We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Theodore Dalrymple put it characteristically well in the City Journal a few years ago when he said that, had she survived to our own time, Woolf would have had the satisfaction of observing that her cast of mind - shallow, dishonest, resentful, envious, snobbish, self-absorbed, trivial, philistine, and ultimately brutal - had triumphed among the elites of the Western world. And if that seems a little harsh on someone who did I think have a considerable gift - Mrs Dalloway is surely a very good novel - just remember that she also wrote the most immitigably stupid book of the twentieth century.
It just goes to show that you should look at how people comport themselves towards the world before accepting that they have something worthwhile to say about turning away from it. But the good news is that, when you do look, what you see is not always a disappointment.
You can turn away from the world without a chip on your shoulder, perhaps without even really thinking that that’s what you’re doing. But of course it isn’t as easy as that. Most of us will turn away from the world because it displeases us, and displeasure with the world is usually going to be our own fault. By comparison, turning away from the world in the full bloom of its loveliness is a gift, and no one will grasp it who has not already begun to receive it.
But I think I went too far in worrying that even the best philosophical or literary talk about death was always going to be on the edge of vacuity. By comparison, I’d say nowadays that a well-adjusted sense of absurdity and meaninglessness is much more likely to be good practice for the truth of its expression. After all, death does define existence. And the refusal to face up to it - no, that’s wrong, almost everyone “faces up to it”; the real point is to let the thought of it mature over the years - is as good an explanation as any for our tendency to insist on defining ourselves in terms of contingent things, things that are vulnerable to change.
The examples are endless. A violinist can get her fingers crushed. A footballer can lose a leg. A devoted husband can discover that his wife is betraying him. Children grow up and leave home. We don’t always get the top job. All of these things can induce despair. But, according to Kierkegaard, the real despair is about something else. It is about the thought that one is nothing if not a violinist, an athlete, a man loved by his wife, a mother whose children still need her, someone moving successfully up the career ladder, and so on.
"A footballer can lose a leg." Tom Stoppard's "After Magritte" is hysterically funny. Recommended.
Assistant VIllage Idiot
A finely written article. Full of woof and wharf. But all in all, a stretch really. As self death itself can at times seem a savior, though a false one.
It is only a possible future, in the here and now, that has defined us so far. Nihilist thoughts end with nihilism. Which does no one no good.
I will add though, that, in my opinion, Woolf was somewhat correct here... but only in the first half of her prognostication.
"It is only the recumbent who know what, after all, nature is at no pains to conceal - that she in the end will conquer; heat will leave the world; stiff with frost we shall cease to drag ourselves about the fields; ice will lie thick upon factory and engine; the sun will go out. Even so, when the whole earth is sheeted and slippery, some undulation, some irregularity of surface will mark the boundary of an ancient garden, and there, thrusting its head up undaunted by the starlight, the rose will flower, the crocus will burn. But with the hook of life still in us still we must wriggle.
As, we have since learned, the sun will go out. It is Woolf's optimism in the second half of this equation that grates. There will be no second chances.
All of these things can induce despair. But, according to Kierkegaard, the real despair is about something else. It is about the thought that one is nothing if not a violinist, an athlete, a man loved by his wife, a mother whose children still need her, someone moving successfully up the career ladder, and so on.
O wad some Power the giftie gie us, To see oursels as ithers see us! (O would some Power the gift to give us To see ourselves as others see us!)
Wee Robbie Burns
that 'real' despair is real because it is the result of the truth, which is, in such matters as given in the sentence, inescapable and beyond rationalization. Robbie Burns, a hero, knew that that gift he would like to have would only amplify and deepen his lustre as a hale fellow well met. But if you're a disappointed and disappointing ordinary maladjusted slug, to see yourself as others see you would not be a gift --it'd be a curse. Or if you're so far down you don't even rate yourself as worthy of the drama of a curse, then it'd just be a drag.
He's not in real despair yet --he's still got the hope. Not to be a champion anymore, but the hope that he can always feel like except for Charlie he coulda been a contender.
If he keeps dwelling on it, and stays clear minded and honest, and doesn't take the crooked job (he won't well resist ignominy --this is where he IS a champ but tragically can't see it), he'll find what he's looking for and that's where he'll bottom out and begin the fight of --for --his life.
That bottom will be the realization that everyone has a Charlie, and that it is how you handle your Charlie that is what makes you a contender or not.
Charlie was his big fight, and he didn't even know he was in it.
Thus, he never could have been a contender --he slipped and fell on the first step on the bottom rung.
When he sees this, that'll be the onset of that 'real' despair --as well as the chance to get off 'stuck' in the fight game his mind can't, without terror, leave behind.