Sunday, May 16, 2010

The dialectic of separation and attachment

In reading through J.D. Mullen's notes on Kierkegaard's philosophy over the last few days I have come across several of those half-epiphanic moments where fragile, almost invisible, mostly forgotten worlds collided inside of me and I was left passing through states of being, trance-like, in unlikely locations, at unheralded moments...states of alteration and exhausted raising (for moments) of consciousness above the mundane. For example as I sat in the reading room of the Life Science library in the Tower, that Brobdingnagian echoing chamber of layered paint, heavy wood, cold stone, and pseudofloral ornamentation...perhaps hearkening to the spray of bacterial colonies in hidden agar dishes, or the carpeting of prehistoric ferns...in some way Native American but still weighty and Teutonic, analogous to a sand dune Herot. On a wide beam across the ceiling there are traced the "sunt lacrimae rerum" lines from the Aeneid which I keep thinking mean something special to me, and which were the occasion for at least one simple daydream, never to be realized. Where is that dream now? It was too bright in there, and the sofa I was sitting on was infected as my skin itched wherever it came in contact with its surface. In front of me there were two readings chairs and a third, wooden, turned to one of the former, as if listening, and in this space my imagination wanted a great fireplace, perhaps something from Asheville's Biltmore, grand manicured landscapes retreating into pastoral settings, looked over by wooded nooks, small dells, heavy iron-gray mountain boulders sheltering swollen tree roots and the projected selves of those who could sympathetically commune with the rumbling "spirits" of Washington Irving. A fireplace that I could walk into, through, that called for roaring blazons and intense conflagrations, outstripping their devotee's wishes, perhaps something, again, from my own memories of the Smoky Mountains...that one night, alone, building fires and touching a past that was still resonating, even though dead for some thirty years. For there are the memories, the sensations, the thought, the impressions, the feelings, the structures and images all of these experiences create in the mind...and then the terrible impotence of the Word as it struggles, falls, rises again, and stumbles in its powerlessness. And of course there is always the medication and aphasia.

There is that hidden desire, so strong, to join and communicate, to have all of that life - all of the memories, the thoughts, the dreams, the passions - transmit and pass across the barriers between selves. Instead of broadcasting and receiving there must be something deeper, and the soul endlessly longs for this communion, be it diabolical, in the end, or self-destructive (filled with grim disillusionment and death), or so beautiful it is heartbreaking. There are the endless days, so similar in one's memories, of dreaming and waiting - or lying in wait, some would say. Life passes away...one year, two, five, ten, dreams stacked on top of each other and sinking down, pressing each other under their own weight. There are the days (their dates are meaningless) when one shifts from the bed to the table to the chair and back again, pulls the covers over one's head, drifts into that black and white world where waking and sleeping do not differ, they do not matter. Delicious dreams, pale in their intensity but still almost satisfying because they are at least more than reality...dreams of the future, of pasts that could have happened, of a present where the most complex desires are met by a corresponding facility and richness of life, an understanding world, an outside and Other that doesn't have to hear words in order to glimpse meanings. How beautiful it would be to never have to speak again. To live as if in a dream, to not feel the world pull back away from you as you reached towards it, to walk through walls and sleep in streets, to float through the earth, the sky, to pass through other souls. How beautiful to be alive and dead at the same time.

The dialectic calls for an eventual unity in order to reach a satisfying state of being...but I don't see that happening. I only see the anxiety of attachment as a counterpoint to the anxiety of separation, the fears of one complementing the suffering of the other. How can one desire and be satisfied in the same moment? And so I tell myself, "stay to readiness, decrease the pain if possible, be wary, learn from experience, cherish what you do find, do not ask for a path you can not walk down." I repeat Old Testament lessons and evaluations to myself, I page in my mind through thousands of years of mistakes and causes, effects and consequences, penalties and repentance. I levy the weight of mankind's collective suffering against my own passion and still see my own desires burning bright, feeding on lessons learned as if all rationalizations were just fodder for irrational will, for longing that resembles fate. There is, in the heart, that aching necessity to join with the Other that we pause and clothe with words like "attachment" or "love". It is these, but it is so much more. And in the intensity of this desire, one of course fears burning right through other human beings in order to reach existence...and the ironic pose says: "And there, being and existence will slip right through your fingers." Be careful what you wish for. Blood, sun, sand, wind, water, fear, longing, darkness, death, fire. Cold white stars.

So Mullen's text centers on the ironic pose and the separation from life...from one's own life specifically. The ironic pose (descending from the German Romantics) says to remove one's self from one's life, step back, measure and evaluate it, determine causes and effects, determine motives and instincts, behaviors and ideals. Trace all connections between belief and experience, between desire and action...and then look at their opposites, determine the way other beings believe, act, desire. The ending act of faith is to see one's life as being just one option among many, as one world among multiple realities, as one path on a bridge over an abyss where every other path ends and begins, and then to choose one's life with all of its attendant suffering, all of its frustrations, all of its anxiety. The act of faith involves descending to life again, descending to belief. This is Kierkegaard in opposition to the bourgeois world of happiness and self-satisfaction, of "inner peace". Inner peace does not exist...there is only war forever. And in finding one's self in harmony with existence, with nature and our world, there is the matching of the inner with the outer, the realization of the disturbances of chaos in the external matching the chaos inside the human soul. With harmony peace ceases to exist. So with my precious dialectic, what of it? Shattered. There is only separation and attachment, anxiety and the temporary quiescence, and a longing that never ends. In the end, there isn't any kind of "acceptance" of these facts. Acceptance isn't possible...one just lives, one survives.

Survival, after all, is our most basic and natural instinct.

U. Amtey
28 November 2004
21:56 CST