Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 10, No. 4, 2011
  Current Issue  
  Back Issues  
Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
  Contributing Editors
David Solway
Nancy Snipper
Samuel Burd
Andrée Lafontaine
Sylvain Richard
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
  Music Editors
Diane Gordon
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Denis Beaumont Marcel Dubois
Emanuel Pordes
  Past Contributors
  Noam Chomsky
Mark Kingwell
David Solway
Naomi Klein
Arundhati Roy
Evelyn Lau
Stephen Lewis
Robert Fisk
Margaret Somverville
Michael Moore
Julius Grey
Irshad Manji
Richard Rodriguez
Pico Iyer
Edward Said
Jean Baudrillard
Bill Moyers
Barbara Ehrenreich
Leon Wieseltier
Nayan Chanda
Charles Lewis
John Lavery
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward




The essence of being human is that . . . one is prepared in the
end to be defeated and broken up by life,
which is the inevitable price of fastening one’s love
upon other human individuals.
George Orwell


Without exception, all of us carry baggage, generated by earliest to early experiences, our first relationships both positive and negative, attitudes and outlook shaped by geography, economic circumstance and the accidents of life.

The much underappreciated Canadian writer Anne Michaels observes: “We are marinated in our childhoods, in the places of our earliest memories . . . a child is born in only one place.”

When we enter a friendship or relationship, we are implicitly agreeing to take on that special other’s baggage. The success or failure of most relationships is determined by the gradual discovery of the contents of the other’s carry on, and then discovering within ourselves either the ability, willingness and desire -- or none of the above -- to carry what is there.

Unconditional relationships predict the heaviest baggage is somehow the easiest to carry. Be it with a family member or intimate partner, the momentous, character shaping events will have have long been assumed and fully integrated into the unspoken rites and rules that constitute daily interaction. And since our best kept secrets are not really secrets at all, what would otherwise be the unwieldy weight of baggage is offset by the unqualified support and succour that define unconditional relationships. That said, we all know of family members who aren’t speaking to each other, of close relationships frequently breaking down under the burden of baggage.

As we get older and wiser, we learn to anticipate or look for signs of what kind of baggage people with whom we are only tentatively connected carry. Certain forms of eccentric or curious behaviour often betray defining childhood experiences the carrier is subconsciously addressing. Among the obvious is the abused child turned into an abuser adult, or someone addressing abandonment issues via a craving for special attention. People who are chronically late for appointments might be revenging defining life situations over which they were powerless to change, so they flip the power paradigm on those who traditionally make others wait on them.

People who make unwise choices in friendships either underestimate the baggage of the other or their ability to carry it. In certain instances, one’s inability or unwillingness to carry normal baggage reflects the negative influence of parents and role models who couldn’t be bothered to carry their own. Lacking the mental muscle to forge meaningful connections, these legions of the damned and damaged flit from one relationship or friendship to another seeking without what can only come from within.

As it concerns self-perception and the warping effects of baggage, there is much to be learned from the antisocial comportment of loners, many of whom take secret pride in their asceticism. We often uncritically attribute to the hermit or recluse an exalted spiritual calling that is inseparable from aspirant's extraordinary willingness to reject any and all human connection, when in fact his solitary is a subterfuge that betrays a pathological fear of revealing, if only to one other person, his baggage -- the price every relationship ineluctably exacts. The loner, as tormented as he is inauthentic in his slavish relationship to public opinion and terrified of having his baggage outed, instead chooses the punishing unhappiness of the loner’s life which he then, in a desperate act of self-preservation, turns into an ascetic virtue. Nietzsche’s analysis of this sleight-of-mind remains unsurpassed (On the Genealogy of Morality, 1887).

In recognition of the pervasive heaviness of collective baggage, all cultures, without exception, schedule festival days into their calendar year with the express purpose of obliterating the neurons that carry our carry on. In notably Brazil and Mexico (Rio Carnival and Mexican Day of the Dead), it is a tradition for carnival goers to assume different identities as the means to the end of escaping the self and the burden of self-consciousness.

Just prior to Rio festivities, in response to a demand that borders on frenzy, costume retail outlets pop up like mushrooms after a warm rain as society ladies hunger to impersonate tarts and tramps and janitors dream of morphing into judges. But these Dionysian diversions, however woven into the fabric of the culture, offer only temporary respite, which leaves the rest of year and only one viable option for those who, at the end of the day, are simply unable to manage the contents of their baggage. On that most delicate and disconcerting of subjects (suicide) G. K. Chesterton writes: “The thief compliments the things he steals, if not the owner of them. But the suicide insults everything on earth by not stealing it. He defiles every flower by refusing to live for its sake.” Since, according to the University of Oxford Centre for Suicides, there are more than 800,000 suicides per year worldwide, Chesterton, poignant turn of phrase notwithstanding, has clearly underestimated the punishing weight on the mind of personal baggage and its manifest unbearability.

Today, with the concept of community wearing thinner than ever thanks to especially computer technology, we can now choose the path of least baggage resistance because there’s no price to pay. Having fewer core relationships of shorter duration is the first effect of fibre optic technologies taking over and gradually rendering obsolete direct human contact. In search of the perfect, baggage-light friend or partner, we are gradually discovering that logging on and off best insure the empowerment we seek as it concerns our societal relationships. If I’m convinced that I’m happiest carrying only my own baggage in the context of being a fully functional, productive member of society, why should I enter risk-fraught, baggage-heavy real relationships.

That there may be no downside that we are evolving into a society of monads attached to computer screens, iPods and iPhones begs the question. It is not, in and of itself, a necessarily negative development that we are losing the mental muscle required to carry the baggage of others with whom we were once vitally interconnected. But if there is a price to pay, we owe it to ourselves own up to the consequences as it concerns the malaises of modernity: loneliness, falling birth rates and anthropophobia, feelings of anxiety with other people.



Email Address
(not required)

Very intersting topic. It hit home. A very good friend of mine back in the old country (known him for some 30 years) is behind bars for having stabbed his father (also a friend) twice in the abdomen.
Fortunately not fatal . . . but it puts my relationship to him question . . . a heavy bag to share when you suddenly no longer know whats in that bag!

city dwellers pick and choose their acquaintances and friends,
the rest are easily dodged without embarrassment.

small town living is quite different, it forces out one’s humanity, it engages you communally.

you can only refuse a drink at the bar or an invite to a game of cards from Shady Willy so many times before he gets the feel that you dont like him . . . and that ain't good.

and so the most unlikely unions can be found up in the hills amongst the billies

with frequent encounters, natural sympathies prevail over prejudices, and first impressions . . . and then . . . you're stuck with the BAG!

which is probably why its hard to pull the wool over a peasant’s eyes; they're a wise bunch, they don't need no education, they are forced to live out their wisdom . . . .or perish.
A couple of things -- the "manifest unbearability" that may lead a person to become one of the nearly million unfortunate people in the world who kill themselves yearly (I like to say it plainly) is depression. It can darken the world far more than mere fate. We "monads" pay a price for our independence. I think there is a considerable downside to cyberlife. But as much as I bemoan the loss of community, I find it awfully confining.
Meanwhile, my favourite people travel light - I sure wish I were one of those people who travel with only a toothbrush and comb.

also by Robert J. Lewis:
Robert Mapplethorpe

The Eclectic Switch

Philosophical Time
What is Beauty?

In Defense of Heidegger

Hijackers, Hookers and Paradise Now
Death Wish 7 Billion
My Gypsy Wife Tonight
On the Origins of Love & Hate
Divine Right and the Unrevolted Masses
Cycle Hype or Genotype
The Genocide Gene



BENEFIT CONCERT FOR HAITI, SALLE GESU, JAN. 20TH (Papa Groove, Ariane Moffatt, Bïa, Kodiak, Echo Kalypso, Doriane Fabrig (ex-Dobacaracol), Claude Lamothe, Ian Kelly, Pépé: Box-office 514.861.4036 = shared webhosting, dedicated servers, development/consulting, no down time/top security, exceptional prices
Film Ratings Page of Sylvain Richard, film critic at Arts & Opinion - Montreal
Montreal World Film Festival
Festival Nouveau Cinema de Montreal, Oct. 10-21st, (514) 844-2172
CINEMANIA(Montreal) - festival de films francophone 1-11 novembre, Cinema Imperial info@514-878-0082: featuring Bernard Tavernier
Montreal Jazz Festival
Listing + Ratings of films from festivals, art houses, indie
Canadian Tire Repair Scam [2211 boul Roland-Therrien, Longueuil] = documents-proofs
Montreal Guitar Show July 2-4th (Sylvain Luc etc.). border=
Armand Vaillancourt: sculptor
Available Ad Space
Valid HTML 4.01!
Privacy Statement Contact Info
Copyright 2002 Robert J. Lewis