Nathaniel — metaphysics and struggle
Saturday, December 30, 2017
6:55 a.m. I watched Michael Ventura’s full-length commentary on John Cassavetes’ movie “Love Streams” again last night, and I am reminded that metaphysical conversations have a tendency to glide lightly over the hard questions that serious film makers and writers come up against all the time. Sex, love, hatred, conflict, anguish, dead-end situations, white-hot impulses, years of drift and indecision and lostness – all the sharpest flavors of life, all the things that make life hardest and brightest. Somebody (like Hemingway, say) lives his life overshadowed by the awareness of the unpredictably imminent death, feared and longed for. Or, he spends his life in productive but also destructive alliance with alcohol, or drugs – or coffee or bread, for that matter, anything that forms an unbreakable chain that is both anchor and fetter. He burns for sexual union, or for fetishes that for him replace sexual union. He burns for success, or money, or revenge, or whatever it is he burns for. He struggles against fate, against circumstance, against his own demons or weaknesses, against betrayal.
In short, his life is struggle, and it may be struggle against comfort, against boredom, against discordant parts of his own nature, against anything, but even the most tranquil life includes struggle, conflict, drama. And any system of metaphysics or psychology or religion that did not address this fundamental reality of life would not be real.
Hasn’t the flesh and blood of life tended to escape the confines of these conversations?
Only if you define struggle too narrowly. Struggling to understand can be a real hunger too, a real ongoing drama. Struggling to create a coherent view of life that makes sense of life as you in your times experience it is little different from struggling to paint a masterpiece, or write one, or carve one, or direct and produce one, or to sit alone, building careful chains of thought and logic, to think something into existence. Or, to change fields of struggle but to remain on the same point, to struggle with material objects and an evolving comprehension of motivating forces, to invent an airplane, or a 3D printer, or a molecular re-arranger, or whatever; or to create a garden, or any useful or decorative item.
Yes, life is struggle, but struggle is not solely mental, or emotional, or physical, and it is not solely negative or positive in nature. Just as they say drama is conflict, well, so is life. It is only in the conflict of forces of whatever kind that one lives a 3D life – which, let us remind you, is a deliberate constriction of consciousness into one moment of time and one locus of space. The ever-changing present moment is, above all things, a crucible. And if a given moment – even if it stretches for years – seems to have nothing in particular happening, no conflict, no drama, no progress, no regression, still such moments are part of a larger rhythm of ebb and flow.
Yes, but how is it we tend to –. Oh, of course. Our conversations tend to be relatively bloodless because it is I on the 3D end. Someone else might bring in something more red-blooded and equally true.
What? What’s this long pause?
It’s difficult. You don’t want us spilling your discreditable secrets, but you don’t want us sanitizing either, and this is true for everybody. So how do we tell the truth without telling the whole truth? Yet this is always the case.
I remember Thoreau hinting, in Walden I think, saying he could tell a sorry enough tale on himself if he chose to. After all, some struggles are private. I think Hemingway deserves way more credit than he usually receives for being as honest about himself as he was.
Is it true on one hand that everyone is entitled to a private life; it is also true that everyone’s private life is to a degree a self-created prison (or, to be charitable, call it a cloister) beyond which he will not venture. Thus our reference – our repeated reference – to the fact that the specifics in your lives are animated by the vast impersonal forces that run through them. Life is not a matter of cause and effect confined to material forces. You know that. Everybody knows that. And neither is it the result of the logical working-out of whatever a person contains.
Logical George Bernard Shaw to the contrary.
Yes. Life is more vital than bloodless theorizing, and at the same time not as real as it appears when taken at face value. The only way this can be reconciled is to remember that 3D life is not a thing of itself, but is, so to speak, suspended between non-3D forces beneath and above it. Thus, “vast impersonal forces,” and any attempt to understand life without balancing its extremes of true drama and not-so-real reality is going to fail to some extent. So, bloodless from one point of view is insightful from another; realistic from one point of view is deluded by appearances, from another.
This is a function of art, isn’t it? To include as much as possible while being unable to include everything.
Everybody specializes, and not merely “everybody in 3D.” (If you can remember that 3D and non-3D are part of the same reality, statements such as this will become superfluous.)
I am tempted to go into my usual generalizing. I’d say religion tends to concentrate on the 3D-suspended-among-other-forces end, and detective stories, say, concentrate on 3D drama seen as if fully real.
Many such dichotomies might be drawn, all somewhat accurate, none particularly enlightening. What is most helpful is whatever is most useful, meaning whatever is most able to be applied to a person’s daily challenges.
Surely that is different for everybody and different at different times.
Of course – and neither you nor they can know what is going to be the bell-metal and what is going to be the clunk at any given time. But your, and their, non-3D awareness is not restricted to one time-and-place locale, so it will get you, and them, to where you all need to be.
And that is enough for the moment. No need for a full session, this brief discussion contains enough food for thought.
All right, well, thanks for this, and I look forward to further conversations in the new year, if they occur.