Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Reflections: Why We Aren't Saints

Having yesterday finished Brazilian author Clarice Lispector’s lyrical novel about a woman who has undergone a violent spiritual crisis which she is attempting to explain to herself, The Passion According to D.H. , it has occurred to me that if Simone Weil had chosen to write narrative fiction, she might well have written a book much like this one. Here is a long excerpt by which to remember it:

XXXBut listen a minute: I’m not speaking of the future, I’m speaking of a permanent nowness. And that means that hope doesn’t exist because it is no longer a deferred future, it is now. Because God doesn’t promise. He is much greater than that: He is and never ceases being. It is we who cannot bear this ever-now light, and so we promise it for later only so we do not have to feel it right now, today. The present is God’s today face. The horror is that we know that it is right in life that we see God. It is with our eyes truly open that we see God. And if I put the face of reality off until after my death—it is though guile, for I prefer to be dead at the time of seeing Him, and so I think I won’t really see Him, just as I have courage really to dream only when I am sleeping.
XXXI know that what I am feeling is serious and has the power to destroy me. Because—because it is as though I were telling myself that the kingdom of heaven is now.
XXXAnd I don’t want the kingdom of heaven, I don’t want it, I can bear only its promise! The message I am getting from myself sounds cataclysmic to me, and once again close to the diabolical. But that is only for fear. It is fear. For doing away with hope means that I have to begin to live and not just to promise myself that I will. And that is the greatest fright I can have. Before, I waited. But God is now: His kingdom has just begun.

I don’t know if this is good theology. But I do know that it is powerful, visionary, writing.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Readings: The Real America?

One of my favorite authors, Ron Hansen, on small town America in his outstanding short story collection, Nebraska:

Everyone is famous in this town. And everyone is necessary.

Think about that. Meditate on it for a bit. I personally have never quite known that mode of necessity. But my parents knew it. You might say that I came close enough as a boy to catch a whiff of it. Close enough to account for the ache of nostalgia that Hansen's lovely book caused to rise in my throat as I read the final words of the title story.

Rants: Sound the Tocsin!

Awake! There are lies to tell, goods to covet, duties to shirk, beauties to defile, vows to break, myriad opportunities to utter "I am."

Monday, September 28, 2009

Quote du Jour: Small Fry

When asked for his opinion of the proper disposition of the case of film director, Roman Polanski, recently arrested in Switzerland and being held for possible extradition to the U.S. on a thirty-year-old charge of statutory rape, columnist and wag, Patrick J. Buchanan, replied:

Wire up ol' Sparky and let 'im ride the lightning!

He was kidding of course. I mean...wasn't he?

Update: Is something like this Polanski's ultimate fate?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Reflections: A Few Idol Thoughts

Consider this brief excerpt from Simone Weil’s First and Last Notebooks:

For Protestants, who no longer have the Church, religion has become to a great extent national. Hence the revived importance of the Old Testament.

What Weil had in mind when she penned these thoughts, may mostly likely have been such institutions as German Lutheranism, the Church of England, and their importance in the Nazi-era struggle for dominance of Europe and the world. But it occurs to me that the essence of her point can be translated, with regard to both time and place, so as to comment on our current plight in 21st century America.

While the constitution of the United States of America specifically forbids the establishment of a formalized national religion, that constitution has not served to prevent a de facto national religion—demonstrably Protestant at its core—from emerging out of the swamps of history; namely—American Exceptionalism.

Because of American Exceptionalism, for instance, the genocide of the original inhabitants of this continent was not really a genocide, or an "ethnic cleansing," but a feature of “Manifest Destiny”—God’s will that His people should be given this Promised Land, to have and to hold in perpetuity. The “Indians” were in the way. Though we have uttered weak proclamations of repentance for perpetrating this slaughter (as we have with regard to the race slavery that accompanied its accomplishment), we have done little—and that reluctantly—to make amends for either. God does not require it of His new Chosen People. That is so Old Testament.

Because of American Exceptionalism, throughout the 20th century, and yet today, the American invasions of sovereign nations, from Latin America to Asia, back to Latin America, thence to Asia again, and currently, on to the Holy Land itself, are not understood to be conducted in the service of greed enforced by power, but rather to be launched in the service of Truth, Justice, and the American Way: Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s—Superman! Americans, you see, are a Super-race descended from the heavens, and endowed with all the extraterrestrial rights and privileges pertaining thereto: Old Testament, am I right?

The bullying of a Superpower, isn’t really bullying, you see—it’s God’s Will in the form of geopolitical pragmatism: as American as apple pie. Not “national,” then, but “nationalist.”

That major fundamentalist Protestant figures such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell have delivered tremendous political clout; that their heirs have come to dominate the most conservative of our two major political parties; and that “Religious Conservatism” is dominated by Old Testament imagery and the morality of “an eye for eye” needs no elucidation here. If you don’t already know that for a fact, then you haven’t been paying attention.

But just about the best thing ever concerning our national religion is that anyone can play! In the service of “life,” Roman Catholics can bemerde themselves carrying water for the war-mongering, propagandizing, neocon, AIPAC lobbyists, who in turn can anoint (with Old Testament oil) the heads of such Protestant worthies as Ronald “Bitburg” Reagan, and George W. “Burning” Bush—with Sarah “Voodoo Doll” Palin waiting in the wings: Exceptionalists all. From God’s lips to their ears, and on to Abu Ghraib. Mine eyes have seen the Glory—and it is us’ns!

Just a few idol thoughts.X

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Quote du Jour: Only Stop

To desist is a life's most sacred choice. ~ Clarice Lispector, The Passion According to G.H.

Reflections: Better Left Unsaid

The unsayable can be given to me only through the failure of my language. Only when the construct falters do I reach what it could not accomplish. ~ Clarice Lispector, The Passion According to G.H.

Our downfall is in naming that about which we must not speak. In so doing we construct a language which filters out Reality. For it is a Reality by which we would be entirely overwhelmed—our “I” ripped from its root—were we to see it Whole. Our consequence, the origin of our perpetual mourning, is to inhabit a paint-by-numbers world, success in coping with the elements of which satisfies no one. Like Oedipus, we blind ourselves in order to avoid admitting through the gates of our eyes that Light whose reception our psyches would not survive: the face of God.

I have thought that the “church,” in the widest sense of the term—meaning not only the Church of Rome, or the Church of Rome plus the Eastern Orthodox church, or even those “catholic” churches plus the mainstream Protestant churches and all their myriad schisms and permutations; but taking “church” to mean the universe of all believers—is nothing more than a medium in which the crystal of sainthood can form. It may be that the great multitude of souls exist and dance their mediocre two-step only for there to be that which the saint is other than. Fueled by words, the meaning of which he only marginally comprehends, the ordinary believer delves in the dirt of this world to grow the grain with which to fill the saint’s beggar’s bowl; and then he fertilizes that soil with the material remnants of his being. But in so doing he has provided the saint with the little he needs in order to shuck the husk of words protecting him from the Truth, and to transcend this cycle of tedium and death.

In the Great Hive, the believer/drone is distracted from his pain by stories about the Gospel. The Gospel--only for the saint--is Life Itself.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Quote du Jour: The Tyranny of Analogy


For the only way one can speak of nothing is to speak of it as though it were something, just as the only way one can speak of God is to speak of him as though he were a man, which to be sure he was, in a sense, for a time, and as the only way one can speak of man, even our anthropologists have realized that, is to speak of him as though he were a termite.

xxxxx~ Samuel Beckett, Watt


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Readings: Those Mean Ol' Existential Blues

Below are several short excerpts from three books that I am currently reading simultaneously. I was struck by how certain of the themes in these disparate volumes seem to strike sympathetic chords. I’ll kick it off with the following quote by Simone Weil from First and Last Notebooks:

Everything that is in the world is conditional.

That sounds harmless enough, even kind of obvious, until you start to consider some of its theoretical implications. Consider it, for instance, in the light of these excerpts from David L. Clark’s essay, “Otherwise than God: Schelling, Marion” *

Ineradicable melancholy is Schelling’s name for the underlying rapport that beings share with what conditions them, but which also forever eludes them.


Life is no more and no less than the originary incorporation of its ground, the binding of itself to the absent alterity that sets existent beings on their perilous, mortal way. Ineradicable melancholy names the absolute conditionality of life, the subjectless, structural ‘recognition’ that life has from the start ‘lost control’ over its condition.

In the series of notebooks collected in one volume under the title, Some of the Dharma, Jack Kerouac makes the melancholy observation that:

It’s like we were all in jail and I’ve received instructions on how to escape. However I’m the only one now who realizes we’re all in jail, the others don’t know it yet they have an uneasy feeling that something is wrong but they put on gay fronts.

Kerouac—whose musing are heavily influenced by his contemplation of Buddhist scriptures—by equating human life to jail-time, implies that mere existence entails a kind of transgression, or guilt, resulting in the pain of an involuntary confinement.

Following Simone Weil, who sees this fundamental transgression as a theft, maybe we can understand Kerouac’s “jail” as a kind of “debtors’ prison”:

We have stolen a little of God’s being to make it ours.
God has made us a gift of it. But we have stolen it.
We must return it.

If only we could bring about Kerouac’s jail-break, we could, perhaps, begin to make this restitution.

But, while Simone Weil sees this feeling of conditioned freedom and existential debt as being owed to God, David L. Clark, explains F.W. Schelling’s interpretation that:

[H]umankind can never wholly possess itself or live entirely within itself, because it is always in arrears vis-à-vis its determining grounds.

Perhaps it is that which Jack Kerouac characterizes as “putting on a gay face” that Simone Weil sees as “lying to oneself” in extending the trope of existence as a borrowing transaction in the following:

The things of this world can serve as a kind of bank for the portion of our energy at our disposal – and it can be stored in them and even greatly increased by lucky speculations – but only at the price of lying to oneself.

Consciously or not, we intuit our indebtedness to the ground (or God) that gives us existence. Defensively, we create for ourselves the illusion of an autonomous self, either by self-delusion (Weil), or by self-distraction (Kerouac). Schelling, according to Clark, would have it that there is no exit through which to escape from these mean ol’ been-down-so-long-it-looks-like-up-to-me blues:

Life is the fundamental ontological structure of existent beings, whose pattern lies in God. If it were not for their agonistic and, in a sense, contingent struggle with the dark ground, these beings – divine and human alike – would instantly fade into the bloodless abstractions for which Schelling castigates European philosophy. Without the contrasting medium of the ground, without being conditioned by the ground’s otherness, nothing could ex-ist or stand-out, not even God. Animated and actualized beings are dependent beings: this is the lively equation that Schelling’s essay on freedom writes and rewrites.

Simone Weil speaks of this kind of thing elsewhere in terms of the need for obedience to necessity.

My personal observation is this: Only on Calvary do we see the tableau—sans any fancy philosophical birdsong—of the cost of true Freedom.
*Clark’s essay appears in the anthology, Trajectories of Mysticism in Theory and Literature, edited by Philip Leonard


Saturday, September 19, 2009

Reflections: No Such Thing as a Blank Slate

Creative writing: first the poet (re)writes the word; then the word rewrites the poet.

Quote du Jour: I Want To Hold Your Hand

Give me your anonymous hand, for life is giving me pain and I don't know how to go on talking--reality is too delicate, only reality is delicate, my unreality and my imagination are more substantial.
xxx ~ Clarice Lispector, The Passion According to G.H.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Readings: The Dao of Dick

In this previous post, I offered some commentary on a book of recently discovered ancient Taoist (or, as this translator would have it, “Daoist”) scriptures. This morning, in reading the last few pages of the book, I came across the following bit of ancient Chinese wisdom, which seems to warn of certain very specific dangers to which our nation has recently fallen victim.

Here, the Emperor is being counseled by his resident Sage, Yi Yin, on the first of “four crimes of the ruler”:

[The Emperor said], “What are the four crimes of the ruler?”

Yi Yin replied, “The lord who bestows his monopoly of power on another is one who has lost the Dao. As a result, he is acquired by others, it is not that he is the one who acquires others. He is a ‘state’ servant, it is not that he is the one who makes use of others, but he is used by others. For this reason, the minister is able to arrogate authority ahead of the ruler, and uses the ruler’s country, and thus is a minister who controls his ruler. It is for this reason the fault lies with the ruler for the case in which the lord bestows his monopoly of power on another and loses control of the government. …

The Emperor said, “Alas! How dangerous that he obtains the ruler’s abilities! “

That last line (can it refer to anyone other than Big Dick Cheney?) could appropriately be carved into the lintel over the entrance of the G. Dubya Bush Presidential Library.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

R.I.P. - Mary Travers

One gray night it happened, Mary Travers sang no more
And Puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Quote du Jour: A Dare

Creation is not imagination, it's running the huge risk of coming face to face with reality.

XXXX~ Clarice Lispector, The Passion According to G.H.

Xhe Passion According to G.H.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Reflections: ...And It's Good Enough for Me

A single piece of bread given to a hungry man is enough to save a soul – if it is given in the right way. ~ Simone Weil

The Good does not manifest under the aspect of excess.

The concept of abundance as a Good, therefore, can countenance abundance only as an opportunity for sharing: an equitable distribution of sufficiency.

Monday, September 14, 2009

R.I.P. - Jim Carroll: A Catholic Lapsed

For whatever reason, I never got into this dude's work. I note his passing, though it be as a ship in the night, for we each spent some time foundering in the same rough waters.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Reflections: It's Not What You Think

In my on-going effort to stir up interest in the thought of Simone Weil, I have begun posting selected examples of her aphoristic writings to my Twitter page on a daily basis.

One of the first volumes of Weil’s writings that I read several years back was First and Last Notebooks. As this book is rare and much too expensive for me to purchase, I later borrowed it a second time from the university library and took extensive notes on its contents. It is from these notes that I’ve been gleaning those lines that I’ve been posting on Twitter. Following below is one recent example:

The imagination works incessantly to block up the tiniest cracks through which grace might enter.

I also recently did a computer search of the library’s catalog for “Simone Weil.” One of the titles this search turned up was a book of philosophical essays, Trajectories of Mysticism in Theory and Literature, which included an essay on Weil authored by one James Winchell and titled “Semantics of the Unspeakable: Six Sentences by Simone Weil”. This sounded interesting, so I borrowed it.

As it turns out, I don’t much care for the piece on Weil: it’s too technical for the likes of me. I have found much in the book that I do like, however. For instance, in another essay, while explaining the influence of theologian Jonathan Edwards on the poetry of Emily Dickinson, the author provides the following excerpts from Edwards’ “A Divine and Supernatural Light”:

The spiritual and divine light does not consist in any impression made upon the imagination. It is no impression upon the mind, as though one saw any thing with the bodily eyes; it is no imagination or idea of an outward light or glory or any beauty of form or countenance, or a visible luster or brightness of any object. The imagination may be strongly impressed by such things; but this is not spiritual light.


Natural men may have lively impressions on their imagination; and we cannot determine but the devil, who transforms himself into an angel of light, may cause imaginations of an outward beauty, or visible glory, and of sounds and speeches, and other such things; but these are things of vastly inferior nature to spiritual light.

Both Weil and Edwards present the reader (and prospective spiritual pilgrim) with a strong warning concerning the imagination. Simone Weil describes the imagination as blocking grace and thereby absenting it from the careless and inattentive soul. Edwards writes of imagination as distinct from the ultimate reality of the divine light, adding a strong caveat against the danger of delusion due to the imagination’s capacity to blind one with dazzling bullshit of great beauty.

Distrust the pontificating poet equally as you would the posturing pole dancer.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Quote du Jour: Well, then, knock wood...

You remember the night Larry was born, said the Lady.
I do, said the gentleman.
How old is Larry now? said Mr. Hackett.
How old is Larry now, my dear? said the gentleman.
How old is Larry, said the lady. Larry will be forty years old next March, D.V.
That is the kind of thing Dee always vees, said Mr. Hackett.
I wouldn't go as far as that, said the gentleman.
xxx~ Samuel Beckett, Watt

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Readings: This Is Rich

This afternoon I finished reading G. K. Chesterton's novel, The Man Who Was Thursday. As a mini-review, I must say that I do not find the book to be nearly as clever or entertaining as hardcore Chesterton groupies declare it to be; but at least this time I did finish it.

While damning it with that very faint praise, I will nonethless share a couple of excerpts gleaned from this reading, each of which I find to contain a large grain of truth.

The first is spoken by one of the "detectives," Ratcliffe, to the central protagonist, Syme:

"Mere mobs!" repeated his new friend with a snort of scorn. "So you talk about mobs and the working classes as if they were the question. You've got that eternal idiotic idea that if anarchy came it would come from the poor. Why should it? The poor have been rebels, but they have never been anarchists; they have more interest than any one else in there being some decent Government. The poor man really has a stake in the country. The rich man hasn't; he can go away to New Guinea in a yacht. The poor have sometimes objected to being governed badly; the rich have always objected to being governed at all. [p.190]

"The poor man really has a stake in the country." You can take that to the bank (if you still trust the banks.) One might want to consider this speech in the light of the anti-government agitation being conducted 24/7 by the current breed of conservatives/fascists/lackies-of-the-rich.

The second excerpt is short, to the point, and spoken by Syme himself:

When duty and religion are really destroyed, it will be by the rich. [p.210]

Clearly, conservatism was an altogether different beast in turn-of-the-century England than it is in turn-of-the-new-century America.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Reflections: Some Notes on Purity

Matt.23:26 Thou blind Pharisee, first make clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, that the outside may become clean.

In thinking about ascesis, contemplation, prayer, it occurs that:

A mendicant who sets out with a full bowl plies his trade in vain.


In order to wash one’s cup—on the outside or the inside—one must first empty it.

…for clearly,

The empty cup has capacity for the reception of grace:

…and finally,

“God alone is worthy of interest, and absolutely nothing else.” ~ Simone Weil

I say that the dots connect.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Reflections: The Southern Strategy Goes National

Let us not try to pretend that this imbecilic lashing out against the president’s upcoming address to the nation’s school kids is anything more dignified than good old down home, conservative, GOP racism.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Writings: Three-Sentence Scenario

“That may be so,” he thundered, rising from his great leather chair in a motion that resembled nothing so much as that of a majestic bull pachyderm going rampant to trumpet a general warning to all the lesser beasts skulking through the underbrush of his jungle domain. “That may well be so! But, on a scale of one-to-ten, so fucking what?”

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Raspberries Redux

Okay, okay. In the interest of full disclosure (if not by popular demand), here is the gag in its entirety:

Levi Johnston, Joe the Plumber, and Roland Burris walk into a bar. Bartender goes, "Wait! Don't tell me! Hootie and the Blowfish! Am I right?"

(RAG, eat your heart out.)