A consortium of quasi-disconnected, quasi-anguished broodings.
We are laughable creatures, aren’t we? Our convictions, our pitiful pecadillos, eliciting furies of consternation and contrition – as if they mattered!
What’s worse is that it’s all a masquerade, a collective self-deception whereby we flee the uncomfortable truth: yes, each one of has, wincing, mincing, squinting into the glorious void, momentarily flayed our superficial consciousness from its anchor, the ego, to find that our precious lived reality is of utter inconsequence.
The arbitrary pointlessness of existence would crush us, so we run, we drown its rumble with whoops and sobs and cackles and screams and love… But there is another possibilitiy. We could accept that the pointlessness is rooted not in our lives but in our system of values. Bizarrely, we are more willing to relegate our lives and our agency to meaningless fumbling, than we are to question our mental framework for understanding and evaluating the world. Why? Why can’t I begin with myself as the centre of a cosmos whose webs of logic and morality emanate from me? The burden of justification could then be shifted from me, to anything that is not me.
In fact, there were ages of humanity where this view prevailed (and it still survives in pockets). But such is our species’ thirst for externalisation that we create powerful spirits and gods to haul the burden back onto ourselves. We are psychologically incapable of being the meaning of our own lives: our joys and sufferings must have causes beyond us. Indeed, they must have witnesses beyond us, because nothing is more abhorrent than (a) ultimate responsibility, and (b) a vacuum of communion.
The dislocation continues. Today, cosmology, evolutionary biology, and abstract maths have recomposed reality in tones of ahuman objectivity. Today we are truly annihilated.
But what if we were to try reclaim consequence? Now we know where mankind went wrong in the past, we could attempt to centralise, sparing ourselves the perpetual lie of our present existence [the lie that we have worth, when all evidence under our system of values says otherwise]. Can we reject the values, the psychology, the “humanity”, that our forbears have, over millennia, so carefully sculpted for our benefit?
I say yes. I say the greatest gift our ancestors have given us is the power to destroy their gifts; the power to overcome what they have made of us. Only in so doing can we vanquish despair and truly grasp life.
True, judged by any present standards, such action will condemn us to monstrosity. But judged by any present standards, we are already monsters.
I’ve posted something here every few weeks. Indeed, by starting this blog in the first place, I implictly promised to appear at reasonable intervals.
And though you made no promises to me, still you are here also, sitting tautologically at the other end of these words. Still you are at each moment an incarnation of yourselves.
If the right to make promises, as I did to you, is predicated on the capacity for self-control, and on confident persistence through chaos, then the inescapable fact is that to remain stridently and implacably there and yourself without any foreshadowing of a promise is the greatest possible achievement of personal vigour and composure. For that I am glad. For that I thank you, you subtle timelike consortium of flesh. Calloo callay: you are a miracle.
We all know that guilt can be a highly effective means of manipulation – but it needs to be done lightly. You mustn’t overwhelm your subject and drive them away. No, you have to goad them with the perpetual hope of affirmation, maintaining a delicate balance between despair and the delicious relief of redemption.
By the way, you miracle, you probably haven’t been giving me much feedback on these posts and I’m kind of disappointed. Remember the comments box at the bottom of each page.
Is seduction necessarily fraudulent? Is it always founded on deceit? In theory the answer is no – and many of us would prefer to believe a seduction (in the broadest sense) can grow from conviction and from love.
But in the real world, the question is not does the seducer lie?, but rather is their duplicity possible without our consent?. We believe their stories because we want to believe, because to struggle against them costs our breath, and because we are, deep down, mired in self-loathing.
And what better way to stretch our muscles and to cultivate those ferocious sunflowers which cannot bask without conflagration – what better way than to destroy ourselves, piece by shuddering piece, while our limpid, piously upturned eyes mask the diabolical howls of glee and torment? Thus we are both the seducee and the seducer – and thus we double our suffering. We simply have nothing better to do.
What will it take for us, in spite of our wretchedness, to cease flagellating our own contorted psyches? How can we find a way, for some glancing moments, to love ourselves once more?
Anyone who has taken the Staten Island Ferry, or perched atop Battle Hill in Green Wood Cemetery, will have been struck by the true altitude of Manhattan. Yes, only after leaving the town do we see how high the towers rise above the houses. Surrounded by ourselves, we are blind. Understanding requires distance.
But sometimes distance is too safe. Objectivity hinders me when real understanding, or real appreciation, or even real measurement, is possible only when my every heaving breath bears a cargo of sweat, of vague crystallised residues, of sand’s rasping on raw flesh.
And always the peril: will you gather your data or will the data devour you?
This so-called world that we encounter outside of ourselves boils and yaws with grandeur, undergrowth and contradiction (and that’s to say nothing of the world within). It is too big for us, too unrelenting. It crushes any foolish adventurer who truly opens their eyes. Enough! they scream as they are consumed by the inferno of reality… but there is no “enough”, the power of the world overwhelms any “enough” no matter how it is bellowed. And so the bellows grow weaker, and are soon reduced to a dusty snivel which, even in the next instant, is scattered and forgotten.
Would we hear these screams, we lesser creatures of discretion and cowardice? No, we would not and we can not. We may as well sit in the belfry of Notre Dame at noon and swat absently at a perstering fly.
How, then, might we contemplate the world, a force too great for contemplation? How might we glance in a silvered shield while keeping our footing and our feet? It is simple: we, the weak, incapable, irrelevant mites, must find safety in our brothers and sisters, in the sharing of the burden of truth, building each feeble glimpse upon a collected trove of glimpses, which grows as an image, an interpretation, a cabbage, a fairy tale whose speckles blur into one another and whose soundtrack has been mistranslated.
But the rage! The rage and the betrayal. The rage that clots the veins; the betrayal that seizes your throat and cloys your mouth and shakes your wretched bodies; shakes out the drams of hope and dregs of fondness. Those so-called brothers and sisters… ha! Just rip a little at the flesh of their faces and they will desert you.
For they think precisely as you do, and you do not love your friends: you love yourself! Friends are mere fiends who sanctify your obsession.
And yet, in your deepest psyche, do you not struggle against this narcissism? You challenge yourself, no doubt – we all do. And challenges do change one. But challenges can also be overcome – yes, they may be created solely for that purpose. Not every challenge is an honest challenge! Most are artfully orchestrated propaganda, designed to keep one safe from thought.
A poverty of thought is a poverty of self. Here we are, trivial once more, mopping our jaundiced brows and wheezing at the exertion of self-delusion. An amazing feat. A triumph of human ingenuity.
If only we could turn this exertion and ingenuity outwards to the world, rather than immuring it with infinite reflexions inside our tiny selves. If only we would use it to create light rather than darkness.
Mercifully, this is the last chapter of the post. And whenever things come, inevitably, to their close, it’s worth reflecting on our emotional and intellectual responses to finality in general.
One area in which transience plays with heavy hand is our relationships. We have all parted with friends. Perhaps it was inevitable, or even intentional. Perhaps we didn’t notice at the time. Perhaps we still haven’t realised; perhaps we vaguely expect to find them again when we have more time and space. Only on our deathbeds will we know for sure whether and when the end arrived.
These words come in grave hues. But we must ask, is it such a tragedy? Well, it depends on what we want from our friendships.
Long-term friendships, spanning years and decades, can boast a depth of emotional sensitivity, a richness of authentic human idiosyncrasy. They represent the mutual preservation of self, and an opportunity to step back and marvel at the flourishes of this funny old world.
On the other hand, when freed from the bonds of longevity, we are wreathed by a powerful fire, by lashings of thought, by a thirst for experience and variety and exposure. One seeks sensation and enrichment, stretching at the mind’s boundaries. The slow plod of sentimental self-discovery may be regarded as an unnecessary complexity next to the sheer mass of potential experience known as humanity.
Yes, we may relish our absorption in time, our delving, tentative, questioning. We are glad captives of old friends. But let us also renew ourselves. Let our minds dart and snatch and revel in exploding ephemera. Let us demonstrate ingenuity and caprice in equal measures. Let us relish the glory of forgetting.