“In itself, every idea is neutral, or should be; but man animates ideas, projects his flames and flaws into them; impure, transformed into beliefs, ideas take their place in time, take shape as events: the trajectory is complete, from logic to epilepsy . . . whence the birth of ideologies, doctrines, deadly games.E.M. Cioran – “Genealogy of fanaticism” in A Short History of Decay (Paris, 1949).
Idolaters by instinct, we convert the objects of our dreams and our interests into the Unconditional. History is nothing but a procession of false Absolutes, a series of temples raised to pretexts, a degradation of the mind before the Improbable.”
Hear them shriek:
So little left to express.
The signifiers have lost their signifieds and are straying.
Ideas, heavy as rock, sink to the bottom of rivers
waiting to be swept away by a sudden flood of effervescence
or settle, with the mud, along the banks of dam lakes
Occasionally, some debris resurfaces – a severed head still smiling,
an arm, the fuselage of last year’s vacation… (or was it the year before last?!)
only to be whirled away with the rest of the waste.
Emptied of meaning, the words denote nothing.
Imponderable, impalpable, floating.
The slightest gale will whisk them up to the barren sky
like balloons (escaped? released?) out of the hands of children.
Never to return.
I don’t really miss them.
There is so little left to express.
“Understanding a people’s culture exposes their normalness without reducing their particularity. (…) It renders them accessible: setting them in the frame of their own banalities, it dissolves their opacity.”Clifford Geertz – The Interpretation of Cultures (Basic Books Classics)
“If too few opportunities for curiosity are available, if too many obstacles are placed in the way of risk and exploration, the motivation to engage in creative behavior is easily extinguished. (…) So, if the next generation is to face the future with zest and self-confidence, we must educate them to be original as well as competent.”M. Czikszentmihalyi – Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention (Harper Collins e-books)
On vice and broadmindedness:
“Human wickedness, if accepted by society, is changed from an act of will into an inherent, psychological quality which man cannot choose or reject but which is imposed upon him from without, and which rules him as compulsively as the drug rules the addict. In assimilating crime and transforming it into vice, society denies all responsibility and establishes a world of fatalities in which men find themselves entangled. (…) If crime is understood to be a kind of fatality, natural or economic, everyone will finally be suspected of some special predestination to it. (…) The seeming broadmindedness that equates crime and vice, if allowed to establish its own code of law, will invariably prove more cruel and inhuman than laws, no matter how severe, which respect and recognize man’s independent responsibility for his behavior.”H. Arendt – The Origins of Totalitarianism (Penguin Classics, 2017)
“Plato (…) also discovered the very insecure position of truth in the world, for ‘from opinions comes persuasion, and not from truth’ (Phaedrus 260). The most striking difference between ancient and modern sophists is that the ancients were satisfied with a passing victory of the argument at the expense of truth, whereas the moderns want a more lasting victory at the expense of reality.”Hannah Arendt – The Origins of Totalitarianism (Penguin Books, 2017)
“To live “in diaspora” is to reside in one place but to keep in motion an emotional, cultural, or political relationship with another, whether it is the site of one’s nativity that subsequently became a point of departure or an ancestral “homeland” virtually conjured but never visited. (…)
Diasporas (…) are platforms where received notions of cultural affiliation, religious inclination, and political persuasion can come undone or become entrenched and exaggerated. (…) They can be sites of recycling as much as of reinvention. (…)
But (…) all migrants, across a wide range of social positions, nonetheless share the experience that their movement results in a certain degree of expulsion from their territorial, political, juridical, or economic status. Even if the end result of migration is a relative increase in money, power, or enjoyment, the process of migration itself almost always involves an insecurity of some kind and duration. (…) The gains of migration are always a risk, while the process itself is always some kind of loss.”S. Illot, A.C. Mendes, L. Newns (eds.) – New Directions in Diaspora Studies (Rowman & Littlefield, London, 2018)
“To yield to the mere process of disintegration has become an irresistible temptation, not only because it has assumed the spurious grandeur of ‘historical necessity’, but also because everything outside it has begun to appear lifeless, bloodless, meaningless, and unreal. (…)
Comprehension does not mean denying the outrageous (…). It means, rather, examining and bearing consciously the burden which our century has placed on us – neither denying its existence nor submitting meekly to its weight. Comprehension, in short, means the unpremeditated, attentive facing up to, and resisting of, reality – whatever it may be.”Hannah Arendt – The Origins of Totalitarianism (Preface to the First Edition, summer 1950).
Words that still resonate.
Setting: Catholic religion class at school.
Characters: New teacher – a man. A bunch of 9-year-olds.
Open discussion about covenants. (Based loosely on recollection, don’t shoot the messenger!)
Girl in my daughter’s class, with genuine curiosity: Why are all the priests men? Why are there no women priests?
Teacher, gently: Well, you see, Jesus was a man, and his apostles were men, and…
Several girls in my daughter’s class: But his mother was a woman!
Teacher, full of kindness: Yes, but she could not have brought Jesus into the world without a heavenly Father…
Red-haired girl: He couldn’t have been born without a mother, either.
Teacher, softly: Yes, you’re right… but, maybe, you know, if some priests were women, then the men in church would stop paying attention to God and stare at the pretty priest…
My daughter, mumbling to herself: But the same can be true the other way around. If the priest is handsome…
Boy seated next to my daughter, searching for a solution: Maybe men are just uglier than women!
Red-haired girl: But if the women were really ugly, could they be priests then?
My daughter, musing after class: What if all the priests were women? Then there wouldn’t be any male priests to tempt… 🙂
(Ah, the dilemmas, quandaries and predicaments that arise when children are allowed to think freely. 🙂 Which, thankfully, they are.)
Just a thought…
So many of us feel depleted, drained, stressed out. Our beings flogged from within, our lives – our biggest gift – turned into empty chases. Pursuing a zillion things that we can grab and touch and display, but which aren’t real. We live in societies that prioritize task efficiency, competition, action, and the accumulation of stuff over family, over time with friends, music, celebration, inner peace, or the contemplation of beauty.
The spiritual, once a central component of daily life – that umbilical cord to the divine – has been all but banished, relegated to the periphery, exiled to the realm of the exotic, the archaic, and the ‘oppressive’. The daily recalibration of prayer has fallen from grace and with it we have fallen – literally – from grace. From the grace of communing with the universe and with each other, the grace of transcending and accessing our higher purpose. From peace and vitality.
We bet everything on the card of desire, sleepwalking through life in a state of sterile and destructive arousal, as if remote-controlled via our most basic reflexes and deprived of the light of transfiguration. Do not be fooled that we no longer worship. We do. We worship the idol of self – the crumbling ‘natural man’ – while cutting ourselves off from our spiritual potential – the human person inhabited by holiness, true love, generosity, and joy.
The unhappiness that brings.
And how freely available the healing can be.
P.S. For more (and better!) on our aimless restlessness, our addiction to illusion and distraction, and our loathing of Eden – take a listen here: https://entitledopinions.stanford.edu/fatidic-power-literature. An episode I stumbled upon today – no kidding – after writing this blog. There are very few coincidences in life.