Wednesday, October 4, 2017

This Is What

This is what we mean: man's being is always dynamic; man is never just "there". Man "is" insofar as he "becomes"–not only in his physical reality, in growing, maturing, and eventually diminishing towards the end. In his spiritual reality, too, man is constantly moving on–he cannot be in any other form; man is intrinsically a pilgrim, "not yet arrived", regardless of whether he is aware of this or not, whether he accepts it or not.

- Josef Pieper, "Thoughts About Music," Only the Lover Sings: Art and Contemplation

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We wake to horrors everyday. The unfathomable has become common to our eyes, our ears and we almost don't see it or hear it. The language fails us because the language has been abused and soiled by partisan hacks until the words, like the too common blood, cease to hold meaning. They become sounds as lives become bodies becomes statistics. We wake to horrors and nothing, absolutely nothing we have at our disposal seems enough, for it isn't enough and to hold off the despair from seeing too much, and we see less by flattening it out. Two dimensions are manageable, three is not.

For myself, these horrors take days to be felt, days to enter, weeks and years to learn how to live with. And that, too, has a distancing effect, a way of holding at arm's length an event I did not live through, but learned of: a sign, a signifier, a symbol, but of what? 

We are a broken nation. We are actively taking hammers to its unfulfilled promise because change has been foisted upon us unawares: banks eating jobs, homes, incomes, where gains become losses while a few, a very few own the field our work is played out on. Change, needed change, the long overdue respect for others not like one's self, has slowly emerged from the courts and for some it has become a new found freedom while others fear themselves losing control and power and status. Too much equality shows the heretofore systemic inequality and revanchists everywhere counterattack, hoping to, if not stem the tide of change, at least make others pay for it in blood.

We wake to horrors every day and the reason why strikes me as plain: man "is" insofar as he "becomes" and those who deny or reject the intrinsic reality of our ceaseless becoming–whether out of malice or ignorance–are the vectors of our horrors. They are, both figuratively and literally, inhuman. For to be human is to transform, to change, to grow, to move. Not simply in our physical selves, but in our intellect, our emotions and our spirit. To reject, resist, deny this inescapable reality is to deny one's own humanity. From such a position it is more than easy to deny the humanity of others: it is required.

This is the work of nihilism and cynicism. It is the work of irony, of distancing, of flattening experience and deluding one's self that the one's ego is complete unto itself. It shears off connections to others. It is the seed bed of violence. It is a cult of death, glorying only in the suffering it can impose on others. The anonymity of the internet is fecund with it. The idea of stasis, of reverting to a previous form, restoring lost glory always brings death with it and it is born out of a feral isolation that is so complete that, like a black hole, it emits no light.

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Pieper, a Thomist philosopher, believed all men and women were moving towards the good.That the peregrination of each was inherently bound up with the good. He said, "Even when man pursues evil, he intends a perceived good." I respectfully disagree. It is too easy to allow those who pursue harm to be allowed a portion of the good by saying their goals were perceived, by them, to be good. I have always believed that within each person is the possibility, and possibility only, of transformation. In particular the transformation from unknowing to knowing, from fucked to unfucked, as it were. Yet, if I am honest, I no longer believe this. It is plain to me that there are some creatures so isolated, so lost in darkness that they cannot be called human. Is this too much? Is it despairing of me to despair over them? There are 59 bodies on morgue tables in Nevada that argue against that. And if they are so lost, what is my obligation to them? Am I not obligated by my belief in transformation to hold open the door for them?

No. I'm not. It will take a saint to do so. As much as I admire the writing of Josef Pieper and Viktor Frankl, two men seared by the atrocities of World War II, I cannot follow them to the conclusion that even if man pursues evil, he intended a perceived good. It is impossible for me to brand hatred as a perceived good. It is only evil and the people who pursue it, apologize for it, excuse it, defend it on abstract grounds, all help to sustain it. I won't. 

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My first literary hero, Kurt Vonnegut, wrote that his work was written so that people might be kinder and gentler than they might otherwise be. That has always struck me as the single most useful definition of art I'd ever encountered. It has been part of me from the start. It remains the North Star of my days. I'll do my work. I'll push stories into the world and hope that someone who needs them will find them and it will help them feel less alone. That's as far as any art can go. There will always be those who reject such ideas out of hand, who won't allow for its possibilities. Right on, go fuck yourself. I don't care. You are the darkness I fight against. I will not make excuses for you. I will not call you human. That name is reserved for those in motion, who are moving through their lives, pilgrims on the road to find out what it means to be fully alive.

If you are here unfaithfully among us, you are causing great harm.

I will no longer call it by any other name.

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