I can hardly believe it has been a year. There is nothing I could say that would improve on what I wrote last year, a week after David’s death. I am posting it again here as I want alll of you to know what an extraordiary person he was and especially to enjoy his extraordinary art. Please click on the link:
More from some of recent books and films…or heard on the street…
I want death to find me planting my cabbages. Careless of death and still more my unfinished garden. Montaigne
Conventional wisdom is a disease again which a small percentage of humanity has been inoculated.
To be a fundamentalist, you have to have a book. And you have to forget the book has a history.
Nonsense is nonsense, but the study of nonsense–that’s scholarship! Gershom Scholem
And you are too slow. A good quality for a lover but a bad quality for a Horseman. Queen Elizabeth
On all the flesh that says yes; on the forehead of all of my friends; on every hand held out I write your name.
We are all wayfaring ones, our birth, our circumstances, whether order or chaos, privilege or plague; very little is controllable in the grander scheme of things, at least from the vantage point of Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot. We carve out our tiny space, feel the “I” of it, but it all blends together into centuries and millennia. We call it “history.” Such a strange concept. Microbe, elephant, flea, or sequoia, seem to somehow “harmonize” with wars and cruelty, chance and necessity. And then there is that amazing grace, not the song, but the “thing” of it–the Dasein.
The Universe/God began to “talk” to me in synchronicities: coincidences meaningful only to me and individually dismissible (to a skeptical outsider) as mere hokum, but too numerous and often too striking for me to dismiss.
Nature notices neither the unspeakable sorrows and sufferings humans inflict on one another, nor the destruction and pain resulting from natural processes of cause and effect. “Chance and necessity, chance and necessity” chants Jacque Monod, with a cadence like the slow drumbeat of a cosmic mantra. “Atoms and the void, atoms, and the void,” echoes Lucretius from two millennia ago. The flowers outside the gates of Auschwitz burst forth a panoply of colors and the grass grows green and thick with the spring rains as rabbits and mice come forth to welcome the sun. And that nature itself, “red in tooth and claw” drums slowly on in ever unfolding evolutionary patterns, each entity oblivious to the whole, but ever acting within it. The same is true after an earthquake or volcanic disruption or astroid impact or a pandemic. We who have the gift of self-awareness and wonder and analytical observation bear the burden, shed the tears, cry out to the cosmos, and wonder as we move through life how and where our sense of “meaning” and “purpose” fits…or Not. Are we anomalies and flukes in a process otherwise dead to and unaware of anything that goes on—or is that very capacity we have to ask, somehow reflective of something we have yet to understand? Yes, Mr. Zimmerman, we are going down the Valley one-by-one, as only your 70 year-old voice can sing it. But is there a choice? I put myself deep into this painting done by my departed son David, I can actually stare at it and merge into it–a strange feeling. I want to open my eyes and look around and see that is beyond the archway ahead.
Arthur Koestler once wrote that his attempt to write biography rose out of what he called the “Chronicler’s urge” and the Ecce Homo motive, both driven by a desire to transcend the self. I think the same can be said for my own lifelong desire–since high school living in boarding school in France outside Paris–to write contemporary fiction–which is inevitably a form of veiled or not-so-veiled (think Woody Allen!) bio-fiction. However, I would add the Hemingway sense of “getting it right,” somehow capturing our common human hours and days in a way that brings the reaction–yes, that’s the way it was! That’s the way it is!
Tell the tale tale, tell the tall tale,
The idiot sputtered to the table
Yes, indeed, tell the tale tale,
That tall tale of life…
The pure and ecstatic pleasure of freedom! Who could forget it, at age 8, or 9, or 10, roaming from morning until dark as the wind of every whiff of whim and device buoyed one along.
My Brilliant Friend, Season 1, Episode 2 (Click to Play)
I have been reading the wonderful biography of Arthur Koestler by Michael Scammell, Koestler: The Literary and Political Odyssey Of a Twentieth-Century Skeptic (NY: random House, 2009). See the NYTimes Book Review here. Many years ago I remember reading Janus in one sitting, into the wee hours, and feeling a profound sense of mystical wonder as I finished. I wrote in the inside cover–rather naively I suppose–“This might prove to be the most influential book I have yet encountered.” I have posted previously on various bits and pieces of Koestler or Koestler related thoughts and meditations, here are a few links: Parts & Whole, Visiting the Messiah, On the Convert.
Here is a lovely quotation on Koestler’s restless quest for meaning:
If we can speak about the Central European intellectual at all it is because of the personality of Arthur Koestler. His Jewish-Hugaro-Czech origins are a sort of advance warning that explains all his researches and his ambiguity: from }udaism to the theory of assimilation, from Marxism to the absolute negation of communism, from the flirtation with eastern spiritualism to its demystification, from faith in science to doubt of all closed systems, and from the search for the absolute to serene resignation in the face of man’s critical aptitudes.
Nietzsche said the Christian decision to make the world ugly and evil has made the world ugly and evil. Of course the Christians were only mimickers and mirrors of the neo-Platonism and Gnostic perspectives that became so influential in late Antiquity. Quite a contrast to the Hebrew Bible. Demons, Satan the Devil, eternal Hellfire, and the idea of the “total depravity” of humankind. It is not so much there there was nothing “new under the sun,” but rather nothing good under the sun. As several ancient Greek funerary prayers written in thin gold sheets and rolled up to be put in graves record the “great confession ” of Late Antiquity: I am a child of earth and heaven but heaven alone is my home!” Salvation became an ascetic denial of “the world, the flesh, and the devil.” Nietzsche was not so much an atheist but a rejector of the “schlechte Luft” that fouled our European culture world and its quest to stamp out every “Heresy.” As Empedocles put it–long before Plato and the Gnostics: “I was once a bird, a fish, and now a man–I wept, I wept, when I saw this dreadful place.” Rather than the “good earth” as the place to be (i.e. Frost: “The earth’s the right place for love, I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.”), as the ancient Creation Hymn of Genesis has things, this dark world was a hopeless prison into which we had fallen.
I began my academic biblical studies with New Testament Greek at the tender age of 17–my freshman year of college. And I have more or less shifted to a more “Hebraic” perspective, as I explain here in this article I want to share with my readers. For more see my article “Death as Life and Life as Death: Revising Rohde.”HebBible NT JRJ 1990
From some of my recent television viewing of various shows, both documentary and scripted:
I don’t really do that. Chat.
Amy Adams in the first episode of Sharp Objects HBO
Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist, nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.
Come away with me my love, they will not see us for the dust!
Frank Lloyd Wright to Olgivanna
I am guilty only of the deadly sin of having ideas.
Frank Lloyd Wright regarding his love affairs and unconventional choices
I love the phrase, the title of C. S. Lewis’s complex book about his “raging” grief and anger, against God and the cosmos and anything and everything after the death of his late-in-life-discovered beloved soulmate, Joy Davidman, in 1960. He published it originally under a pseudonym, lest the millions who saw him as a man faith be disturbed. It is well worth reading and there is a wonderful film, Shadowlands (1993), with Anthony Hopkins and Deborah Winger–well worth watching.
The inaugural 2020 issue of The New Yorker (January 6, 2020) has a wonderfully complex personal reflection by V. S. Naipaul about his own coping with grief–over the loss of family, friends, and even beloved pets. It is well worth reading. There are many quotable lines and paragraphs but one in particular stood out for me:
The many anxieties I lived with helped to push grief away. I felt I had been inoculated against grief. I had drunk that bitterness to the dregs, and since human beings have limited capacity I didn’t think I would be able to do so again…It was a poor way of thinking. We are never finished with grief. It is part of the fabric of living. It is always waiting to happen. Love makes memories and life precious; the grief that comes to us is proportionate to that love and is inescapable.