Anxiety is a diabolical creature. It tends to cloak itself and hide. It can lurk beneath virtually anything, from learning, reading, writing, creating, studying, relaxing, and pretend to be something else, so that the only evidence that can be seen is in the bodily manifestations of vertigo, nausea, fidgeting. The importance of happiness is forgotten, and in its place the many defense mechanisms take its place, intellectualization can be one of the worst ones, justifying the anxiety in a way where it no longer resembles anxiety at all, and making it all the more difficult to deal with. It takes time to learn how to spot its existence, and even then it oftentimes goes unnoticed. Then, even when it is noticed, it takes time to calm the anxious soul down. There is an Arabic proverb that the soul moves like a camel, so that it takes time to catch up with the mind, and such is the case with anxiety.
I just finished a novella by George Eliot, The Lifted Veil, and amongst the many quotes I marked this one stood out the most:
“You will think, perhaps, that I must have been a poet, from this early sensibility to Nature. But my lot was not so happy as that. A poet pours forth his song and believes in the listening ear and the answering soul, to which his song will be floated to sooner or later. But the poet’s sensibility without his voice – the poet’s sensibility that finds to vent but in silent tears on the sunny bank, when the noonday light sparkles on the water, or in an inward shudder at the sound of harsh human tones, the sight of a cold human eye – this dumb passion brings with it a fatal solitude of soul in the society of one’s fellow-men.”
There’s a thin line between what we do for ourselves and what we do for others. I wonder about Nietzsche and Freud’s dinstinction between our own impulses and civilization, and wonder how those two could ever be so evenly divided. How much of our desires are dictated by how others perceive us? And is that really a product of civilization or something more primitive? Can’t civilization in fact be seen as just another desire? Back to the point though, I wonder if it is possible solely to write for oneself. Would you continue to write without it ever reaching another soul? I guess it goes back to that saying, if a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it, did it really fall? If one writes solely for the self, did one really in fact write? I’m not sure.
“When was it that one first heard of the truth? The the.” – Wallace Stevens
Perhaps it was in Sunday school, perhaps it was the talk from family members at home, but to point at one point would be going back into a memory that I no longer have any recollection of and be subject to early memory fabrication as psychologists tell us. “The the” though is a powerful notion, one that exists with us despite the revolution of Nietzsche and post modernism. If art likes to imagine that it is the creator of the “the the,” creating out of The Waste Land the meaning left behind by God, dancing around the flame of nihilism with the “eternal yes,” this is only one amongst the many reasons it has broken off from the sciences, whose outward claim of atheism is in fact deeply rooted in “the the.” An unawareness that they have fed into mass consumerism that I imagine will one day catch up with them. In fact, is consuming them as we speak. Will Durant’s essay titled “On the Insight of History” has come back to me again and again in light of the recent elections. As a prolific philosopher and historian, he ended his section on “Morality” with the following paragraph:
“According to this historical alteration of paganism and puritanism, we should expect our present moral laxity to be followed by some return to moral restraint under old or new forms of belief, authority, and censorship. Every age reacts to its predecessor. If a Third World War should come, shattering our cities, and driving the survivors back to agriculture, the age of science may end, and religion may return with its consolatory myths and its moral discipline, and parental authority may be restored.”
The one exception I have found is perhaps in mathematics, where scholars are aware of “the the,” and therefore less unaware than their physicist counterparts. And perhaps at the end then what will rise from the ashes will be religion and mathematics. I don’t know the answer to avoid such dire events. Perhaps it would include ceasing the linguistic mind play we indulge ourselves in, a word play in which the word of peace has been elevated over the action of peace. There is a Sufi saying that knowledge that does not flow rots, and perhaps this is what is happening. The very acute divide between academic and pop culture is where the gap is most present, where the words of peace of the academics does not flow into active peace not only within the general population, but on college campuses where professors are no longer reflections of those they teach.
They say everyone has one poem that is set to the tune of their life. I think that would be Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat for me, but The Waste Land is a close second for me. I was listening to Dr. Langdon Hammer’s analysis of it, and his description of The Waste Land as a space where God is absent, and this poem being the result of that absence, of a kind of fragmentation and disconnection, where love is paired with killing, shed so much light to this poem for me. Even before hearing his lecture on it though with the knowledge of the audience being a discontented youth heading into the Jazz Age, this poem just has these lines that imprint themselves in your mind with strong images.
It’s so nice to finally see someone publish an article on this. The Qur’an was at the heart of Rumi, a pulsating life that radiated in to his poetry. It is very distressing, never mind frustrating, to see people try to separate the two.
This poem by Thomas Hardy brings Syria into my mind. A nation that has been near obliterated by unrest. How many great poets, thinkers, scientists, writers have been lost. Are lost every day. Pakistan’s poverty rate is staggering, and I look at the poor children who will never go to school, wondering if given the chance, how many of them would have risen to greatness, and then, what is greatness? In the ending paragraphs of Middlemarch by George Eliot, she alludes to a great life perhaps being one that lives and dies quietly, peacefully. A life that is in fact lost to history.
I Looked Up from My Writing
Man runs his course;
A brand, or flaming breath.
Comes to destroy
All those antinomies
Of day and night;
The body calls it death,
The heart remorse.
But if these be right
What is joy?
A tree there is that from its topmost bough
Is half all glittering flame and half all green
Abounding foliage moistened with the dew;
And half is half and yet is all the scene;
And half and half consume what they renew,
And he that Attis’ image hangs between
That staring fury and the blind lush leaf
May know not what he knows, but knows not grief
Get all the gold and silver that you can,
Satisfy ambition, animate
The trivial days and ram them with the sun,
And yet upon these maxims meditate:
All women dote upon an idle man
Although their children need a rich estate;
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“I believe in the practice and philosophy of what we have agreed to call magic, in what I must call the evocation of spirits, though I do not know what they are, in the power of creating magical illusions, in the visions of truth in the depths of the mind when the eyes are closed; and I believe in three doctrines, which have, as I think, been handed down from early times, and been the foundations of nearly all magical practices. These doctrines are:
(1) That the borders of our mind are ever shifting, and that many minds can flow into one another, as it were, and create or reveal a single mind, a single energy.
(2) That the borders of our memories are as shifting, and that our memories are part of one great memory, the memory of Nature herself.
(3) That this great mind and great memory can be evoked by symbols”
“Exline’s study contains many interesting revelations and insights, but none more important than these two, at least not when it comes to a world often bitterly divided between atheists and religionists. This study shows that almost all of us are more complex than those reductive categories. It shows us that what we really need are atheists who are comfortable with anger at God as a kind belief, however momentary it may be, and religionists who admit that anger at God is not only possible, but is itself a necessary component in any healthy relationship with the God in whom they may believe.”