Thursday, July 22, 2010

Oh, Nietzsche...

I’d like to Übermenschen a few problems I have with Nietzsche. So, in our age of the mob, only some will become higher men, and of those, maybe none will manage to make it to over-man status (except Zarathustra). It’s critically important for higher men to reject good and embrace evil, and to laugh, and to dance, and generally to swan about without a regard to the petty mob of Üntermenschen (and yes, that term is a Nazi invention, but it works as an antonym).

Except that higher men are failures, to a man. Even the ugliest of them, the most conscientious of them, the most pious of them, all succumb to superstition, even as they seem to be rising above it, and in the end, they are afraid.

Only the Übermensch can be the Übermensch, because the Übermensch is such a singularly poorly defined category that unless you’re there already, you have no clue how to get there.

Zarathustra must go on with his work. What is his work? Couldn’t say.

His face is brass, set away from the higher men, towards his work and the animals who love him. For what purpose? Couldn’t say.

He overcomes always all things, never being bound by ideas, faith, hope, fear, or any emotion. But what is he? Couldn’t say.

He is the ultimate alien, refusing to dwell with man, because he is over-man. He refuses all claims on himself, except the claims of solitude: to reject all that is not as detached and as Über as he himself. But he rejects absurdity! Not all of his claims can be true.

Consider, his last and most dangerous sin is pity, and his companions are beasts. He wrestles with the shadow of God, because for all his hate and denial, he must still wrestle with something. If he were not overcoming, he could not be. That’s why the book has to end when he overcomes his pity. There is nothing left to overcome, so he must disappear from the stage quickly, lest he be found fulfilled. Nothing so repulses the Übermensch as fulfillment. It is a petty virtue, and the seeking of it is a petty vice.

The conclusion of Also Spracht Zarathustra strikes me as an inversion of the end of Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Zarathustra the alien strides off into the dawn, alone forever. Gregor Samsa, cancer of his family, is finally gone, and the family can relax. Nietzsche wants the alien to overcome. Kafka knows he can’t. Both of them hate the mob, as evidenced by the disappearance of the higher men, and the bitterly cynical tone of the Samsa family outing. Yet, Nietzsche thought the mob could be banished, if one overcame it, but the grand scheme of history seems to prove Kafka right.

You can cut yourself off from all others, shrivel up, ruin the lives of those you love, but in the end you have poisoned yourself, and you will be neither mourned nor missed. Such is the fate of the nihilist, and who is he to complain?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Philosophy or Theosophy?

The hyper-transcendentalist
will shut his eyes and shake his fist
"No ding-an-sich could e'er exist!"
The friendly hyper-immanent
will poke and prod and not relent
and scramble towards the firmament
Dear friends, desist and give your ear
For God is far, yet very near,
and will be known, as He makes clear.
The God that is will not conform
to imposed theory, imposed norm,
He is not moved by stress-and-storm.
The God that is himself has spoken
Uttered what cannot be broken
and this no mere relation-token.
The Word He speaks, it is his Son,
the promise made is life begun
His Word has our salvation won.
If you would know the face of God,
you curious, created clod,
behold the Son! behold your God!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Sky and the Sea

Smell the salt in the air?
Chill wind whips quick cold caresses
brushes your brow
holds hair back behind salted temples
bringing breaths of the sea to you.
Dig in the sand with bare feet
grit and water washing calluses
plant fingers in the cool brown beach
sitting just slightly out of the surf
lying back under the sky so full of clouds
a fool in the fine rain
in love with whatever weather finds you
but most of all
the cool grey cloud cover
marching in rank
a swath of vapor
but definite
shapes built one on another
until the sky is blocked out
but that's ridiculous.
The sky is there
wearing a coat for you to admire
but mostly for the sea
the sky loves the sea so
see how they meet?
As far away from your eyes as they can get
and there they embrace
each heaving in passion
each full of one another
and you sit on the shore
above the one
below the other
and watch the spectacle
and wish the sea loved you
and the sky came down to meet you
for you could love them both
as you do, even now,
but constrained
by lungs and land and legs
to see them when you can
enjoying their company
but never quite part of them.
So you sit on the shore
in the rain
and love them from afar.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Oholah & Oholibah

We deck ourselves
in the leaves we sew
and show off
one to another
a little fashion show
of filthy rags
stained and bloody
but we strut
down life's runway
to vaunt the vileness
and left to ourselves
we would amuse
and abuse
one another
until the end of time
when the lights go out
and the show's over.
Thank God
that's not the only life
Thank God
that He provides another
Thank God
for blood and graveclothes
Thank God
they were left behind
Thank God
that we may walk again
decently and modestly
bathed in blood
yes
but not ours
and clothed
yes
but not with our works
waiting for the end of time
yes
but not mocking it
looking
rather
to our great launderer
to our redeemer
who did not leave our souls depraved
or deprived of life
but is life itself
whose power is perfected in our weakness
and who bids all men
come
and he who is thirsty may
come
take of the water without price, and you hungry
come
and eat the bread of life, Jesus
come
and the Spirit and the Bride say
come.

On the Whole Sort of General Mish-Mash

So, for whatever reason, I have now read all five entries in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy, and I have mixed feelings. Douglas Adams has a grasp of the seeming absurdity of life that is unsurpassed in my reading. He seems to have been (to judge by his writings) a thorough postmodernist, and seen things as basically a Whole Sort of General Mish-Mash, out of which you can choose to observe the ones you like, and ignore the ones you don’t, probably by wrapping a towel around your head.

I acknowledge the allure of such a worldview. Why not laugh as the planet you’re on (which isn’t even your own planet) gets (presumably) blown up in all possible spacetimes? What does it really matter to you, except as a bit of a good joke, but with kind of a rough punchline? At least you lived a fun life, and hey, we all die sometime. Maybe you’re nostalgic for the times when you thought life had meaning, and rum, and girls, but you know it doesn’t have that (the meaning, anyway, the rum and girls were definitely there, and definitely fun).

Yeah, life can come across as stupid, boorish, drunk, and insecure, but we all can do that from time to time, and it’s best to not make too much of it.

See what I mean? Postmodern hedonism seems to account for an awful lot of life. And what it can’t account for, it makes a joke out of. It can come across as a rather jolly outlook, and if I weren’t what I am, I think it would be fairly tempting to dive on into the ridiculous pool party that seems to be life from this perspective. Plus, the books are pretty funny.

But there’s a catch. You die. That’s not easy to make a joke about, and certainly not one you can enjoy after the punchline’s been delivered. It’s pretty easy to shrug and say “we’re all f***ed” when you’ve been drinking, but try being on, say, a submarine without power systems. They don’t find jokes scrawled on the interior walls of those when they finally get around to raising them.

The apparent absurdity of life may not be all there is to be observed. Adams’ postulation of the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything which cannot be answered with any sense, and his take on what God’s last message to His creation would be, seem to reveal that he thought absurdity was supreme. This is a problem philosophically, like saying “The only constant is change”. Self-refuting statements, such as categorical assertions about absurdity and unequal mathematical equalities, are a pretty poor basis on which to look at the world.

A system must be able to address both chaos and order on equally sound footings, and ought to have a good explanation for them. Unfortunately, this sort of system can’t exist in Adams’ event-chain, because it would be true. A true system is the one absolute anathema to a postmodernist. But if anything at all can happen, certainly it follows that a true system could emerge. It’s anything. But as soon as it emerges, it must collapse the Dadaist mélange that said it could exist. Consequently, either we really ought to be nihilists (depressing), or accept that there is a true system, and do our best to find it (may I suggest starting with John 1:1 and going on from there?).

Monday, July 5, 2010

Maintenance

If you maintain,
if you keep things up
then you know
that there is building,
and there is demolition.
Trimming and cutting,
then the hammer and nails.
The violence of
just keeping things going
in your soul.
Chisel and mallet
are turned to the past,
now and then,
when it's built up too much
and needs to be whacked,
cut off,
and left behind,
in the dumpster
of all the things
you never want to see again.
But the problem is
they sometimes come back.

Friday, July 2, 2010

View from the northern Pacific coast

Sand is a great metaphor
when worked upon by wind or water
so pliable
and you can form it to your will
until it all collapses
and erodes
and subsides
because of the forces you can't control
and can't even defend against.
Write your thoughts on the shore
and stand by them
the tide will take them away
and you will sink into the surf
but oh, it's beautiful.
To gaze out at the gunmetal clouds
curving down to meet the surf
not blue
not where I come from
but green
green in a way that rivets your heart
green so profoundly desolate
and utterly alive
bent over the horizon
sending you waves to wipe out your work
and remind you
that you, at best, are a drop
in it
but it will play with you
and caress you
and breathe its sweetest salt air upon your neck
and sing to you its lullaby
which
when one thinks about it
is such a thorough cacophony
that there is nothing it is not saying
and it says nothing.
The surges collapse on each other
vying to splash you
clawing over the riptide
adding up to inundate
or breaking early
spent
and all this time
whatever you had wrought
was flattened
and settled into the beach
without your notice
because you were entranced
and the ocean had you
occupied with its majesty
and the tide goes out
smirking
leaving you dry
to write and build again.