Gloss/Marginalia: Part 2

[Jan Fassbender via wrongdistance]

[See below post for an explanation of sorts]

Milosz describes Beckett as being ‘like a man who sidles up to a hunchback and begins to needle him: "Hunchback, you’re a hunchback; you’d rather not be reminded of it, but I shall see to it that you are reminded.”

For generations a quarrel has been waged between the innovators and a conservative public opinion, the former appealing to the right of a total striptease, the latter to decorum. At issue was the whole question of man’s animal needs and drives. Gradually the line of defense retreated and the argument of the defenders of decorum – that there is no point in telling people what they already know – lost its credibility. Yet the game could continue to be played so long as there was something to ‘profane,’ so long as the few existing prohibitions remained in force. Now, when there are no more prohibitions, when sexual license and sadism have become the stuff of mass entertainment, of the less sophisticated genres in general, little is left of those authors in search of brutally shocking effects. In the treatment of man’s metaphysical condition, ‘total striptease’ takes always the same form and is congruent with the gradual reduction of human nature.

Milosz is referring to his inherent dislike of Beckett. He finds him disturbing and attributes this feeling, later on, to an aesthetic disrupt – largely due to what he calls his conservative impulses. I think I feel the same way, and that a lot of my preferences are based on aesthetics as opposed to rigorous affirmation/confirmation or something.

Here we should be reminded that man is above all an organizer of space, both internal and external, and that this fact is what is meant by imagination.

[I need to re-read the Prolegomena]

I can state it more concisely. When my guardian angel (who resides in an internalized external space) is triumphant, the earth looks precious to me and I live in ecstasy; I am perfectly at ease because I am surrounded by a divine protection, my health is good, I feel within me the rush of a mighty rhythm, my dreams are magically rich landscapes, and I forget about death, because whether it comes in a month or five years it will be done as it was decreed, not by the God of the philosophers but by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When the devil triumphs, I am appalled when I look at the trees in bloom as they blindly repeat every spring what has been willed by the law of natural selection; the sea evokes in me a battleground of monstrous,
antediluvian crustaceans, I am oppressed by the randomness and absurdity of my individual experience, and I feel excluded from the world’s rhythm, cast up from it, a piece of detritus and then the terror: my life is over, I won’t get another, only death now.

Black and white; or is it shades of grey? Is salvation something to think of? Something at all? If it is, wouldn’t it have to be our sole concern, our highest concern, for what is the purpose of divertissement when souls and eternal life are on the line? How is it possible that we could spend time so frivolously – indulge our inclinations, desires, whims, etc. Sometimes I think of philosophy as ‘saving’ somehow (the quote from Ms. Brann – ‘face to face to save our souls’ – what does that mean?) and then I worry that I’m down the slippery slope of sentiments and ideals.

And yet contemporary religion has no problem with compromises – instead of concerning itself with salvation of souls, it seems concerned only with the secular improvement of life.

[quoted by Milosz from Gai Eaton’s ‘The Only Heritage We Have’]: They imagine that Christianity might be allowed to survive on a modest scale if it proved to be ‘useful’ to society, that is, to make men better citizens, more decent neighbors, more conscientious taxpayers; and they are ready to abandon everything that smacks of ‘otherworldliness,’ of metaphysics or of ritualism. The more ground they give, the harder they are pressed by their enemies.

'The faithful’ were a group we continued to talk about all semester – what does it mean to have faith? The sort of faith we saw in the Bible (Abraham and Paul), in Augustine, and even in Aquinas, that all seemed so incredibly strange to us. Those who were most faithful seemed to have the greatest struggle – the moments of bliss or peace were not continued or even extended – they were rare and they were brief. At all other times man felt himself in a torment, an internal war between desire and obligation – sensibility and reason. A dualism that seemed inherent in the nature of faith itself. For if faith is a sort of illumination or elevation by way of the gift of God’s grace and peace then we are helpless. Faith requires a sacrifice and a selflessness – it requires the individual to disappear – effacement of the self. (Reading Kant provided another way of thinking about this, for the supremely moral action was one that had no connection whatsoever to the individual – autonomy and freedom from the tyranny of the self).

But there’s something so disturbing about this picture of perfection (or elevation or whatever). We want to assume that the self we inhabit, the desires we try so hard to moderate, that this is something worth fighting for – I don’t want to be subsumed, absorbed, obliterated – but nor do I want to be one of Cortazar’s sclerotic selves. Forever rigid, forever rebelling, never fertile or fruitful.

I tried out a model of heaven and hell in one of the exams yesterday, positing hell as a continuation of the self – eternally individual, eternally torn, eternally at war – and heaven as the annihilation of self – the individual returns to the all, the total, the unified and no longer experiences anything extended, discrete or determined.

I tried out another model, in an exam where we were discussing the relation (as far as it could be found) between Augustine’s Confessions and Kant’s Metaphysics of Morals. I wondered what we could see if we were to say Subjective : Objective :: Body : Spirit. That’s not a difficult model to propose, it seems natural. I’m not too sure where it gets us still, especially because I still have trouble understanding what Augustine’s God is like – he seems to me to be a strange amalgamation of the Aristotelian Prime Mover and the loving, personal, saving Christ.