Monday, January 07, 2008

"No sympathy for the devil; keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride." -- Hunter S. Thompson

I had a post to put here, which was to start with the following two sentences:

"I have a dreadful confession to make. I wish, sometimes, that I were religious."

What was to follow was a long monologue on the irrationality of religion and yet the real need for it, the need to have some way to thumb one's nose at the cold physical world, the determined course of one's life, the illusion of efficacy, the futility of our ambitions in a world of scarcity, competition, conflict, scars, in a world where we have to interact not only with the brute sticks and stones but with the ever more treacherous subtleties of other people, and not just the wicked other people, conveniently demarcated by religion into those who get to hang out with us in heaven and those who don't in hell, but even the merely misguided other people, the other people whose behavior is brought about by the injuries inflicted on them by still other other people, or even those who are merely compelled by their biology as you are compelled by yours. And a lamentation for the fact that my desire to have true beliefs (my evolved need for true beliefs, combined with my evolved ability to form them to some extent) outweighs my desire for (evolved need for) the belief that there is a big Santa Claus in the sky with whom all things are possible.

Yeah, all that good crap. Brooding, brooding, brooding! It's wild, isn't it, how we all think about this sort of stuff, even though everything that could possibly have been said about it has been said already, and none of it is amenable to reason anyway. (Thereof, remain silent, for heaven's sakes! As it were.) And, heaven (oh, there it is again) help us, some of us try to write things about them. They usually get confined to the nutty aisles of the bookstore, to be purchased by the credulous or the merely ignorant.

Sort of like religion, really. Not amenable to reason. Which returns us to the original stream. So I was writing this post. And I found myself quoting from the section of Kierkegaard's fabulous Fear and Trembling (not to be confused with Fear and Loathing) entitled "Problemata: Preliminary Expectoration." And I quoted it again. And again. And again. (The greatness of that essay, even premised as it is on false and irrational religious beliefs, is like a giant flaming glass prism in the sky, casting lashes of coruscating light 'cross the land.) And eventually, I realized. Keirkegaard really has said it all on this topic. Just read that. It's pretty short, and the prose is wonderful.

No, really.


Read it.


Just that one section will do you.

Read it. Don't continue reading this post. Read Kierkegaard.

I'd give him one minor emendation. I'd say that the Knight of Infinite Resignation makes his moves by virtue of the absurd too, because his submission to the spirit too demands the impossible -- the impossible being the existence even of a heavenly kingdom where the resigned is to be fulfilled. There being no infinite, even the first step is an abandonment of the rational.

For the movements of faith must constantly be made by virtue of the absurd, yet in such a way, be it observed, that one does not lose the finite but gains it every inch. For my part I can well describe the movements of faith, but I cannot make them. When one would learn to make the motions of swimming one can let oneself be hung by a swimming-belt from the ceiling and go through the motions (describe them, so to speak, as we speak of describing a circle), but one is not swimming.

And so this post became a meditation on the death of originality instead. As if nobody's ever said that before.

One solution to that one is to turn the way of contemporary fine art, to dive into ever more ironic sneers at the stupidity of one's own attempts at creation, to wallow in them, to throw shit out of one's cage at the zoo, insensible of one's resemblance thereby to a monkey. Or -- what amounts to much the same -- to chuck out content altogether and focus on form (I once intimately knew a writer who took that path). Or finally, is the solution to retreat into a kind of Zen "chop wood, carry water?" Is that kind of Sisyphus really happy?

But if I knew where there was such a knight of faith, I would make a pilgrimage to him on foot, for this prodigy interests me absolutely. I would not let go of him for an instant, every moment I would watch to see how he managed to make the movements, I would regard myself as secured for life, and would divide my time between looking at him and practicing the exercises myself, and thus would spend all my time admiring him. As was said, I have not found any such person, but I can well think him. Here he is. Acquaintance made, I am introduced to him. The moment I set eyes on him I instantly push him from me, I myself leap backwards, I clasp my hands and say half aloud, "Good Lord, is this the man? Is it really he? Why, he looks like a tax-collector!" However, it is the man after all. I draw closer to him, watching his least movements to see whether there might not be visible a little heterogeneous fractional telegraphic message from the infinite, a glance, a look, a gesture, a note of sadness, a smile, which betrayed the infinite in its heterogeneity with the finite. No! I examine his figure from tip to toe to see if there might not be a cranny through which the infinite was peeping. No! He is solid through and through. His tread? It is vigorous, belonging entirely to finiteness; no smartly dressed townsman who walksout to Fresberg on a Sunday afternoon treads the ground more firmly, he belongs entirely to the world, no Philistine more so. One can discover nothing of that aloof and superior nature whereby one recognizes the knight of the infinite.

(I swear, the snobbery post will happen. Unless I decide to resign from the internet completely. In a way, you can understand this post as building toward the snobbery post, laying the groundwork.)


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