Friday, September 14, 2012

IMMORTALITY

Guillaume Apollinaire, one of the few great poets who were also charming, has a delightful book of essays, Le Flaneur des deux rives (The Stroller Through Paris), about his walks through the quarters on both sides of the Seine. He meets a library buff, a chap who has sampled libraries all over the world.

One such was the St. Petersburg Library, where “one could see young girls (gamines) age twelve who were reading Schopenhauer.” If this is so—and why not, if even the fancy stripper in Pal Joey thinks of Schopenhauer while she works—it is true immortality: to be read ages after your death by twelve-year-old girls (note the plural); there surely can be no greater proof of undying fame.

Unfortunately, though, this is not the kind of immortality the nonphilosophical majority of us seek—the kind that works for everyone else except for the dead immortal. We want immortality for us ordinary folk, and we want it to be physical--to defeat death.

That means those of us who might take John Donne literally: “One short sleep past, we wake eternally,/ And Death shall be no more: Death thou shalt die.” A promise not just from Donne, but also, more importantly. from almost all existing religions, which affirm some kind of Paradise. But where exactly is that Heaven located? Formerly, one could believe it to be somewhere in the heavens above. But now that the skies have been duly crisscrossed, and no Heaven found, isn’t it surprising that otherwise perfectly intelligent people believe in it? Or, for that matter, now that we know the interior of the Earth, that there should still be belief in Hell. Quite aside from the fact that the Earth is far too small a place to contain all those dead who would have headed for its insides.

And yet there have been people like T. S. Eliot, for example, who, despite a colossal intellect, have swallowed Christianity whole, ergo, whether or not he discussed it, belief in Heaven and Hell. Even as smart a man as Bill Buckley affirmed that he could not live without his firm belief of reuniting with his predeceased wife. I am less surprised when an Argentine tennis player, having won a set, crosses himself and looks to heaven even on an indoor court. And we all know the footballer who kneels and thanks Christ after a touchdown, as if Jesus had nothing better to do than help him win.

Then there are all those brave people who assert that they are not afraid of death, only of protracted dying. In other words, eternal sleep is no problem, only the discomfort of prolonged insomnia preceding it. Believe them as much as you do actors who claim never to read their reviews. A vast majority wants to go on living physically, no matter how precariously or where, even if their religion doesn’t promise them sex with 72 virgins in the afterlife. This even though sex with one virgin can spell trouble.

A writer as brilliant as Julian Barnes writes a whole book about how we shouldn’t fear death, although almost every page of that book testifies to the opposite. To my knowledge, only one religion, Judaism, doesn’t make paradisiac promises—well, maybe also Unitarianism, if indeed that qualifies as a religion.

To be sure, nobody said that atheism comes cheap. I myself cannot help envying the comforts of belief in Heaven, even by those who could barely rate Purgatory. These are people who have no need for either John Donne or Julian Barnes, and count on the kind of wings that cannot crash by colliding with a flock of birds.

What consolation is there for atheists? Or, to quote the aforementioned Eliot, after such knowledge, what forgiveness? I suppose a feeling, earned or unearned, of superiority. Condescension is not without its questionable satisfaction: “You poor fellow, you actually believe you are going to Heaven? And the moon, I assume, is made of green cheese?” (As if anyone wanted his cheese green.) But wouldn’t one trade superiority for faith, if only one were capable of the Pascalian gamble?

And what about those good souls who believe that having children is a form of immortality? Lots of luck to them when they wake up—or, rather, don’t—in their coffins. Think of the dead Heraclitus in William Cory’s famous poem, concluding: “Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales, awake;/ For death, he taketh all away, but them he cannot take.” That may be good enough immortality for Cory and Callimachus, on whose poem Cory’s is based, but hardly for Heraclitus. And what about those of us who have no children or nightingales, not so much as a canary?

The best we can come up with is an enlightened hedonism—having lived life to the fullest. Or else its opposite, stoicism, poohpoohing the pleasures of life. Yet I am not sure whether even Epicurus or Epictetus—Marcus Aurelius at least had his imperial privileges—made it to full fearless happiness, and death be damned. So what can we lesser ones aspire to? The good life and peaceful death are only the snake scotch’d, not kill’d. Possibly the best way is to expire on top of a sexy woman just after orgasm—the John Garfield and Nelson Rockefeller way, and the obverse, of course, for a woman. Not for nothing did we learn in our lit. courses that for the Elizabethans “to die” meant both death and orgasm. Coming and going, as it were. But what of all that long, unorgasmic time before?

Consider the modus operandi of two wonderful writers, Jules Renard and Peter Altenberg, skeptical Frenchman and euphoric Austrian. Renard, in what is surely one of the greatest journals ever kept, wrote in 1898: “Your head is bizarre, carved in big strokes of the knife, like that of geniuses. Your brow brightens like that of Socrates. By way of phrenology, you remind us of Cromwell, Napoleon and so many others, and yet you will be nothing.” And, likewise about himself: “You will be nothing. You understand the greatest poets, the most profound prose writers, but, though you pretend that to understand is to equal, you will be as comparable to them as a minuscule dwarf can be to the giants.”

The superb humorist Altenberg wrote in 1901: “I was nothing, I am nothing, I will be nothing. But I live out my life in freedom and allow noble and compassionate persons to participate in the adventures of that inner freedom in that I commit it, in the most compact form, to paper. I am poor, but I myself. The man without concessions. What does that get you? 100 guilders a month and a few ardent fans. Well, those I have! My life is dedicated to the unheard-of enthusiasm for God’s greatest art work, the female body.”

And he goes on about the nudes with which he has papered the walls of his poor little room, and the inscriptions under them, such as “Beauty is Virtue.” And he concludes with the joy of waking up gazing at this “sacred magnificence,” which reconciles him to the neediness and burdens of existence.

So there you have it. The stoic, skeptic or cynic Renard (though even he relished beautiful women), and the exultant hedonist Altenberg. They may have had the antidote for mortality. Or maybe not.

13 comments:

  1. "But people believe in God because they want to believe, have to believe, in God. Faith enables them to survive in a terrifying world that ultimately brings annihilation. John Hospers, James W. Cornman, and other philosophers brilliantly refute the arguments used to prove the existence of God: ontological, causal, contingency, utility, teleological. But nothing they say, no matter how irrefutable the logic, would have any impact on those who MUST believe in God." -- Alice R. Kaminsky, from her book "The Victim's Song"

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  2. "And we all know the footballer who kneels and thanks Christ after a touchdown, as if Jesus had nothing better to do than help him win."

    Yes, we do; apparently, He doesn't.

    What about 12-year-old gamines reading Heidegger? Do they, still?

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    Replies
    1. Hey, aren't you the stupid jerk who likes THE NEW WORLD(by Malick) and said those who don't like it should be killed?

      Why are you such a nasty moron?

      Delete
  3. “I was nothing, I am nothing, I will be nothing. But I live out my life in freedom and allow noble and compassionate persons to participate in the adventures of that inner freedom in that I commit it, in the most compact form, to paper. I am poor, but I myself. The man without concessions. What does that get you? 100 guilders a month and a few ardent fans. Well, those I have! My life is dedicated to the unheard-of enthusiasm for God’s greatest art work, the female body.”

    All that was summed up with one word by the greatest poet of all time:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hoS1MCF8AeI

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  4. "And we all know the footballer who kneels and thanks Christ after a touchdown, as if Jesus had nothing better to do than help him win."

    Simon misses the point. When a player does that, he doesn't mean Jesus was helping him win ballgames. He is thanking God for having given him the gift of athleticism with which he achieved something in life and made people happy.

    Different people are gifted differently. Of course, most people don't have any special gift. But some have special talent for poetry, some for music, some for cooking, some for dancing, and some for athletics(likes tennis or football).
    Some gifted people are arrogant and feel they are the center of the world, a kind of Ayn-Randian view. But some feel that they were given a special gift by God, of which they should be most grateful and mindful. It's like the guy in CHARIOTS OF FIRE. He can run fast, and he thinks God gave him this special gift, and he should celebrate this gift but in honor of God.

    To be sure, I wonder about fast-running as a gift of God. Fastest runners are black, and they be crazy. Maybe fast-running is the work of the Devil.

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  5. "A writer as brilliant as Julian Barnes writes a whole book about how we shouldn’t fear death, although almost every page of that book testifies to the opposite."

    But this can be said of Simon himself. He writes as if he's above religion and all that hocus-pocus stuff, but his return to this topic over and over and over(especially in his advanced yrs) betrays a certain longing for something more than life of flesh and mind.

    And Bill Buckley's words to the effect that he must believe in God to be reunited with his life suggests that his greatest faith was in love(for his wife). They had a great relationship, something bigger than politics and even church.
    It's like MOTHMAN PROPHECIES.

    "To my knowledge, only one religion, Judaism, doesn’t make paradisiac promises—well, maybe also Unitarianism, if indeed that qualifies as a religion."

    What about Greek mythology? You just end up in the underworld.

    Buddhism doesn't offer paradise but permanent extinction via nirvana which is nothingness within nothingness, a black hole within black hole.
    Also, Buddhism differs from most religions in that there is no individual soul. Instead, every creature is just a vessel of a soul that goes from body to body. So, according to Buddhism, it is an illusion that Simon is the kid of his pa and ma. He is a mere vessel within which 'his' souls remains now. But the soul isn't really his. In earlier lives, it was inside an ant, monkey, cow, aardvark, Muslim, goldish, spider, Chinaman, snail, worm, Frog(the french kind), Russian, ladybug, cricket, gorilla, Mexican, etc.

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  6. "And yet there have been people like T. S. Eliot, for example, who, despite a colossal intellect, have swallowed Christianity whole, ergo, whether or not he discussed it, belief in Heaven and Hell."

    Eliot was born with a conservative disposition, and Christianity happened to be part of the culture that he came to admire and respect most.
    Conservatives like Eliot revere the idea of the sacred and holy. They understand that humanity and history are not just about search for facts and data but search for meaning. Without religion, all meanings are relative and idiosyncratic.

    With religion, certain truths have, over time, gained canonical status. This sense of reverence for what is truly deep and meaningful is what tradition is about.
    So, whether God really exists or not is besides the point. It's what He and the institutions around Him stand for.
    In essence, humans are nothing more than hairless apes with higher intelligence.
    Religion is the institutionalization of epiphany that are too few and far between.

    It's like what Hermann Hesse wrote in GLASS BEAD GAME. A Catholic someone or other says the church has lasted over 1000 yrs and will go on surviving because what it stands for -- highest truth, meaning, and power -- and what/how it preserves its core canon and mission.

    But then, maybe Hesse was wrong because the Catholic Church now has too many crazy African Negroes and a pope who acts like an older version of smug and flaky Justin Trudeau.

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  7. "Well, those I have! My life is dedicated to the unheard-of enthusiasm for God’s greatest art work, the female body."

    This kind of mentality now seems to dominate the West.

    What do white folks worship most these days?

    The Negro dong and Negro ass.

    White women are so envious of big fat black booties that some even get butt-surgeries to get them big bouncy fried-chicken-fattened bongo-wongo asses.

    And white women are into jungle fever and worship the biggus Negro dong, and there is cuckold fetish among white liberal intellectuals where they invite black men to hump their white wives.

    So, Simon need not worry. Religion is mostly dead. What the West worships is raw sexuality. White women want big fat black asses, and white boys and girls worship the Negro pud as the greatest gift of all.

    Even 'conservative' homo Milo loves to have black penises up his arse. And Andrew Sullivan, the British homo 'conservative', says he got HIV cuz he loved a lot of black whankers up his white butt.

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  8. Jews always hated Christianity cuz they felt gentiles stole the Jewish God and used His power against Jews.

    So, Jews have long wanted to destroy Christianity. And they tried with communism by destroying 1000s of churches and killing many folks.

    But Russian church returned and communism is gone.

    So, Jews now try to destroy Christianity not be physical destruction but subversive corruption. Jews use agents and collaborators(mostly among homos) to enter the church and infect with homo-worship.

    The homo agenda began as a secular movement for more social freedom but is now promoted as new religion. NO wonder Jews and homos are trying to festoon every church with homo flags, as if Jesus died on Cross so that butt-bangers can get 'married'.

    Jews used to be sane. But decadence got to them.

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  9. What about the Bubblegum faith?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gL4pxh24TtA

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  10. For those who want some spirituality without iron dogma, there is always Tao Te Ching(which is Chinese for Tao he good teacher).


    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UxEvRoAaYBM

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  11. "And what about those good souls who believe that having children is a form of immortality?"

    Why obsess over big words like 'immortality'? People who have kids are not seeking such. They just want continuity, history, and memory.

    After all, the only reason why John Simon exists is because his pa and his ma decided to have a kibbler.

    Simon may have read lots of books and poetry. He may have heard a lot of music, but he could do all that because he is alive. Life comes before all else, and life is created by man and woman, not be books. Simon didn't leap out of a book.
    And because Simon exists, he knows of his parents and remembers them.

    But because Simon has no kid, he is end of the line. No kid to remember Simon and no kid to hear story of Simon's parents and ancestry.

    Simon is a cultured man, but core culture isn't about poetry and stuff. It is about family, community, and memory.

    And because Simon put books above life, he won't even have continuity. This is what happens to egotists.

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  12. John Simon did notable work as critic of various arts, but as a lifeform he is a failure. Man is a creature of nature who comes to appreciate culture. Nature is about continuity and reproduction. That's how the organism survives.

    Culture can make us appreciate nature, but nature must exist first. Before a painter creates a painting of beautiful forest and sunset, he must exist as a natural being with eyes and legs to see and experience the nature of trees and lake. So, nature comes before culture.

    But people like Simon came to appreciate only culture. Even natural lust has been turned into discussion of women's aesthetics and looks and such. But why are female features attractive to men? Nature made it so that men will be attracted to women, pork them, and produce kibblers.
    After all, women are attractive to human males but not to hyena males. Hyena males are attracted to hyena females, like warthog males are attracted to warthog females. Female beauty exists to excite men to get horny and hump the ho to create new life.

    But Simon treats female aesthetics as if it exists on its own terms. And he thinks sexual pleasure is for pleasure alone.
    In fact, pleasure of food makes people eat cuz you have to eat in order to live. Otherwise you starve. Likewise, pleasure of sex makes people have kids cuz unless there are new kids, the organism is the end of the line. Organism lives by creating new life. Simon exists because his father decided to be natural and stick his pud into Simon's mother to produce new life.

    Simon, like so many people in the West, chose the life of the mind, culture, and/or pleasure as the highest meaning of life.
    Those are nice things, but when they don't serve the needs of nature -- to reproduce and survive through the next generation -- , they are just part of decadent la-dolce-vita.

    Simon may make fun of idiot Muslims(though he's too PC to make fun of blacks who are even nuttier). But, in a way, Muslims and Africans will win over modern white people like Simon cuz they have kids. They still have a connection to life and survival whereas Simon, like the decadent beings of ZARDOZ, only knows art, culture, and pleasure disassociated from nature. It's like Jack Barzun said. "When the penis and balls don't serve their real purpose, decadence looms and the nuts dry up."

    It's no wonder that Simon never appreciated Andrei Tarkovsky who understood the interrelated unity of nature, culture, spirituality, and technology. All things are in contention but also in concert.

    Simon's view of life is disassociated from nature and spirit. It is just about mind and material and momentary pleasure.

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