[These messages always are sort of “of course” as they are coming through, but as I typed this one up, I thought, “Wow!” They do good work, and they work cheap!]
Friday, September 6, 2019
[Today’s entry cannot be understood without this from 9:30 last night:
[In reading about Hemingway’s (and the Spanish people’s) attitude toward life and death as opposed to the American, English, and French, Capellan (in Hemingway and the Hispanic World) again makes me wonder. I don’t identify with either the fascination with death or the studious avoidance of remembering it. It seems so out of proportion. You live, you die, so what? You continue, and that continuance is no more shrouded and mysterious than the life you were living here. Why is something which is universal treated as if it were something to be dreaded, or ignored, or enshrined? It doesn’t make sense to me.]
6 a.m. I don’t know anything of Seneca. Knew he was a Roman philosopher, didn’t know he was born in Spain and is considered the first Spanish thinker recorded. Capellan ties him to the pagan primitive side of Spain. I guess I had heard of Seneca in terms of stoic philosophy, years and years ago in studies of Thoreau.
No, I don’t get it. Capellan describes very clearly the difference in attitude between Spanish and Anglo-Saxon nationalities as exemplified in their attitude toward death, hence toward life, but I don’t get it. Why is life a tragedy because it ends? Why is it unendurable unless one shuts out of awareness the fact that it is going to end? Both attitudes are so strange. It is as if you were to say that only Friday, say, is the meaning of life, or 3 p.m., or the color orange, or the smell of citron, or the taste of ashes. I suppose this must be what life looks like if you think of birth-to-death as if that were all there is to see: nothing before, nothing after. It is like looking at a train ride without reference to the place left or the place arrived at.
Yes, that’s the problem. (Odd it has taken me so long to see it clearly.) Our civilization is sick (or, possibly, recovering) because it no longer believes in the –
Guys, you care to help me explain this? (Not that I don’t feel you prodding me anyway.)
What was called Western Civilization began with the Greeks and Romans and their gods and their understandings of the way things are. Christianity supplanted that with a new sense of meaning. As things do, it grew, flourished, produced fruit, and declined.
And I realize you are having to leave out all manner of side-trails like the continuing contribution of the Jews, the challenge of Islam, the perpetual thread of silent skepticism and in fact atheism in practice. Broad strokes are broad strokes.
Of course. The civilization that could produce the Gothic cathedral is not related to your civilization except as ancestry. The Renaissance was a searching for a more permanent footing, a realer reality, than what the European civilization had declined to. We do not say that the Renaissance participants would have agreed with this statement, but nonetheless it is a productive way to look at it. The Renaissance was naturally followed by the Reformation, and a century of intense warfare centered on the question of the human relationship to the divine. The belligerents wouldn’t have accepted this description of what they were fighting about, either.
The Catholic theology and organization had become too one-sided, leaving the common man in the dust. The various Protestant revolutions – each expecting to be the equivalent of the former Catholic hegemony – were counter-balancing that one-sidedness, and by their nature could not come to any pretense of universality
Understand, now, we are not talking about politics or even theology here. We are centered on a civilization’s understanding of the meaning of life and death.
After the religious wars subsided into an uneasy grumbling stalemate, the natural result of the warfare plus the Renaissance was the gradual destruction of faith in the Christian scheme itself. Indeed, you could argue that the religious wars were a matter of “protesting too much” – and we don’t mean that as a play on words involving Protestantism, we mean the fanaticism on all sides was partly fear of the other, but was also – and usually unrecognized – refusal to see that they themselves didn’t quite believe in the way that, say, medieval man had believed.
Hence, an age of skepticism. But people can’t really live without belief, so when they cannot believe because forced by the weight of their own conviction, by the evidence of the life they live, they grasp at something else: anything to avoid a vacuum. Thus came the ages of science, of economics, of social-engineering, of endless tinkering, of what is called science but is more like science-in-the-service-of-unbridled-technological-experimentation.
Capitalism, socialism, communism, fascism, scientific materialism, and on and on – what do they have in common but this? They all try to make sense of life by considering only what shows.
The coming of psychology came as an awful shock; so did the coming of scientific theories based on new but not-to-be-ignored data showing that time, space, causality, material, energy – name it – are not what they had appeared to be.
So here you are. Religion is again having a last semi-hysterical upwelling, rooted in fear and even panic, but it is not rooted in the deepest reality. “Science,” so called, is more runaway than ever, and more enslaved to utility and less open to actual free inquiry than ever in its history. Politics, economic theory, ideology are wilder and more frantic than ever, and inspire ever less widespread conviction. Philosophy has become a university major and a profession disputing fine points in learned journals, and is taken seriously nowhere but in its own closed circle.
Can you see that this is all one phenomenon? Each facet, examined in isolation, may seem comprehensible, until considered over time and considered across disciplines, so to speak. But what is fueling it all, the one massive current, the irresistible tide rising, is your need for a more profound and satisfying sense of the meaning of life and death.
Meaning cannot be snatched at; it cannot be imposed by political force. It cannot be overawed into you, to put it that way. It can only be recognized.
Well, you recognized it, even if you didn’t understand it, and now on the far end of so much reconceptualization, you find it almost impossible to understand those who are on the other shore you left so long ago. There was a time – and not so many years ago, as things are counted – when you, Frank, lived appalled at the meaninglessness of a life that would be blotted out by death, destroying anything but whatever you might leave as artifact.
I do remember, now that you bring it up. Hard way to live.
Well, there you are.
All right, I get where you have been going with this. I wouldn’t have thought to put it together, but it’s obvious at the moment. This is why I am immune to political or ideological panaceas, or religious certainties, or any of the things people grab onto – not (merely) because they are for herds rather than outliers, but because I do not have the need to fill an empty center.
Yes. Exactly that. A few more words on that, and we will pause.
It is the unfilled emptiness that drives people to find something to fill it. It may be ludicrously inadequate, but it is no laughing matter to people who are desperately in need. Rather than provide examples of inadequate solutions, let us say this about the adequate solution (which, of course, will not be adequate forever, but may prove to be a reliable and useful scaffolding): It will take account of life and death as parts of one reality. It will not concentrate on the things of life and consign “the afterlife” to the realm of the unimportant or the unfathomable. Neither will it pretend to know that there is no such thing. Neither will it say that “the afterlife” is all that matters, and 3D life is a dream or nightmare. It will deal with everything as if everything matters!
Neither, of course, will it live as if only the measurable exists, but that mistake is already dying naturally.
When you live in the knowledge that All is well, that Man is the measure of all things, that to understand it all, you need to remember As above, so below, that All are one, many things sundered will be seen in their interconnection, and you will be able to live without having to fight a continual background sense of despair.
You cannot expect to live without problems; life is problems. But you need not live as if there were no underlying sense and meaning.
Enough. Be well, and be confident.
Our thanks as always.