what I have lived for

“Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a great ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.
 
 I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy – ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness–that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined. This is what I sought, and though it might seem too good for human life, this is what–at last–I have found.
 
With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved.
 
 Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate this evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer.
 
 This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me.” – Bertrand Russell 
 
Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) won the Nobel prize for literature for his History of Western Philosophy and was the co-author of Principia Mathematica.

A myriad of men are born; they labor and sweat and struggle;… they squabble and scold and fight; they scramble for little mean advantages over each other; age creeps upon them; infirmities follow; …those they love are taken from them, and the joy of life is turned to aching grief. It (the release) comes at last—the only unpoisoned gift earth ever had for them—and they vanish from a world where they were of no consequence,… a world which will lament them a day and forget them forever.”

Mark Twain

the fastidious demiurge of all things wrong

“A cry of despair is more revealing than the most subtle thought”

-Emil Cioran

An article by Paul Stubbs, October 2013 (quoted liberally):

https://paulstubbspoet.wordpress.com/2013/11/09/toward-a-vegetal-wisdom-an-essay-on-the-writings-of-e-m-cioran/

“A hysteric of ataraxia in the face of the worlds beyond our own Cioran crushed everything into the dust of his own mind, and then to appease us, allowed us to listen to the shifting of the world’s disappearance through the hourglass of his every word, the tragicomedy of the subtraction of his own bones from space…

“In the case of this writer, the aphorism is most undoubtedly a shard of broken glass abandoned to the shorelines of eternity where Cioran waits for God to cut open his foot on…

“In Tears And Saints we find a Cioran lifting, for the first time, the needle from the gramophone of his own voice in order to hear God’s; while pulling down epochs in the weight of a teardrop and attempting to live out the metaphysical drama of an angel…

“When we approach a mind like Cioran’s, we feel suddenly engulfed by the authenticity of a terrible nullity, we listen to the dripping of our own pulse into the well of a neutral abyss. Nihilism, an accursed trick, has been proven by Cioran to be less powerful than cynicism, he who was himself a fastidious demiurge of all things wrong.

“… alas even our ‘nature’ is in itself no more than a geometrically delineated void, a cage separate from us, but from behind whose bars we eternally scream.

In reading Cioran I ‘leap’ to the paintings of of Francis Bacon. Interestly when I found my way through cyberspace to Paul Stubbs’s poem “The End of the Trial of Man”, behold! A Bacon! Below: Three Studies for Portrait of Lucian Freud – 1965:

images (5)

And writing against Cioran:

“All too easy of course is the assumption, even for the flatulent mind of the atheist, that if no god created the universe, then the universe would go on existing, but without the idea of a god ever having existed; this is a truth which, if ever assimilated by the atheist, would (thankfully) wire-shut his jaw for all eternity. Faith has always been beyond Cioran for the same reason that theology fails continually to explain ‘theology’; ‘faith’ to fulfil itself doesn’t need a borrowed language but merely one interested heart. Nothingness interests a thinker like Cioran because it is a sanctuary in which he could undoubtedly protect himself, a sole means of offering up to the spaces of the universe his ownsolitude as a backdrop to the galaxies still to come.”

disequilibrium

“I would be surprised if another Cioran arrives soon, because as an incorruptible mannequin he aped only his own contradictions while ultimately his pitiless dismantling of everything found at the depths of the human heart left him bereft of anything else to say: ‘One can imagine everything, predict everything, save how low one can sink.

Every human being, whether a Hindu, a Muslim, a Sikh or a Christian, differs only in opinion from each other; they are nevertheless made of the same flesh and are destined, if only chronologically, to rejoin each other on the loom from which they came. Blaise Pascal wrote:

‘Man’s greatness. Man’s greatness is so obvious that it can even be deduced from his wretchedness, for what is nature in animals we call wretchedness in man, thus recognizing that, if his nature is today like that of the animals, he must have fallen from some better state which was once his own.’

“Therefore Cioran must never be read as anything other than as a man repudiating man, to ‘believe’ in his writings is only to believe in the law of the unhealed wound, that and the failure of religion, anthropology, science, to support the supposition of pain as a consequence of any future re-birth of man. To denounce Cioran’s writings would be to denounce the worm itself, the endogenous time-zones of its mind. If I am not to make any more distinctions among Cioran’s ideas it is because they are all themselves nothing but worms.

 

a series of unfortunate events

a-series-of-unfortunate-events-teaser

The strange wisdom of Lemony Snicket

(the narrator of “A Series of Unfortunate Events”, Snicket is a harried, troubled writer and photographer falsely accused of felonies, and is continuously hunted by the police and his enemies, the fire-starting side of the secret organization Volunteer Fire Department (V.F.D.). As a child, he was kidnapped and inducted as a “neophyte” into V.F.D., where he was trained in rhetoric and sent on seemingly pointless missions”.

Lemony Snicket’s narration and commentary is characteristically cynical and despondent. In the blurb for each book, Snicket warns of the misery the reader may experience in reading about the Baudelaire orphans and suggests abandoning the books altogether. – Wiki).

“Fate is like a strange, unpopular restaurant filled with odd little waiters who bring you things you never asked for and don’t always like.”

“People aren’t either wicked or noble. They’re like chef’s salads, with good things and bad things chopped and mixed together in a vinaigrette of confusion and conflict.”

“Strange as it may seem, I still hope for the best, even though the best, like an interesting piece of mail, so rarely arrives, and even when it does it can be lost so easily.”

“They didn’t understand it, but like so many unfortunate events in life, just because you don’t understand doesn’t mean it isn’t so.”

“…you know that a good, long session of weeping can often make you feel better, even if your circumstances have not changed one bit.”

It is difficult, when faced with a situation you cannot control, to admit you can do nothing.”

“The sad truth is the truth is sad.”

“There are times to stay put, and what you want will come to you, and there are times to go out into the world and find such a thing for yourself.”

images (3)“At times the world may seem an unfriendly and sinister place, but believe that there is much more good in it than bad. All you have to do is look hard enough. and what might seem to be a series of unfortunate events may in fact be the first steps of a journey.”

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“I will love you as a thief loves a gallery and as a crow loves a murder, as a cloud loves bats and as a range loves braes. I will love you as misfortune loves orphans, as fire loves innocence and as justice loves to sit and watch while everything goes wrong. I will love you as a battlefield loves young men and as peppermints love your allergies, and I will love you as the banana peel loves the shoe of a man who was just struck by a shingle falling off a house. I will love you as a volunteer fire department loves rushing into burning buildings and as burning buildings love to chase them back out, and as a parachute loves to leave a blimp and as a blimp operator loves to chase after it.
I will love you as a dagger loves a certain person’s back, and as a certain person loves to wear dagger proof tunics, and as a dagger proof tunic loves to go to a certain dry cleaning facility, and how a certain employee of a dry cleaning facility loves to stay up late with a pair of binoculars, watching a dagger factory for hours in the hopes of catching a burglar, and as a burglar loves sneaking up behind people with binoculars, suddenly realizing that she has left her dagger at home. I will love you as a drawer loves a secret compartment, and as a secret compartment loves a secret, and as a secret loves to make a person gasp, and as a gasping person loves a glass of brandy to calm their nerves, and as a glass of brandy loves to shatter on the floor, and as the noise of glass shattering loves to make someone else gasp, and as someone else gasping loves a nearby desk to lean against, even if leaning against it presses a lever that loves to open a drawer and reveal a secret compartment. I will love you until all such compartments are discovered and opened, and until all the secrets have gone gasping into the world. I will love you until all the codes and hearts have been broken and until every anagram and egg has been unscrambled.
I will love you until every fire is extinguised and until every home is rebuilt from the handsomest and most susceptible of woods, and until every criminal is handcuffed by the laziest of policemen. I will love until M. hates snakes and J. hates grammar, and I will love you until C. realizes S. is not worthy of his love and N. realizes he is not worthy of the V. I will love you until the bird hates a nest and the worm hates an apple, and until the apple hates a tree and the tree hates a nest, and until a bird hates a tree and an apple hates a nest, although honestly I cannot imagine that last occurrence no matter how hard I try. I will love you as we grow older, which has just happened, and has happened again, and happened several days ago, continuously, and then several years before that, and will continue to happen as the spinning hands of every clock and the flipping pages of every calendar mark the passage of time, except for the clocks that people have forgotten to wind and the calendars that people have forgotten to place in a highly visible area. I will love you as we find ourselves farther and farther from one another, where we once we were so close that we could slip the curved straw, and the long, slender spoon, between our lips and fingers respectively.
I will love you until the chances of us running into one another slip from slim to zero, and until your face is fogged by distant memory, and your memory faced by distant fog, and your fog memorized by a distant face, and your distance distanced by the memorized memory of a foggy fog. I will love you no matter where you go and who you see, no matter where you avoid and who you don’t see, and no matter who sees you avoiding where you go. I will love you no matter what happens to you, and no matter how I discover what happens to you, and no matter what happens to me as I discover this, and now matter how I am discovered after what happens to me as I am discovering this.”

All images courtesy of Wikipedia.

 

the bureaucratization of the use of animals for human ends

“The bureaucratisation of the use of animals for human ends is a large and controversial subject, but the potential for abuse is continuously realised as stock raisers, slaughterhouses, trappers, the Pentagon, the Animal Damage Control Agency, chemical, medical and cosmetic researchers, and academic entrepreneurs search for ways to improve the bottom line or fill in niches of “knowledge” that somebody will pay for. At the University of Pennsylvania a few years ago there was a Head Injury Lab, funded by the government, in which baboons were subjected to head injuries in the alleged interest of helping us (i.e., creatures with souls, the culmination of the evolutionary process, and the realisation of the purpose of the cosmos). The lab was invaded by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), who among other things took away some records and films. The documentary which PETA made out of these materials, which showed these intelligent creatures having their heads smashed and rendered into zombies, also gave clear evidence that official rules of treatment of lab animals were violated, and, most important, that the participants’ attitudes toward the animals were insensitive and ugly. It was not hard to think of death camps watching the documentary of this lab in action. Yet the scientific community at Penn not only defends the use of animals against outside critics with passion and apparent unanimity, but has never to my knowledge admitted in public that the Head Injury Lab got out of hand.”

– From the book Triumph of the Market by Edward S. Herman

little cruelties

Today there was a report on the radio of the widespread phenomenon of acid attacks on women and girls in India. (The report focused on the courage of the badly scarred victims, some as young as fifteen years old.) It would be easy to conclude that such savagery was the provenance of certain peoples, cultures, or simply of madmen; but Hannah Arendt (writer of Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil) would quickly point out the ubiquitous and banal nature of evil, and it is often (not always) change of circumstance and context that can make an ordinary person do monstrous things. Think Rwanda, Nazi Germany, the Balkans – where average men turned to evil. The controversial Milgram Experiment indicated how we may adapt our moral behaviour in different circumstances (the implications of the experiment were however challenged by Thomas Blass in The Man Who Shocked The World).

A few years back there were images in the media of children dancing round the burnt body of a Somali – stoned and hacked to death in Alexandra township north of Johannesburg. Yet these children were no different to any others – except for the context of their brutalizing situation.

Two incidents from my childhood come clearly to mind: I remember a clutch of excited schoolboys torturing live earthworms on spades held over a bonfire … I remember their laughter as they watched the poor creatures writhe in agony. And I recall the delight in a childhood friend’s face as he set about cutting insects in half to see how long the dismembered body parts would continue to scurry about before they ‘died’. There are so many other incidents of cruelty I could mention that it is odd that these two remain so etched in my mind. They are little, perhaps insignificant cruelties, and bear no comparison with those perpetrated against people and animals in the wider world and through the millenia. But there is a common thread between the little horrors and the great: a cruel intention or indifference to the pain of the Other. As a child I was appalled at the callous cruelty toward these creatures; as an adult the world seems to me flooded by an ocean of cruelty. From the cold-reasoning cruelty of the vivisectionist and the ecstasies of the torturer to the atrocities of war, ethnic cleansing and xenophobia: the world appears to be an institution for the criminally insane where the inmates run riot. Our treatment of animals is often as not worse than criminal: we hunt them for pleasure or money, experiment on them, factory farm them and slaughter them in their billions for food, handbags, watch-straps, luxury car upholstery or to presumably augment our sexual prowess.

As if hunting animals was bad enough, man has frequently hunted man: escaped slaves in the  Caribbean were hunted with dogs; licences to hunt the San Bushmen were casually issued in the Dutch and later British Cape Colony. Aboriginals from Australia and Africa to the Americas were arbitrarily and often systematically slaughtered by settlers – at times with the full support of colonial authorities. In Canada during the seige of Fort Pitt, blankets deliberately infested with smallpox were sent to native American communities with a view to exterminating them. Barbarity knows no bounds: there are degrees of cruelty perhaps, but the suffering seems to me somehow homogeneous – not isolated, fragmented incidents but a dense mass of suffering that is inherent in existence itself, and caused by people of all races and ideological persuasions.

I have always felt that in spite of the declarations of believers to the contrary, God seems to look away. There are passages in religious texts that suggest that there is a god that sees:

“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. So the Lord said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” (Genesis)

“… the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.”
(Letter of Saint Paul to the Church in Rome)

Yet here “The Lord” seems as complicit in cruelty as the very Man he created (and did he not in his omniscience foresee all the evil Man would do? Was the God of Genesis taken by surprise? And why must all Beasts and birds and creeping things – not to mention men, women and children,  die in the genocide of his Divine Regret?

I return inevitably to the well trodden paths of theodicy, misotheism and antinatalism- and to Richard Rubenstein’s Holocaust theology. 

But finally, evil cannot be rationalized. One seeks in vain for answers: the religions and philosophies of men seem to fail at this point. They may lead to an acceptance of suffering, show us ways to overcome and limit it, to confront it, or may give us the hope of a time when suffering will end (and god-forbid that it continue into the next life in the form of the heinous doctrine of everlasting hell). The existential imperative is not to explain suffering, but to do away with it. Not to heal the occasional leper, but to do away with leprosy altogether (to paraphrase the anti-christian 18th century thinker, Thomas Paine).

In this life at least, there is no doing away with it.

Primum non nocere (Do No Harm): each one of us must determine not to add to the weight of the world’s woes even with the little cruelties of our own. And wherever and in whatever way possible, we must courageously oppose cruelty wherever we see it.

“By respect for life we become religious in a way that is elementary, profound and alive.”
– Albert Schweitzer

Where is the Life we have lost in living?

 

 

Choruses from The Rock – T.S. Eliot

 

The Eagle soars in the summit of Heaven,
The Hunter with his dogs pursues his circuit.
O perpetual revolution of configured stars,
O perpetual recurrence of determined seasons,
O world of spring and autumn, birth and dying!
The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Brings us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.

Continue reading “Where is the Life we have lost in living?”