Saturday, February 28, 2009

Readings: A Footnote to All-Too-Humanity


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The final editorial footnote to William Empson’s unfinished novel The Royal Beasts: A Fable, has something interesting to say about the human condition. I quote it here in full:

“14. Cf. Empson’s unpublished essay, on Buddhism and Death (1933): ‘the special Buddhist version of a deathwish…is that no sort of temporal life whatever can satisfy the human spirit, and therefore we must work for an existence outside time on whatever terms.’ This concept is not a psychological perversion, Empson goes on to insist, but ‘at the back, I believe, of all the grand examples in the aesthetic of the deathwishes. Shakespeare makes Lear hint at an odd and interesting reflection on this topic when faced with the despair of Glouscester: “Thou must be patient. We came crying hither. Thou knowest, the first time that we smell the air, we waul and cry.” Alone among the young of the mammals the human infant is subject to blind fits of fury at finding itself thrust into the world; it is nasty, he feels, to the point of mysticism, and I suppose Freud could hardly disagree…the desires for absence of stimulus and return to the womb are the obviously Buddhist deathwishes, and are clearly a large element anyway in all but the most primitive religions’ (Empson Papers.)”

In terms of human exceptionalism, this goes along, I guess, with the need to blush…
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