Oeuvre is a word that has become so rare that many do not even know how to write it. At its etymological origin is the Latin opera, which is the plural of work as artefact. This plural is important. An oeuvre is a long elaboration of works manifesting a style, a thought, a coherence, a patient quest, a self-discipline, a destiny—the whole exceeds the sum of parts.
Take the example of literature. Today we can observe two seemingly contradictory phenomena: the proliferation of so-called “writers” and the vanishing of the concept of oeuvre. The oeuvre is the spiritual body of an author, beyond his or her corpus. It may sound mystical. But let’s consider our physical body: we have various organs, yet there is a complex and singular link that articulates them together and composes our being, a mixture of life and spirit. Your body is responsible for its unity. You are responsible for your destiny.
Exceptionally, an oeuvre even produces a universal and transcendent adjective that will one day end up being recognised by your automatic word processor: Kafkaesque, Cartesian, Orwellian. It’s not just the expression of a self (the adjective that goes with the expression of the self is … selfish). The adjective derived from the surname of a grand oeuvre designates an epochal atmosphere, a link between the imaginary and the real, a way of making worlds. These authors anticipated an era. They expressed a universal. How? Not only by sitting at a table and wondering how, precisely, to express the universal—but just as well by digging into their own destiny without wondering if it will sell.
Editorial marketing is the enemy of an oeuvre in progress. I knew a young writer back in Paris who had the misfortune to make a bestseller with his first book, when he was in his twenties. Publishers and readers then wanted him to write something in the same “touching” manner: he accepted cowardly and became a brand of yogurt, one that must be “touching and cute” even on TV sets. Ten years later, last time I saw him, he was depressed and alcoholic, and I just checked on Amazon: he is now an autobiographical author who publishes his diary: he is, for some yogurt eaters “touching”. He is cornered against his own mercantile mediocrity, condemned at best to deconstruct his “touching” mannerism by seeking an authenticity that he might reach only by completely embracing his own falseness (or committing suicide, or dying alone and bitter). “It’s with beautiful feelings that we write bad literature,” said André Gide, another guy with an oeuvre.
Offering yourself as an oeuvre to the world means ignoring the audience’s expectations, ignoring the number of likes on Amazon or Twitter, and ignoring quotations in the media. It means to work and work and work but honestly and with a cosmic ambition, not like a zombie. It means not even being sure of being published or appreciated when it’ll be done, especially in a world where so many publishers, curators or producers, are clueless and morally if not financially bankrupt. If you are determined to die one day feeling proud of yourself, you have chosen a magic stone and a way to carve it. Don’t expect the others to see it’s a magic stone before a while. Follow that feeling in you which is stronger than you, follow that idea which is deeply interesting for you (not for your mother or for your girlfriend). You will meet many obstacles, epistemological, aesthetic, philosophical, mystical, dialectical, crealectical, emotional, but you will grow and “become who you are”, as Nietzsche put it. The persistent author of an oeuvre ends up reaching a state of grace, beyond the ego, by facing her destiny. Not fatality, but your own personal creal destination.
You become your oeuvre. Nietzsche thus spoke of becoming a masterpiece of a person. Not by intentionally training your body to look like a Greek statue, not by doing self-conscious diets, or collecting self-help books. It is by giving yourself to your oeuvre, composing it while orchestrating it that you will become a masterpiece: a person with a destiny. And for those who do not have the strength in them to be archetypes, initiators, there is always the obedience to a cause, to a collective, to a group with an epic esprit de corps. In a way or another, you shall disappear into something grander than your ego in order to be, in order to be real, in order to be creal.
An oeuvre does not have to be artistic in the common sense of the term. Einstein, for example, produced an oeuvre because he too was motivated by a principle of unification. An oeuvre narrates the unity of the world through the construction of a coherent structure, whether through mathematical formulas or an architecture, materials, patterns or acts. Yes, acts: no need to produce objects or sentences or equations or anything that deserves a medal in competitions of intellectual prestige to produce an oeuvre. Just become your destiny by hunting it down, invoking it, and once you have met your destiny, don’t let go of it: your destiny is riding Pegasus, a wild horse with wings, if you hold tight you will find your constellation. Destiny is not inevitability, it is the highest version of yourself, it is the biography that expresses the singularity of your possibilities, it is the point of coherence of your relationship with the Creal.
Did you not notice how difficult it is to rely on others? Or are you the person that cannot be relied upon? Most of the people around you are so scattered, confused, troubled with desires, judgements and anxieties, that they become not only obstacles for themselves but also for those who are concerned with coherence and integrity. Do you feel people slip between your fingers like muddy water? Or are you the muddy water? Start counting on you more consistently and on a few carefully selected others, and do so with intensity and skill. Be the hero of your own destiny.
To have a destiny today, a destination (or what Derrida after Heidegger called a “destinality”, but that might be just verbal snobbism, so I might stick with destiny)—to have a destiny is to think of the self as a co-created masterpiece of Creal, of cosmic co-creation. This is all the more difficult because so many of us are sleepwalkers or simply the (missing?) mechanical pieces in (dis)pleasure machines.
The deep oeuvre is always more or less solitary, and that is why it is rare: it grows like a flower in the middle of the desert. But the desert won’t stay a desert for too long if you don’t give up. Look: another flower!