Sunday, March 16, 2014

Random Thoughts III


Psychologically, being elected to govern in America is very much like being commissioned to teach a common language at the University of Babel. E Pluribus Unum. We've got the "Pluribus" part down pat (no one can say that Americans don't understand diversity); it's the "Unum" we seem to be having trouble with.
We would do well frequently to recall that the world is at best a hypothetical place.
I believe I understand at last the liberties that poetry takes with language, which is only somewhat less than the liberties that life takes with men.
As in all ages, it is not unusual for a modern man to think strange thoughts. I am not here speaking of disturbed thoughts, pathological thoughts, sick thoughts (common though these too may be) but simply of strange thoughts, thoughts without apparent motivation or direction, the endlessly ambling thoughts with which the mind amuses itself when it tires of maintaining the fiction of reality. The man who thinks strange thoughts has always existed. He is one of the archetypal characters and has moved across the world stage from the beginning, although to others he has generally revealed only his shadow selves, the madman and the eccentric, the genius and the fanatic. His peculiar difficulty lies in the fact that whereas God's thought is cohesive, unitary, harmonic, it exhibits these characteristics only in its totality, that is, only in the mind of God. We fragmentary creatures, unable to contain even a single syllogism of the divine reasoning, must content ourselves with spending our lives in some comfortable corner of that divine thought, living some simple, routine calculation, some minute syllable of the divine speculation. The man who thinks strange thoughts is not blessed with such a grace; swept up in a broader surge of divine intelligence, engulfed by the inconceivability of an entire divine sentence, he spends his life in an attempt to shake off the effects of this mental rush, to clear his reasoning. He is much like a man trapped inside a bell of infinite size and resonance that has just rung soundly...twice.

Work, like all the other curses of the flesh, has its origin with the unfortunate incident in Eden. Immediately subsequent to that primal indiscretion (the source of all our fears, all our poems) man first felt the full consequences of his corporeality, consequences up to that point hidden from his understanding by the same salutary myopia that kept him from any intuition of shame at his nakedness. "By the sweat of your brow." So ran the divine imprecation, and at that moment were born both labor and history.

Before I suffered from this flesh,
laboring these penitential muscles,
I strove in absent time,
convinced of grandeur as eagles are
or fish that break the bottom of
black waters with iridescent fire.

If we have descended into nightmare, slipped through the fine mesh of our better dreams into a wilderness of abstractions, lost touch with the concrete, declined belief in the possibility of the real outside the confines of our cranial cavity --- that witch's cauldron, archetype both of the miracle of creation and of the perils of sorcery --- then we have done so out of the suspect grace of an impassioned logic. Artist suffering from a scholastic vice, a lust to know the answer, we have conceded our original privilege, that of creating the facts. In consequence of which we have suffered the most subtle and multiple of deaths. Nor will it suffice to whimper and bemoan our fate. We have placed the judgment upon ourselves, we have abdicated reality to science of our own blind will, a stupidity that demands an equally bold prayer of penance: let us humbly petition, therefore, that we be allowed somehow to assist the great angel with the little book who, bridging the gap between the sea and the earth, will swear the oath that is the abolition of time. Having fumbled away Eden, let us aspire to a finer, a purer, apocalypse.

One of the devil's attributes that we often overlook is that he is as superb a mythologist as he is a metaphysician, equally adept at story or syllogism, that is, a master psychologist. Hence the peculiar quality of the age, its indistinct and nebulous quality, its uncertain psychological atmosphere, its dense, unsettled atmosphere. The new war is a psychological war, a war of nerves, low-keyed and alluring, a hypnotic war, a war of images, an imaginary war.

It is not sufficient to construct intricate paragraphs, models of precision and economy achieved by considered marshalling and deployment of subtle grammatical endowments. Somewhere one must accomplish a link between language and life, two concepts which, though inherently synonymous, are nonetheless so difficult to combine in practice. The thing is never what we say it is (it Kant be), yet we have no approach to it other than language of some sort.

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