Monday, February 21, 2011

Conflicting Thoughts/Feelings

It has been an almost unbearably beautiful evening.

The light, of course, has a lot to do with it. Coming now from well north of the desolate southern regress of the dark winter solstice, the sun's late-afternoon light on Loafer Mountain (see photo) reminded me that the sun had appeared from behind the mountain this morning at 8:30, rather than the 9:00 appearance of just a week ago.

More light! Goethe's last words. And my constant hope.

A thirty-minute bike ride this afternoon up Woodland Hills' steep geography landed me just in front of a snowboarder as he failed to land a jump he and his friends had created at the top of the highest road in the town. Nice jump, I told him as I rode past in my bike shorts.

Much of the day was spent productively. I'm working on a paper for the conference of the International Kleist Association called "Andere Umstaende: Erection as Self Assertion in Heinrich von Kleist's "Die Marquise von O. . ." The day's scholarly highlight came when I found this passage in Schopenhauer's "The World as Will and Representation," published just a few years after Kleist's story of a woman raped while unconscious who finds her way to a decent new life when she decides to stand up (the metaphor abounds) and abandon the society and family constructed according to a system that has no room for her:

 "As an extensionless point," Schopenhauer argues, the present "cuts time which extends infinitely in both directions, and stands firm and immovable" (vol. 1, 280).  He identifies this standing present (a manifestation of the essential in things, of will) with the "nunc stans of the scholastics" (vol. 1, 279). A person who wills to live in that present, desirous of an eternal recurrence of both joy and sorrow, "would stand," Schopenhauer writes, quoting Goethe's "Grenzen der Menschheit," "with firm, strong bones on the well-grounded, enduring earth" (vol. 1, 284).    Schopenhauer says that such a standpoint (and he repeats the word "standpoint" [Standpunkt] four times), a living in the nunc stans, would arise if one were "clearly and distinctly oneself" (vol. 1, 285, 1818/19), that is, if one completely affirmed what he calls the "will-to-live."

Light is good. Scholarly productivity is good. Lyn's potato and leek soup is good for dinner. And then, reading Mathias Enard's novel Zone while listening to my son Tom's new recordings with his Big Bang Big Band (tight, swung, thoughtful, and surprising -- like the Strayhorn and Ellington models), I'm struck by the creative process as essentially human, as necessary for humanity, as secular salvation in the face of a chaotic and often dangerous world.

Enard's protagonist, a conflicted product and producer of espionage and torture and war, is on a train from Paris to Rome. He spends the night passage thinking about his brutal, alcoholic life, about the bitter knowledge he carries in his briefcase, about family and lovers and comrades in war. He's no sweetheart, for sure. He reminds me, tonight, of aspects of myself, of traits and habits I wish weren't there. And -- surprisingly -- he represents aspects to which I aspire. What attracts me to this man, I think, is his honesty, his admitted frailty, the depth of his self awareness. And the beautiful bleakness:

“. . . nothing returns from what has been destroyed, nothing is reborn, neither dead men, nor burned libraries, nor submerged lighthouses, nor extinct species, despite the museums commemorations statues books speeches good will, of things that have gone only a vague memory remains. . . .”

He quotes Ezra Pound, what feels like holy scripture from a poet who was no saint:

To confess wrong without losing rightness: Charity
   have I had sometimes, I cannot make it flow thru.
A little light, like a rushlight
To lead back to splendour.

Light. Even a little light. Exercise. Philosophy. Soup. Jazz. Introspection. Cynicism. The honesty to confess wrong without losing rightness.

Unbearably beautiful.

1 comment:

Rachel said...

Love the post.

On the Goalie's Anxiety, listen to this recent radiolab:

As Andrew Bird says, "We're all basically alone, despite what all the studies have shown. . ."