the contemporary physics are mostly approaching the reality – relativistic quantum mechanics and general theory of relativity. Although we are intensively working on their unification and we know several qualities of future theory, we don’t have, as I have already mentioned, the quantum theory of gravitation itself. The unification actually brings along a lot of "insurmountable" problems. M-theory, Superstring theory and other theoretical constructions with the common base are physically acceptable, but from the point of view of correspondence methodological principle, they won’t in any case replace the quantum theory of gravitation which, as the only one, can offer us the answers regarding the situation "during" big bang. On the one hand, it is about partial solutions on the way to the universal theory of everything, on the other, quantum theory of gravitation itself will seemingly establish the repeated post-Newtonian condition when the opinion, that physics has finished and its further historical evolution will continue only by developing of the classical mechanics, predominated. Universal theory of everything is dialectically a chimera. Present-day epoch is not yet ripe for the quantum theory of gravitation – not so physically as philosophically. Historical human experience has not yet developed enough to reach the change of basic physical axiomatics. I suppose that only a new radical revaluation of our opinions on the finest substance structure, space-time and gravitation will enable the birth of this theory which certainly won’t be created by mechanical connection of the physics contemporary pillars. Success will come only when the relativistic quantum mechanics and general theory of relativity will emerge from it like its limiting examples.

P. H.: Let’s return back to literature. What is its meaning in time of the released genie of mass stupefying in the form of reality show, in time of sales fury? Isn’t it only the relict radiation of something that, some time before, really influenced the lives and thinking of people? If the literature is situated on the periphery of society’s interest, what could return it back? Where has the mistake occurred? I mean the Slovak, but also the world literature.

R. B.: Within the literature, mistake has occurred nowhere. Social conditions have changed and art, including the literature, gained according to that its relevant status. Primarily, people have to ensure their living, only then they can devote themselves to culture. What could bring the literature back? The change of these conditions. However, I’m not very optimistic about its radical progress (at least not in the nearest decades), so the present situation will more or less continue. On the other hand, we can see some kind of improvement of the present condition – a lot of cultural activities, which we don’t have to be ashamed of even before the world, were started. Anyway, I’m for the popularization of the literature in order to get it into the broadest possible public interest. Something similar is happening with the science which has been until recently only the poor relative of art. The popularization can’t snatch the literature from the poverty, but it can help her. I realize that classical literature (especially the poetry) requiring the artistic readers will still be a minority genre. Although there were some attempts to represent it in stadiums (let’s remember the Beat generation), poetry production has often downgraded itself to the popular level. Despite this fact, I don’t consider the contemporary literature to be the relict radiation of something that managed to change the human existence by the explosion. Some time before, classical music was a part of social events in much larger degree; it couldn’t be missing almost at each party. So I’m asking: has it lost something on its meaning today? No, although the society is trying to subdue it. It will stay with us until our end. Each epoch delimits and usurps the meaning of literature which doesn’t become only its meaning. Since many functions of the literary art are notoriously known, I will restrict to the most important ones without exhausting the question. I see the meaning of literature just in revealing the human existence. If our desires and dreams are hidden behind the door of the thirteenth chamber, where they can also have the fearsome shape, she will give us a key. After opening the door, we are sometimes closing the eyes as though we were afraid of being caught, but the gloom will never reveal more than the silhouettes of things. Although the literature won’t save the world, in contrast to Sybil, it manages to be a prophet who doesn’t need the end of the world.

P. H.: Your latest book Hell Returns is freezing and inspiring me. It is a stream of images, there is a flash of painful fate of humanity, fallen soldier and so on. Everything in peaceable and highly artistic form. Digging of graves, widow scene – maybe morbid for someone. But not for me, we are even meeting somewhere here. Our life is just such a madness and mystery. During the whole August, mysterious Moon was whispering me something, Moon strangely clear and suggestive, and in your book there is something from its freezing message. Probably, it is not a coincidence. This is the right way you have chosen. Something similar is moving also in me. What about your production? Let me ask you an "unconventional" question: what are you working on, Maestro?

R. B.: I have two collections of poems in a drawer for several years – Smoke from the Realm of Shadows and Dreaming with the Monster. First collection went through a number of versions, so I’m not afraid to publish it now, although I have some doubts about it. If not this, it should be published next year. I know that it will go through some other changes before the publication, but these should be the changes of smaller formal character. I don’t know when, after this collection, the handwriting Dreaming with the Monster will be published, it is a symbolic story about the original sin depicted by a female lyrical subject. This was about the poetic production. Concerning the prose, after the short story book Hell Returns, another book of prose won’t appear in the near future. Anyway, I have in mind a strange theme for the novel, but as I know myself, its production will last at least four-five years. For me, it’s not only about the stirring epic line from the main problem to its solution in the powerful end, but it’s mainly about the resulting image brought by interdependent episodes, image, which would, in the extratextual space, under various clothes, reveal the nakedness of one and the same lady – human existence. Difficult prosaic period is waiting for me, because to write a quality novel in the way that author doesn’t have to be ashamed of it in the context of world literature, it is like climbing up Mount Everest. From this point of view, it is possible that I won’t offer to public anything more. Public will learn about the detailed connections only when it will have the possible finished result in hands. Like in the case of each book, I don’t have to be there, readers will evaluate the book the best.

Pavol Hudák thanked for the interview