Sunday, March 16, 2014

Random Thoughts II


To write because you are convinced that you are correct is to be a polemicist; to write because you are convinced that you are alive is to be an artist. It is not always a matter of choice, but when it is the second is always the preferable of the two alternatives.

To be cut off from history is a damnation, a curse. "Those who do not read history are condemned to repeat it." In the individual or in the nation the attempt to radicalize existence at a single stroke, to make a clean break with the past, to distort history, to rewrite it or to dismiss it, is at once doomed and pathologic. It is a law of our mortality, as inexorable of our spirits as are the laws of physics of our flesh: severed from our antecedents, we are severed from ourselves. If we cannot reclaim our actual past how can we assert even the barest approximation of a certainty to which we might cling in the face of the violent doubts of our present? Action and uncertainty are at root antithetical. Having grown skeptical as an article of faith, cautious as an expression of imprudent skepticism, timorous as a consequence of too rigorous a caution, we condemn ourselves to eternal inaction, hell's passive aspect. We tangle our speech in our qualifications, create a chaos of conditionals. Thus, in our age every voice is a voice crying in the wilderness, every proposition a proposition hurled into the general din. We have deafened ourselves and in our deafness have created a true democracy of comment.

The ultimate function of education is  spiritual. It is the task, the duty, of education to dismay the temporal. The world, however, labors under the delusion that the function of education lies in extending our conquest of matter. A Promethean error.

"My intentions," she said, loosening the button at her throat, "should be perfectly ovulous."

If I could believe, really believe, in our mere physicality, I could survive this age. If I could believe, really believe, that these several certainties that hound me are prejudices merely, superstitions educated into me, it is possible that I could come to easy terms with myself.

To have a child raises the complexity of one's fate to the level of a quadratic equation, cubes the unknown factor in the subtle formulations that one's energies are directed toward balancing; it represents the shift from the Newtonian to the Einsteinian universe, projected, of course,  onto  the  prosaic  realities of looking for a house with a third bedroom, scouring the papers for a good buy on a used crib, sleeping with a once-flat-bellied woman now grown incomprehensibly round and in constant uncomplaining discomfort, looking in polite bewilderment at the shower gifts. Such things shake one. That particular morning arrives: one awakes as usual, except that this morning that last delicious fragment of the early morning dream which up to now had never --- repeat, never ---  dissolved  until  very  late  in the afternoon (and even then with still the slightest fragrant residue remaining to imperceptibly cloud the rest of the day's shocks and insanities until the precious moment when the day's end and the day's beginning come full circle) that last delicious fragment is on this morning immediately and completely gone and one recognizes one's position at the leading edge of the hurricane. It is an indication of God's infinite mercy that courage at such moments is no longer a matter of choice, that it becomes rather an instinctually guaranteed response.

The virtues peculiar to sleeplessness constitute a formidable repertory of counterclaims to the more common lacerations of the diurnal brain. Not discounting the value that accrues for thought from persistent application to the specters that surround us in our waking hours, we are compelled in all honesty to reserve a higher  value  for  the  phantasmagoria --- ghosts  of  a vanished metaphysics, spirits of an undreamable future --- that  belong in their  exclusive  solitariness  exclusively to sleeplessness: all lucidity is a form of insomnia.

I cannot name the exact date and time at which I began to seek the sources of my sanity, but I suppose that it was sometime after I reached my twenty-third birthday. Up to that point I had been too busy pursuing the female of the species to devote myself or my energies to larger issues. Somewhere in my unconscious, of course, lurked the suspicion that the world was mad (in my youth I had read Arnold and Eliot avidly) but that its madness would ever become a matter of great personal concern did not occur to me. I comfort myself by reflecting that in this I am not unique.

Less advanced cultures, by virtue of their burdensome retardation, are spared our particular problems. In a primitive society, life moves in a more natural round. Survival is the single law, and under its iron heel those lacerations of the soul that are the luxuries of civilization are ground out. Advanced civilizations are self-conscious civilizations. This is not to imply that the level of consciousness is generally any higher in such civilizations than in those less advanced, for in truth it often is not. For most beneficiaries of civilization, life retains its essentially dreamlike character; lucidity is not highly prized, and hence lucidity is rarely achieved. The vast majority of our pursuits, collective and individual, are vain, a chasing after wind. Who today will say that the purpose of his life, its driving force, is an irresistible desire to experience the beatific vision?

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