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Reflection from January 24th, 2008 @ Age 26

RE:  THE HOUSE OF LIFE AND DEATH (A.K.A. IF TRUTH IS A WOMAN, WHAT THEN?) —VS.— NOTHINGNESS (A.K.A. “PLASTIC”).

Ohh my my, let me tell you…

I most certainly don’t know much, and, in comparison to all there is to know—I am eternally destined, to knowing very little.  But, today, in this moment, I know this much to be true—most people in life, or at least, most of the people that I have known, settle.  And, the decision to settle makes sense; sometimes, I think, much more sense than not.  But the fundamental reason, I think, that people settle (as I am very presently finding out) is because, when you settle, at least you know you have something—at least, you know, that some sort of concrete certainty fulfills the basic premise of your life.

The most depressing part about settling, though, is that in many cases, in more cases than not (I believe)—persons that settle find out later, that what it is that they settled for, was not at all what they really wanted.  To hold out, and put yourself out there, is a fundamentally difficult task—it requires perseverance and faith, hope and belief.  The most difficult thing I have found in refusing to settle for less than I deserve, and most certainly, less than I want—is that, in doing so, I assume the risk, that I will find myself empty-handed in the end.

I told Jen, once, and felt absolutely ashamed and embarrassed after having come clean, but, I did tell Jen once—that I think the most brilliant people that have ever existed and walked the face of this earth, were also, very much so, those that others found to be insane.  Now, don’t get me wrong; I think there are different kinds of insanity, and, when I speak here—I do not intend to include them all.  But the idea, very much so, goes hand in hand with the premise—that the most brilliant of all minds, come at the cost of isolation, misunderstanding, mental illness and oftentimes, death.

I’m not sure, I’m quite expressing myself in a clear manner—in fact, I don’t think I’m doing myself justice at all; but anyways, I think right now, it’s much more important to get the ideas down—regardless of whether the wording is precisely right.  So, I proceed on…

I believe that the most brilliant, poignant and creative minds I’ve come to know, are contained in the hearts of people who are fundamentally incapable of disregarding truth.  We all know that the truth hurts; for, why else would it be so little used?  It follows, though, that the life of a person who lives by truth, and truth alone—is destined, to be one full of pain and strife.  Call me crazy; but, to me, it makes absolute, perfect sense—that in order to esteem living in truth, one must voluntarily open their heart and their mind to all that is out there to be had.

Perfect sense, it makes to me.  So anyways, to bring you round full circle (in what now seems to be, also, a very roundabout way!), I just want to say, that one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do in this life—is to be willing to give freely and voluntarily, without thereafter, becoming resentful when I feel that I have not justly been appreciated or adequately compensated in return.  To give, and not expect in return—seems such a simple, elementary concept.  And, what’s even more tricky, is the fact—that it immediately feels good, to have given.  But as time passes, and my efforts go unnoticed or unappreciated, at least, in my mind—my immediate reaction, is to close my heart and mind.  It hurts to put yourself out there, and get rejected…

As elementary a concept as it seems, I have found—that in life, the most elementary of concepts, often turn out to be the most complicated of all.

It would be so much easier, in the now, to close my heart and my mind—and to judge others, and pretend I already know what is right from what is wrong.  But, I’d be lying, if that were so.  Life, is rather more about varying degrees, than it is—full of pretty little boxes, that house bright lines and morals without decay.  But, the very sense of morality without conflict—is premised upon the assumption, that life can be lived without gray.  The more I live, everyday I spend, all these days that I have to spend on this earth, I find, that life is more gray than I ever thought it could be—and this realization comes in waves, but also, with increasingly exponential velocity.

I don’t know any other way to live, than, to live in the pursuit of all that is true.  And, as much as I suffer, as a result of living this way—I truly believe, that I would rather die, than live any other way.  It’s funny, in life, how most things are actually gray; but, every once in a great while—you find a hint of light, completely separated from the darkness.

I feel I’m overreaching, again, and this is the point where I want to smoke pot; because, I’ll tell you what, I am infinitely more able to express what I am thinking and feeling—to zero in on what it is that I mean to say, when I am high.  I get lost in this sea of words, and, it’s beyond frustrating to hear all these beautiful concepts in my head—only, to subsequently falter in my recording and inevitably, blunder their glory.  Life is messy, and it is ugly—as is, all that I’ve written above.  I despise overreaching, but, I suppose—I’d rather get the ideas down messy, than not get the ideas down at all.  It’s disappointing, more than anything, to see something so beautiful in my mind—and then, find, that I am fundamentally incapable of transposing all that is worth seeing.

What Appreciative pleasure foreshadows is not so quickly described.

First of all, it is the starting point for our whole experience of beauty.  It is impossible to draw a line below which such pleasures are “sensual” and above which they are “aesthetic.”  The experiences of the expert in claret already contain elements of concentration, judgment, and disciplined perceptiveness, which are not sensual; those of the musician still contain elements which are.  There is no frontier—there is seamless continuity—between the sensuous pleasure of garden smells and an enjoyment of the countryside (or “beauty”) as a whole, or even our enjoyment of the painters and poets who treat it.

And, as we have seen, there is in these pleasures from the very beginning a shadow or dawn of, or an invitation to, disinterestedness.  Of course in one way we can be disinterested or unselfish, and far more heroically so, about the Need-pleasures: it is a cup of water that the wounded Sidney sacrifices to the dying soldier.  But that is not the sort of disinterestedness I now mean.  Sidney loves his neighbour.  But in the Appreciative pleasures, even at their lowest, and more and more as they grow up into full appreciation of all beauty, we get something that we can hardly help calling love and hardly help calling disinterested, towards the object itself.  It is the feeling which would make a man unwilling to deface a great picture even if he were the last man left alive and himself about to die; which makes us glad of unspoiled forests that we shall never see; which makes us anxious that the garden or bean-field should continue to exist.  We do not merely like the things; we pronounce them, in a momentarily God-like sense, “very good.”

And now our principle of starting at the lowest—without which “the highest do not stand”—begins to pay a dividend.  It has revealed to me a deficiency in our previous classification of the loves into those of Need and those of Gift.  There is a third element in love, no less important than these, which is foreshadowed by our Appreciative pleasures.  This judgment that the object is very good, this attention (almost homage) offered to it as a kind of debt, this wish that it should be and should continue being what it is even if we were never to enjoy it, can go out not only to things but to persons.  When it is offered to a woman we call it admiration; when to a man, hero-worship; when to God, worship simply.

Need-love cries to God from our poverty; Gift-love longs to serve, or even to suffer for, God; Appreciative love says: “We give thanks to thee for thy great glory.”  Need-love says of a woman “I cannot live without her”; Gift-love longs to give her happiness, comfort, protection—if possible, wealth; Appreciative love gazes and holds its breath and is silent, rejoices that such a wonder should exist even if not for him, will not be wholly dejected by losing her, would rather have it so than never to have seen her at all.

We murder to dissect.  In actual life, thank God, the three elements of love mix and succeed one another, moment by moment.  Perhaps none of them except Need-love ever exists alone, in “chemical” purity, for more than a few seconds.  And perhaps that is because nothing about us except our neediness is, in this life, permanent.

Two forms of love for what is not personal demand special treatment.

For some people, perhaps especially for Englishmen and Russians, what we call “the love of nature” is a permanent and serious sentiment.  I mean here that love of nature which cannot be adequately classified simply as an instance of our love for beauty.  Of course many natural objects—trees, flowers and animals—are beautiful.  But the nature-lovers whom I have in mind are not very much concerned with individual beautiful objects of that sort.  The man who is distracts them.  An enthusiastic botanist is for them a dreadful companion on a ramble.  He is always stopping to draw their attention to particulars.  Nor are they looking for “views” or landscapes.  Wordsworth, their spokesman, strongly depreciates this.  It leads to “a comparison of scene with scene,” makes you “pamper” yourself with “meagre novelties of colour and proportion.”  While you are busying yourself with this critical and discriminating activity you lose what really matters—the “moods of time and season,” the “spirit” of the place.  And of course Wordsworth is right.  That is why, if you love nature in his fashion, a landscape painter is (out of doors) an even worse companion than a botanist.

It is the “moods” or the “spirit” that matter.  Nature-lovers want to receive as fully as possible whatever nature, at each particular time and place, is, so to speak, saying.  The obvious richness, grace, and harmony of some scenes are no more precious to them than the grimness, bleakness, terror, monotony, or “visionary dreariness” of others.  The featureless itself gets from them a willing response.  It is one more word uttered by nature.  They lay themselves bare to the sheer quality of every countryside, every hour of the day.  They want to absorb it into themselves, to be coloured through and through by it.

This experience, like so many others, after being lauded to the skies in the nineteenth century, has been debunked by the moderns.  And one must certainly concede to the debunkers that Wordsworth, not when he was communicating it as a poet, but when he was merely talking about it as a philosopher (or philosophaster), said some very silly things.  It is silly, unless you have found any evidence, to believe that flowers enjoy the air they breathe, and sillier not to add that, if this were true, flowers would undoubtedly have pains as well as pleasures.  Nor have many people been taught moral philosophy by an “impulse from a vernal wood.”

If they were, it would not necessarily be the sort of moral philosophy Wordsworth would have approved.  It might be that of ruthless competition.  For some moderns I think it is.  They love nature in so far as, for them, she calls to “the dark gods in the blood”; not although, but because, sex and hunger and sheer power there operate without pity or shame.

If you take nature as a teacher she will teach you exactly the lessons you had already decided to learn; this is only another way of saying that nature does not teach.  The tendency to take her as a teacher is obviously very easily grafted on to the experience we call “love of nature.”  But it is only a graft.  While we are actually subjected to them, the “moods” and “spirits” of nature point no morals.  Overwhelming gaiety, insupportable grandeur, sombre desolation are flung at you.  Make what you can of them, if you must make at all.  The only imperative that nature utters is, “Look. Listen. Attend.”

The fact that this imperative is so often misinterpreted and sets people making theologies and anthologies and antitheologies—all of which can be debunked—does not really touch the central experience itself.  What nature-lovers—whether they are Wordsworthians or people with “dark gods in their blood”—get from nature is an iconography, a language of images.  I do not mean simply visual images; it is the “moods” or “spirits” themselves—the powerful expositions of terror, gloom, jocundity, cruelty, lust, innocence, purity—that are the images.  In them each man can clothe his own belief.  We must learn our theology or philosophy elsewhere (not surprisingly, we often learn them from theologians and philosophers).

But when I speak of “clothing” our belief in such images I do not mean anything like using nature for similes or metaphors in the manner of the poets.  Indeed I might have said “filling” or “incarnating” rather than clothing.  Many people—I am one myself—would never, but for what nature does to us, have had any content to put into the words we must use in confessing our faith.  Nature never taught me that there exists a God of glory and of infinite majesty.  I had to learn that in other ways.  But nature gave the word glory a meaning for me.  I still do not know where else I could have found one.  I do not see how the “fear” of God could have ever meant to me anything but the lowest prudential effort to be safe, if I had never seen certain ominous ravines and unapproachable crags.  And if nature had never awakened certain longings in me, huge areas of what I can now mean by the “love” of God would never, so far as I can see, have existed.

Of course the fact that a Christian can so use nature is not even the beginning of a proof that Christianity is true.  Those suffering from Dark Gods can equally use her (I suppose) for their creed.  That is precisely the point.  Nature does not teach.  A true philosophy may sometimes validate an experience of nature; an experience of nature cannot validate a philosophy.  Nature will not verify any theological or metaphysical proposition (or not in the manner we are now considering); she will help to show what it means.

And not, on the Christian premises, by accident.  The created glory may be expected to give us hints of the uncreated; for the one is derived from the other and in some fashion reflects it.

In some fashion.  But not perhaps in so direct and simply a fashion as we at first might suppose.  For of course all the facts stressed by nature-lovers of the other school are facts too; there are worms in the belly as well as primroses in the wood.  Try to reconcile them, or to show that they don’t really need reconciliation, and you are turning from direct experience of nature—our present subject—to metaphysics or theodicy or something of that sort.  That may be a sensible thing to do; but I think it should be kept distinct from the love of nature.  While we are on that level, while we are still claiming to speak of what nature has directly “said” to us, we must stick to it.  We have seen an image of glory.  We must not try to find a direct path through it and beyond it to an increasing knowledge of God.  The path peters out almost at once.

Terrors and mysteries, the whole depth of God’s counsels and the whole tangle of the history of the universe, choke it.  We can’t get through; not that way.  We must make a detour—leave the hills and woods and go back to our studies, to church, to our Bibles, to our knees.  Otherwise the love of nature is beginning to turn into a nature religion.  And then, even if it does not lead us to the Dark Gods, it will lead us to a great deal of nonsense.

But we need not surrender the love of nature—chastened and limited as I have suggested—to the debunkers.  Nature cannot satisfy the desires she arouses nor answer theological questions nor sanctify us.  Our real journey to God involves constantly turning our backs on her; passing from the dawn-lit fields into some poky little church, or (it might be) going to work in an East End parish.  But the love of her has been a valuable and, for some people, an indispensable initiation.

I need not say “has been.”  For in fact those who allow no more than this to the love of nature seem to be those who retain it.  This is what one should expect.  This love, when it sets up as a religion, is beginning to be a god—therefore to be a demon.  And demons never keep their promises.  Nature “dies” on those who try to live for a love of nature.  Coleridge ended by being insensible to her; Wordsworth, by lamenting that the glory had passed away.  Say your prayers in a garden early, ignoring steadfastly the dew, the birds and the flowers, and you will come away overwhelmed by its freshness and joy; go there in order to be overwhelmed and, after a certain age, nine times out of ten nothing will happen to you.

I turn now to the love of one’s country

It will be noticed that the sort of love I have been describing, and all its ingredients, can be for something other than a country: for a school, a regiment, a great family, or a class.  All the same criticisms will still apply.  It can also be felt for bodies that claim more than a natural affection: for a Church or (alas) a party in a Church, or for a religious order.  This terrible subject would require a book to itself.  Here it will be enough to say that the Heavenly Society is also an earthly society.  Our (merely natural) patriotism towards the latter can very easily borrow the transcendent claims of the former and use them to justify the most abominable actions.  If ever the book which I am not going to write is written it must be the full confession by Christendom of Christendom’s specific contribution to the sum of human cruelty and treachery.  Large areas of “the World” will not hear us till we have publicly disowned much of our past.  Why should they?  We have shouted the name of Christ and enacted the service of Moloch.

C.S. Lewis

THE FOUR LOVESAn Exploration of the Nature of Love:

‘Likings and Loves for the Sub-Human.’

Circa 1960