Archive for the ‘transcendence’ Category

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Booklog: I and Thou

September 10, 2007

I and Thou
Martin Buber
Read: 8.17.07
Rating: Good

This being my third attempt at I and Thou, I decided for a reason (hence lost to me) to begin without reading the Prologue. I don’t have a rule about reading introductions or prologues, typically just acting on whim, so this isn’t unusual. The Prologue to I and Thou is atypical, however, in that it has a title of it’s own, “I and You,” and is written by the translator (Walter Kauffman) in a style similar to the text itself. It begins: “Man’s world is manifold, and his attitudes are manifold” — a response to Buber’s opening sentence: “The world is twofold for man in accordance with his twofold attitude.” This beginning led me to believe that the Prologue was a work unto itself, one that was more a response to or continuation of Buber’s text — so I ignored it and dove right in.

Had I read the Prologue, this following translator’s note, which Kauffman placed on page 164, a mere four pages from the book’s conclusion, would not have struck me as a revelation:

The main problem with this kind of writing is that those who take it seriously are led to devote their whole attention to what might be meant, and the question is rarely asked whether what is meant is true, or what grounds there might be for either believing or disbelieving it.

An odd translator’s note, this. I imagine that Kauffman must have been tempted to unleash it much earlier in the text, but managed to hold off until he nearly reached its conclusion. Had I read the Prologue, in which Kauffman deals at length with the difficulty of the book’s language and the near impossibility of discerning what numerous passages mean, I would have been spared the trouble. It was liberating to discover, on page 164, and subsequently in the Prologue, that the translator thought of the book in much the same way I did: that the obscurity of I and Thou‘s language is tantalizingly difficult, almost excitingly obtuse, but all too often simply impossible.

One of the easiest things to grasp is the basic outline of the book’s vocabulary: the “twofold” world mentioned in the first sentence. Buber splits the world into two different “word pairs”: I-It and I-You. I-It is the world of experience, objects, content and information (“O piling up of information! It, it it!”). I-You is the world of relation, and it is described in mystical terms: unquantifiable, it approaches but cannot be approached, it arrives but cannot be sought, etc. I-it is anchored in the past, I-You is always present. Buber’s split is not the separation of the world into “matter” and “ideas” or something similarly Platonic; both of these would fall into the It world. The world of “I-You” is not transcendent in terms of location, but it is similarly separate from everyday experience. It is certainly supernatural — it is important to keep in mind that Buber is a religious mystic, and the state (relationship) that he attempts to describe is one that lacks content. Here is a typically beautiful passage:

There are moments of the secret ground in which world order is beheld as present. The the tone is heard all of a sudden whose uninterpretable score the ordered world is. These moments are immortal; none are more evanescent. They leave no content that could be preserved, but their force enters into the creation and into man’s knowledge, and the radiation of its force penetrates to ordered world and thaws it again and again. Thus the history of the individual, thus the history of the race.

These ideas (the mystical ones), as expressed by Buber, are very appealing from the perspective of the creative process and the creation of art. Buber describes art as a process in which “a human being confronts a form that wants to become a work through him,” a process of actualization of an eternal form that confronts the artist. This is a familiar description, one that I’ve always liked, and one that was all over Gaddis’s The Recognitions, so I was excited by the possibility that Buber was really onto something. Unfortunately, as I read on I didn’t see how much he was actually contributing to this idea with his framework. For many people, fitting a theory about the creative process into one about religious experience is very important; for me it’s the other way around, so Buber wasn’t quite the fit I was initially hoping for.

My favorite part of Buber’s twofold paradigm is how it speaks to the individual’s existence in the world, and his relations to other individuals. Where Buber strays into the territory we typically associate with existential philosophy, he’s brilliant. Buber believes that relations to other people can be, and on a level always are, I-You relationships, because there is something eternal and unquantifiable about each member of the encounter. He sets the act of love against mere experience and utility. This is my favorite passage in the text:

Feelings one “has”; love occurs. Feelings dwell in man, but man dwells in love. This is no metaphor but actuality: love does not cling to an I, as if the You were merely its “content” or its object; it is between I and You. Whoever does not know this, know this with his being, does not know love, even if he should ascribe to it the feelings that he lives through, experiences, enjoys, and expresses. Love is a cosmic force. For those who stand in it and behold in it, men emerge from their entanglement in busy-ness; and the good and the evil, the clever and the foolish, the beautiful and the ugly, one after another become actual and a You for them; that is, liberated emerging into a unique confrontation.

For similar reasons, the book’s Second Part is the best of the three, for it concerns the question of the individual and his relationship with the world. Buber eloquently regulates and demotes the typical “saviors” of man, especially the societal and governmental, to the It-world. Experience, the piling up of information, hardly helps, for it takes a man farther from the world of relation. There are no solutions in this section, just the tearing down of worldly idols. Here is Buber’s conclusion: “Thus feels man in the hours when he collects himself: overcome by horror, pondering, without direction” — a classic case of alienation.

What will help is relation to the “eternal You,” that is, God — “the supreme encounter” of mystical experience. Buber makes his intentions clear early in the Third Part (the God Part). He does not believe that it is possible to say what is needed, at least not by way of prescription. Rather, things need to be given up: self-affirmation, the love of things, all that is particular. What I like best about Buber’s mysticism is that it is decidedly not an escape; it is not even a search: “in truth, there is no God-seeking because there is nothing where one could not find him.” There is only longing and encounter. No flight from the world is necessary. This is a fine line for Buber to walk, considering his It-You dichotomy, but I believe he pulls it off, and I think this is pretty impressive.

If and when an encounter with the eternal You does occur, it involves “the inexpressible confirmation of meaning. It is guaranteed. Nothing, nothing can henceforth be meaningless. The question about the meaning of life has vanished.” No content is conveyed, so it cannot be expressed or even experienced, but no definition is necessary. The meaning here is not otherworldly, “but that that of this our life, not that of ‘beyond’ but of this our world.” The end result of such an experience is only manifest in actions:

We cannot go to others with what we have received, saying: This is what needs to be known, this is what needs to be done. We can only go and put to the proof in action. And even this is not what we “ought to” do: rather we can — we cannot do otherwise.

This is where understanding runs into a wall, probably the very one Buber describes. For much of the book’s Third Part, Buber is explaining what it is like to have a religious experience, something that he clearly is familiar with. He insists that there is no prescription, that the relation has no content, but this is the very problem with attempting to describe ones own mystical encounters. Buber uses some wildly creative and beautiful language in his attempt to do so, but I eventually return to:

The main problem with this kind of writing is that those who take it seriously are led to devote their whole attention to what might be meant, and the question is rarely asked whether what is meant is true, or what grounds there might be for either believing or disbelieving it.

This brings me back to the question of art, specifically writing, for what Buber is attempting to do is bring the form of his encounter into words. It’s not as abstract as a novel or a sculpture, but the basic attempt is the same. How does one form an experience, one that lacks content, into a string of words so that the meaning (content?) is conveyed to the reader?

Two novels I’ve read recently tackle this problem directly. Gaddis, in The Recognitions, treats what Buber would call the “world of I-It” with ruthless disdain, using satire and bitterness to destroy the reader’s faith in things he would typically turn to for meaning. The book’s protagonist, Wyatt, calls for an entirely new way of thinking and talking about what is good and true, and attempts to capture it in his paintings. Also, the “recognitions” that populate the book are extremely similar to the description Buber gives of art. On a different level, Virginia Woolf, who I believe is, like Buber, concerned with mystical experience that takes place firmly in the world and not out of it, searches for unity in Jacob’s Room. If man is to achieve unity, despite the alarming number of particulars that occupy his existence, it will only be through attention to detail and impression, truly occupying the present, and putting into words the fleeting moments of almost mystical unity that are more than just experience, but something much greater and more fulfilling.

I love Buber’s attempt. I don’t find it wholly successful, partly because I am disinclined towards religion, but mostly because his writing, though it is occasionally beautiful, is too often impenetrable. Problematically, when it is penetrable, it frequently disintegrates into platitudes. Buber has more than his share of brilliant flashes, but I don’t think their brilliance is sustainable.

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the one who says “I”

August 2, 2007
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The Recognitions: Part II

May 11, 2007

Nearly two months after completing Part I of The Recognitions, I am finally finished with Part II (440 pages) and a few dozen pages into the the third and final part (I’m now on 738 of 956 pages). At that time, I was wildly excited about the novel and the possibility that it would prove to be one of the best I’ve ever read. Sadly, I no longer feel that way. I really like The Recognitions, and I think it’s a great book — but I simply don’t love it as much as I want to love it. This is most unfortunate.

I noted while reviewing the book’s first Part that Gaddis’s dialog outshines the rest of his writing (description, internal monologues, etc). Often, his prose reaches towards brilliance, and the several “set piece” scenes are simply astonishing, but on the whole I find his style difficult to hold onto, not only on account of Gaddis’s erudition, but because he nearly always writes too much and too vaguely. This is certainly an intentional style, but it’s not one that I enjoy.

As I have yet to finish the book, and still retain a hope that its final pages will redeem the story and force me to reconsider, I’ve been trying to instead determine how the book to this point has disappointed me. My current thought is that my preferred reading-style is not well-suited to The Recognitions. I am a “section seeking” reader: one who is constantly awaiting key scenes, passages, and sentences that rise above the rest of the text, hoping to glean universal meanings from them. This style has its benefits — the highs are higher — but on the whole I consider it a shortcoming, one that The Recognitions is exposing in new ways. The novel resists any such efforts: there are, of course, crucial passages and scenes, but my harvest has been thin to this point.

The meaning of The Recognitions is always epically ahead of me; not in the way that great texts are always ahead of us on account of their greatness and the new things they perennially reveal, but in the sense that anything but the most rudimentary and fragmentary understanding and insight remain elusive. Gaddis’s unparalleled erudition and constant grabs for more-more-more (details, characters, references, etc etc) make it very difficult to maintain a grasp on the text — it always slips away. The Recognitions, to this point, has been a mass without a center.

But, perhaps, The Recognitions is a book without a center because the world it depicts lacks a center. Like Eliot’s The Waste Land (lines from Eliot’s poetry, especially the Four Quartets, pepper the text), The Recognitions is a lament for an earlier time, an era where art meant something — a reach towards the transcendent even — and is now just our best hope for shoring up fragments against the ruins.

On page 660 of The Recognitions, a French art critic quotes Michelangelo’s’s unfavorable judgment of Flemish art, in which he claims that Flemish art pleases women, monks, nuns, and men “who are not capable of understanding true harmony.” This dismissal is important to several of the book’s main characters for reasons I won’t summarize here. But what is most fascinating is that Michelangelo, several sentences later (from a larger source quotation here) describes the Flemish masters in terms that — at my lowest moments with the book — I think apply rather well to The Recognitions:

In short, this art is without power and and without distinction; it aims at rendering minutely many things at the same time, of which a single one would have sufficed to call forth a man’s whole application.

(pictured: details from Hieronymus Bosch‘s The Garden of Earthly Delights — which, like The Recognitions, overwhelms)

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Booklog: Sartor Resartus

February 20, 2007

Sartor Resartus
Thomas Carlyle
Read: 2.20.07
Rating: Good

While reading the TLS recently, I was very amused by one reviewer’s critique of a book of popular philosophy, in which the book’s author was accused of “chewing off more than he can bite.” This succinctly sums up how I feel about Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus. I began reading it with great expectations, and continued reading with some patience despite my curtailing interest, held off by some excellent passages and chapters. However, once I reached a certain point I realized this book wasn’t going to be what I wanted it to be, and no longer felt like it was worth the effort I had to invest to understand its meaning and purpose — a meaning that was simultaneously twisted and repetitive. It took me two weeks to read the last ten pages.

This being said, Sartor Resartius is inspiring at intervals, and certainly humorous. Carlyle’s goal is to poke fun at, overcome, and offer an alternative to what he considers the excessively materialistic and mechanistic spirit of his age. Carlyle is writing at a newly post-Christian point in intellectual history, and his hope is that man’s old religious longings will be filtered into a newfound wonder at the joys of life, as opposed to utilitarian “motive-grinding.”

Sound’s great, right? That’s what I thought.

However, Carlyle’s method is overly ornate, especially to those reading this text 175 years later. The conceit of the book is this: the narrator, an Englishman, is presenting to the English public the contents of a collection of notebooks composed by a German professor, Teufelsdrock, who has developed an all-inclusive “clothes-philosophy” that covers all of life. Sartor Resartus alternates between the professor’s high-flying, poorly organized missives, and the explanations and apologies of the book’s narrator/editor. Typically, I love this type of indirection — Kierkegaard is one of my favorite writers, and the approach Carlyle takes is eerily similar. Sadly, Carlyle is simply not Kierkegaard, and his indirect style is not as rewarding or as enjoying as Soren’s. The result is that the point’s central point, that Man is a spiritual animal, and yearns for the infinite beyond the finite, is prepared, danced around, repeated, and summarized throughout the text. I’m sure that if I was reading this text 150 years ago, I would find its style more charming and original, and its points more revolutionary — but the essence of a classic is it’s ability to re-present seemingly obvious truths in exciting new ways, and I don’t think Sartor Resartus comes close to meeting this mark.

That being said, some passages are lovely, and do translate across the years in a fresh, dynamic way. Here are three which nicely encapsulate the book’s overall scheme and act as good examples of Carlyle’s fanciful style.

1 – on the “motive-millwrights” and their mechanistic philosophy:

Fantastic tricks enough man has played, in his time; has fancied himself to be most things, down even to an animated heap of Glass: but to fancy himself a dead Iron-Balance for weighing Pains and Pleasures on, was reserved for this his latter era. There stands he, his Universe one huge Manger, filled with hay and thistles to be weighed against each other; and looks long-eared enough. Alas, poor devil! spectres are appointed to haunt him: one age he is hag-ridden, bewitched; the next, priest-ridden, befooled; in all ages, bedevilled. And now the Genius of Mechanism smothers him worse than any Nightmare did; till the Soul is nigh choked out of him, and only a kind of Digestive, Mechanic life remains. In Earth and in Heaven he can see nothing but Mechanism; has fear for nothing else, hope in nothing else: the world would indeed grind him to pieces; but cannot he fathom the Doctrine of Motives, and cunningly compute these, and mechanize them to grind the other way?

2 – on those who think they understand the “system of nature”

To the Minnow every cranny and pebble, and quality and accident, of its little native Creek may have become familiar: but does the Minnow understand the Ocean Tides and periodic Currents, the Trade-winds, and Monsoons, and Moon’s Eclipses; by all which the condition of its little Creek is regulated, and may, from time to time (unmiraculously enough), be quite overset and reversed? Such a minnow is Man; his Creek this Planet Earth; his Ocean the immeasurable All; his Monsoons and periodic Currents the mysterious Course of Providence through Aeons of Aeons.

3 – on the sense of wonder we should have in the face of life-itself, despite our ability to categorize and understand its mechanisms:

That the Thought-forms, Space and Time, wherein, once for all, we are sent into this Earth to live, should condition and determine our whole Practical reasonings, conceptions, and imagings or imaginings, seems altogether fit, just, and unavoidable. But that they should, furthermore, usurp such sway over pure spiritual Meditation, and blind us to the wonder everywhere lying close on us, seems nowise so. Admit Space and Time to their due rank as Forms of Thought; nay even, if thou wilt, to their quite undue rank of Realities: and consider, then, with thyself how their thin disguises hide from us the brightest God-effulgences! Thus, were it not miraculous, could I stretch forth my hand and clutch the Sun? Yet thou seest me daily stretch forth my hand and therewith clutch many a thing, and swing it hither and thither. Art thou a grown baby, then, to fancy that the Miracle lies in miles of distance, or in pounds avoirdupois of weight; and not to see that the true inexplicable God-revealing Miracle lies in this, that I can stretch forth my hand at all; that I have free Force to clutch aught therewith? Innumerable other of this sort are the deceptions, and wonder-hiding stupefactions, which Space practices on us.

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Planting for Eternity

January 29, 2007

Carlyle’s Professor Teufelsdrock, after a long diatribe on the meaning of Symbols and their ability to point towards the Eternal, and the ability of true works of art to render the “Godlilke” visible:

Of this thing, however, be certain: wouldst thou plant for Eternity, then plant into the deep infinite faculties of man, his Fantasy and Heart; wouldst thou plant for Year and Day, then plant into his shallow superficial faculties, his Self-love and Arithmetical Understanding, what will grow there. A Hierarch, therefore, and Pontiff of the World will we call him, the Poet and inspired Maker; who, Prometheus-like, can shape new Symbols, and bring new Fire from Heaven to fix it there. Such too will not always be wanting; neither perhaps now are. Meanwhile, as the average of matters goes, we account him Legislator and wise who can so much as tell when a Symbol has grown old, and gently remove it.

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The Varieties of Religious Experience II: “Circumscription of the Topic”

January 25, 2007

(This is the second of a planned twenty part journey through William James’s Varieties of Religious Experience lectures).

In his second lecture, “Circumscription of the Topic,” James aims to set down exactly what he means when he talks about “religion.” Like the first, this lecture is introductory in tone, as James outlines his general scheme and establishes a clear method of considering his subject. At the very end, James promises that in his next lecture he will “abandon the extreme generalities” and “begin our actual journey by addressing ourselves directly to the concrete facts.” If this means that the next lecture is going to be even better than this one, than you can color me excited.

The primary point of lecture two is to define the word “religion” in a way that will allow James to talk about the aspects of it he finds most interesting, namely, the intense religious experiences of those who think they are in touch with the divine. James explains that he is not interested in determining what the “essence” of religion is, since he does not think this to be a plausible goal; religion, of all things, is not easily reduced to a single trait, as “such different ways of conceiving it ought of themselves to arise doubt as to whether it possibly can be one specific thing.” To help in this regard, James again explains that he is going to ignore the institutional aspects of religion in their entirety, hoping instead to “confine myself as far as I can to personal religion pure and simple.” With this in mind, James sets down his working definition:

Religion, therefore, as I now ask you arbitrarily to take it, shall mean for us the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine.

The slippery word here, as James immediately recognizes, is “divine” — what does this mean? He insists on holding to a broad definition of the divine, which will umbrella religions such as Buddism, which recognizes no personal deity, and Emersonian idealism, which focuses primarily on a law or force which inhabits the universe. In short, even if a religion has no gods, it still falls under James’s conception: “we must interpret the term ‘divine’ very broadly, as denoting any object that is godlike, whether it be a concrete deity or not.”

Coming at it from a different angle, James defends his choice of definition by claiming that “religion, whatever it is, is a man’s total reaction upon life.”

Total reactions are different from casual reactions, and total attitudes are different from usual or professional attitudes. To get at them you must go behind the foreground of existence and reach down to that curious sense of the whole residual cosmos as an everlasting presence, intimate or alien, terrible or amusing, lovable or odious, which in some degree every one possesses. This sense of the world’s presence, appealing as it does to our peculiar individual temperament, makes us either strenuous or careless, devout or blasphemous, gloomy or exultant, about life at large; and our reaction, involuntary and inarticulate and often half unconscious as it is, is the completest of all our answers to the question, “What is the character of this universe in which we dwell?”

The next part of the essay makes distinctions between different ways of reacting to the totality of existence, and whether or not different stances qualify as religious. Voltaire’s scoffing attitude, the “all is vanity” approach, is certainly not religion. An ironic stance towards the whole is not religion; religion nearly always indicates a serious frame of mind. Even tragedy has value from the religious point of view, for it it is considered a purging force that paves the way to deliverance. Coming back to the definition of the divine, James says: “The divine shall mean for us only such a primal reality as the individual feels impelled to respond to solemnly and gravely, and neither by a curse nor a jest.”

With this in mind, James returns to the point he made in his first lecture, that religion can best be understood by considering the most extreme examples of it. The common sense plea James makes resonates with truth:

Hesitation as to whether a state of mind is ‘religious,’ or ‘moral,’ or ‘philosophical,’ is only likely to arise when the state of mind is weakly characterized, but in that case it will be hardly worthy of our study at all. With states that can only by courtesy be called religious we need have nothing to do, our only profitable business being with what nobody can possibly feel tempted to call anything else.

At this point in his lecture, James turns to a subject that holds great weight, and proves to be deeply fascinating: distinguishing between a “moral” stance towards existence and a “religious” one. Recognizing that there could very easily be some blurring between the two, James attempts to determine the critical difference, and succeeds admirably. Explaining that “at bottom the whole concern of both morality and religion is with the manner of our acceptance of the universe,” James points out that morality is concerned with acquiescing to the universe, while religion is concerned with embracing it. It is a difference of mood: the moralist (represented here by Stoicism in general and Aurelius specifically) consents to his place in the universe, and even submits to it, whereas “the Christian God is there to be loved” — “the difference of emotional atmosphere is like that between an arctic climate and the tropics.”

James then moves deeper into this territory, hoping to identify what about religion makes it distinct from morality. Strangely, James shifts back and forth between Christianity and religion without explanation, using the two terms nearly interchangeably in the last portion of his lecture. This serves his purpose, and allows him to make the points he clearly wishes to make, but it is a weakness in his argument, and attention must be paid to it. What James says next about the sacrificial, self-abasing aspects of religion apply very well to Christianity, but not so well (to use James’s earlier example against him) to Emersonian idealism. Take this passage which describes the comfort religion gives to those who feel the shortcomings of their “decaying organism”

But whereas the merely moralistic spurning takes an effort of volition, the Christian spurning is the result of the excitement of a higher kind of emotion, in the presence of which no exertion of volition is required. The moralist must hold his breath and keep his muscles tense; and so long as this athletic attitude is possible all goes well — morality suffices. But the athletic attitude tends ever to break down, and it inevitably does break down even in the most stalwart when the organism begins to decay, or when morbid fears invade the mind. To suggest personal will and effort to one all sicklied o’er with the sense of irremediable impotence is to suggest the most impossible of things. What he craves is to be consoled in his very powerlessness, to feel that the spirit of the universe recognizes and secures him, all decaying and failing as he is. Well, we are all such helpless failures in the last resort. The sanest and best of us are of one clay with lunatics and prison inmates, and death finally runs the robustest of us down. And whenever we feel this, such a sense of the vanity and provisionality of our voluntary career comes over us that all our morality appears but as a plaster hiding a sore it can never cure, and all our well-doing as the hollowest substitute for that well-being that our lives ought to be grounded in, but, alas! are not.

And here religion comes to our rescue and takes our fate into her hands. There is a state of mind, known to religious men, but to no others, in which the will to assert ourselves and hold our own has been displaced by a willingness to close our mouths and be as nothing in the floods and waterspouts of God.

This is a long quote, but essential to understanding what comes next. James claims that the crucial aspect of religion — and its chief value — is how it “comes to our rescue and takes our fate into her hands.” Religious feeling adds a whole new level of experience to a person’s life: “when the outward battle is lost, and the outer world disowns him, it redeems and vivifies an interior world which would otherwise be an empty waste.”

I want to stop the summary here and draw attention to the fact that James is here portraying a very pessimistic view of life and death. True, our lives are a struggle with death and decay, for which we often need solace and explanation. However, I think it’s worth it to advance another view: that life owes nothing to us, and that we should be happy to be here at all. This, bastardized, is the view taken by Carlyle’s professor Teufelsdrock in Sartor Resartus (see this post).

In the next to last paragraph, James writes:

For when all is said and done, we are in the end absolutely dependent on the universe; and into sacrifices and surrenders of some sort, deliberately looked at and accepted, we are drawn and pressed as into our only permanent positions of repose. Now in those states of mind which fall short of religion, the surrender is submitted to as an imposition of necessity, and the sacrifice is undergone at the very best without complaint. In the religious life, on the contrary, surrender and sacrifice are positively espoused: even unnecessary givings-up are added in order that the happiness may increase. Religion thus makes easy and felicitous what in any case is necessary; and if it be the only agency that can accomplish this result, its vital importance as a human faculty stands vindicated beyond dispute

To this I say: yes, we are all dependent on the universe, and religion does provide an answer to the seemingly brutality of this fact, in that it promises that there is another, greater, meaning, even — usually — promising eternal life beyond our short earthy voyages. In this view, renouncing the earthly has clear benefits. However, if there is no eternal life, nothing beyond what we see and experience on earth, then the comfort and “extra level” that religion offers is misleading, false, and detrimental to true happiness.

If you believe that there is another life, then renouncing the less pleasant elements of this one makes sense. If you don’t, and are convinced that this life is the only experience you will ever have, then renunciation holds no purpose, whatever its value for your happiness may be. My chief criticism of James’ point is that our being “dependent on the universe” is not a strong enough reason to renounce it. James thinks that “we shall have to confess to at least some amount of dependence on sheer mercy, and to practice some amount of renunciation, great or small, to save our souls alive.” I agree with the first half of this proposal, but denounce the second; I have no choice but to depend on the universe, but I can choose to affirm it, regardless of whether or not it has a total meaning, because I am convinced that there is nothing more to it that what it gives me and what I can take from it.

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Mistrusting the Earthly

January 7, 2007

The final stanza of Rilke’s “To Holderlin”:

Why, after such an eternal life, do we still
mistrust the earthly? Instead of patiently learning from transience
the emotions for what future
slopes of the heart, in pure space?