Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Immortality


Ever since the year one, and probably even before, people have speculated about death and what could be done to defeat it, as in John Donne’s famous sonnet. But live forever not in Donne’s Christian faith, but in nature’s gift to you. There have been surely others who thought about living forever, as there are some who carefully differentiated between the act if dying and the fact of death. Futile as most of this speculation may be, I imagine it to be inexhaustible, truly undying.

Any number of serious people, including some famous ones, have meditated, usually in advanced age, about what it would be like to be given the opportunity to relive your life, on the chance of this time doing improving on it. But that would not be a matter of perpetuity, merely a chance of making the same thing better the second time round. A kind of postponement rather than infinite continuity. A matter of duplication versus singularity, not the same as eternity. The big question remains: what would it be like absolutely never having to die.

To comfort themselves, people have explained away such durability as undesirable. They would stress how boring, frustrating, dehumanizing such a dispensation would be. Your job in life—call it grandly your calling—must have proved to many ultimately dull, routine, unexciting, and thus unpleasant enough.  How much more so if it had to be kept up without cessation. It could drive you mad, arguably a worse fate than dying. Or if there was relief in constant change, change itself would become an addiction like every other, drink or drugs, only more confusing and fatiguing, eventually even detrimental. You would no longer be able to distinguish memories from fantasies, what you are remembering from what you are imagining.

Just think what it would do to marriage. How stupefying if it meant endless fidelity. How debilitating if it involved constant change of partners. Worst of all, time would become meaningless, because it could all just as well happen sooner or later, it would make no difference. Eternity is the same as timelessness, and timelessness means the meaninglessness of a specific time, and thus of time itself.

Just think how easy it is, even under present circumstances, to delay things, whose taking place at a specific time is important and facilitating. But if, let’s say, a get together for tomorrow would lack a precise time and urgency, it might easily turn into a miss, into not eventuating at all. Time exists because it makes us older and wiser, if it does not do so, it might as well not exist.

Things need to, have to, go away. If they don’t, how long ago was the Civil War? Why are Trafalgar and Actium still with us, the Punic Wars and the Crusades still upon us, ditto the Inquisition and Waterloo, Catherine the Great and  Bismarck, Abraham   Lincoln and Haile Selassie, all with us; and how on earth would there be room for all the undying anonymous multitudes on our little Earth?
                                                                                                                                                                   In an essay by Hans Magnus Enzensberger, which I translated for the Partisan Review, the author argued that what distinguished real writers from successful hacks is that the latter aim for immediate popularity, while the former strive for lasting posthumous fame. What kind of a world would throw together all Stephen Kings and William Faulkners for ever and ever, all Emily Dickinsons and Ella Wheeler Wilcoxes? There would be no Rona Jaffes and Edith Whartons breathing the same air, no difference in their longevity and survival. Death the Leveler would be replaced by Life the Leveler of trash with masterwork.

I could go on enunciating, ahem, forever the awkwardness of an everlasting present, with the great injustices bred by mere simultaneity. The trash writers could not be outlasted by the geniuses, and their sheer increasing numbers, an ever greater threat. Who or what does not bow to quantity, more easily measurable than quality? If Peter’s garbage steadily outsells Paul’s art, tell me which is the greater.

There even exists a Serbian folk poem, according to which the emperor Dus(h)an, by losing the battle against the evil, outnumbering Ottoman Turks and dying, chose over a mere earthly kingdom the far superior heavenly kind,  so proving himself truly worthy. Death in a righteous cause is more glorious than victory in a worse one, and earns you genine immortality.

Or take the case of Origen, who castrated himself for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, and so affirmed his sainthood. What are balls compared to a halo? What you lose in an earthly, lower region, is more than compensated for by gain in a nobler upper one, as the lowly crotch loses out to the higher brow, sensuality to saintliness, mortality to immortality.

As for my readers, I can only hope that, without gaining immortality from me, I can at least reconcile them to our shared mortality. There is no question of my agreeing with the incomparable poet Rilke about death being the great final adventure to which he looked forward. It is no more really so than the angels he kept writing about are real. But I do believe that a painless death in one’s sleep beats the hell out of protracted, painful dying. If there is such a thing as soul, not even it is immortal.
I am amazed when a clever man like William Buckley believed in being reunited with his predeceased spouse in an afterlife.

Let’s face it, leaving a fruitful, happy existence is not a good thing, even if it comes upon us during sleep. The best we can say for it is that ignorance is bliss, but it is a bliss hard to luxuriate in. If we are ordinary mortals, we do not look forward to that so-called great adventure, a thought that, even if we don’t let it constantly oppress us, lurks in our unconscious. To be fully inured is achievable only by unthinking brutes. Well may we envy those true brutes, the animals, unaware of what’s in store. For them. But, again, that bliss is  contingent upon our not making full use of hat cognition we do have.

Still, if ignorance is bliss, can its exact antithesis also be blissful? Is there a terrifying knowledge inhabiting our quotidian selves (“O que la vie est quotidienne,” Jules Laforgue), secretly gnawing away at them, but intermittently rising to the surface with fearful stabs?

For that, there is the obvious cure: religious faith in an afterlife. Yet what if the cure is worse than the malady? What if all religion is a lie? The problem with atheism is that the temptations away from it are not easy to resist. Thought made us atheists, but may it not also make us fear our being mistaken?

I can’t help feeling superior to all those sheep (as I see it) who unquestioningly accept Christianity or Judaism, Islam or Buddhism, or whatever, but am also more vulnerable, more apprehensive about total, irrevocable cessation, deprivation, death.

Like Shakespeare’s Cleopatra, we have immortal longings, but no Caesar or Antony to lean on for occasional support. So I must conclude with a question mark, and accept that any further dwelling on immortality can only finish in depression. I would like to have asked T. S. Eliot--surely what the French Academy calls their members, an immortal--and a true convert to Christianity, whether Death really has no sting,, and whether he could point out on the map the whereabouts of heaven and hell.

And then I would ask him whether immortality, possessed or believed in, is a true anodyne.

33 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. WHAT THE THUNDER SAID
    After the torchlight red on sweaty faces
    After the frosty silence in the gardens
    After the agony in stony places
    The shouting and the crying
    Prison and palace and reverberation
    Of thunder of spring over distant mountains
    He who was living is now dead
    We who were living are now dying
    With a little patience

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    1. He should of left these lines in:

      Leaving the bubbling beverage to cool,
      Fresca slips softly to the needful stool,
      Where the pathetic tale of Richardson
      Eases her labour till the deed is done

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  3. I like the idea of reincarnation. Even a staunch atheist like Sam Harris is open to the concept of it.

    It makes sense. Matter cannot be destroyed, so we just "evolve" into something else. And, when that other "something" dies off, we get to do it all over again as another animal (or plant).

    This means that we've been something else in the past, and there are times I think that I can remember a past life. I may have been an insect I believe, or maybe a fish. It becomes fuzzy when you go back more than two or three lifetimes.

    I like this scheme. This allows everyone multiple chances to get it right.

    More on this later. I'm at the beach, a hurricane is coming, and my wife is screaming at me about some stupid shit.

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    1. I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
      I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
      I do not think that they will sing to me.
      I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
      Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
      When the wind blows the water white and black.
      We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
      By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
      Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

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    2. Beautiful! I think those mermaids live next door to us.
      I'll raise your Love Song with a Coleridge:


      Day after day, day after day,
      We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
      As idle as a painted ship
      Upon a painted ocean.

      Water, water, every where,
      And all the boards did shrink;
      Water, water, every where,
      Nor any drop to drink.

      The very deep did rot – Oh Christ!
      That ever this should be.
      Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs,
      Upon the slimy sea.

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    3. Be safe, Uncle and Aunt K, be safe.

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    4. Thanks, Joe! We're fine. All the windows boarded up and headed to Charlotte. I wanted to stay and drink beer but the wife is woozy.

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  6. "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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  9. 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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  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. 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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  13. Though total immortality is impossible, I think technology will produce a freeze-machine.

    John Simon can be frozen and then be thawed 2000 yrs later. He will see what the world is like.

    It will be like IDIOCRACY, a world of big-ass tacos and fries.

    I wonder... what if an intellectual in the 1850s had been frozen and thawed today. I wonder what he would think of our culture.
    He would be amazed by our science but disgusted by our morals.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kn200lvmTZc

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  14. John Simon really seems the last of the breed.. along with Jean-Luc Godard.

    The culture scene in the 60s was defined by folks like Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol, Rohmer, Resnais, Kael, Sarris, MacDonald, Sontag, Kauffmann, Bunuel, Fellini, Kurosawa, Leone, Antonioni, Visconti, Oshima, Imamura, Peckinpah, Arthur Penn, Brando, Bergman, Farber, and many others. They have all passed away. Among the prominent critics who came to prominence in the crucial 60s(when culture scene was shifting drastically), Simon is the last one left. It's ironic because he was more resistant to new fashions(like Andy Warhol and all the radical homo-feminist stuff). The dinosaur outlasted the new specimens.

    Simon worked during the era when modernism petered out and gave way to post-modernism. Modernism was exciting and necessary but it was bound to hit up against a dead-end. One can break rules so many times before it gets tiresome and pointless. Life is about new possibilities but there are certain core rules that are essential to its survival and meaning.

    Simon had no use for Tarkovsky for the most part, but it now looks like Tarkovsky looms larger than figures like Antonioni. Tarkovsky was about the Source of life in nature and spirit. Antonioni was about the bleached bone of modernity. Aridity, the loss of faith and soul.

    Nation, family, heritage, culture, morality, and etc. These things are of eternal value. Immortality is a collective thing. Though nothing lasts forever -- even sun will die one day -- , a culture can last a long time. No Jew lived beyond few yrs past 100, but the Jewish people have lasted 3,500 yrs. No Chinese lived more than few yrs past 100 but Chinese culture has also lasted 3500 yrs. That is longevity, that is continuity. It is the passing of the torch. And it is generosity. A man lives and finds happiness in life, but he accepts his decline and death and passes his life, knowledge, and experience to his children who carry on with the torch and add their own fuel to the fire.
    This is what modernity and ultra-individuality of egotism lost and forgot.

    But there is a revival of this spirit in Russia, and hopefully Russians will make good use of it.

    It's like the Bell at the end of Andrei Rublev. A collective enterprise whose ring reverberates through the ages.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8N5oiRPxUJ0

    And look at nature. In a forest, there is death all around -- animals and plants -- but the forest remains because of cycle of life and death. It's like what Maude said.

    https://youtu.be/QVGOUxQrISc?t=46s


    America, under Jewish elite rule, has turned sick and decadent with homo-marriage-garbage. We must return to the source.

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  15. I suspect Simon thinks much about immortality because he lived a egotistic life of self-enjoyment.

    If he had kids and grandkids, these questions would matter less.

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  16. This is what life is about.

    Vito Corleone talking to his son Michael about his grandson.

    Simon wrote for many strangers, and they may have appreciated his writings and opinions. But they won't care if he dies.

    Only people who really care and remember are family members.

    Family is the unity of nature and culture.

    Mere nature is animalism. Mere culture is artifacts.
    Family unites both with morality and duty.

    But ours is a sick age that worships homos and trannies.

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

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  17. Mr. Simon, seriously consider disabling the comment function of your blog.

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  19. I like the comments section---and links to 'Idiocracy' excerpts are always apt...

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  20. In response to 360 Decrees:
    No, keep the comments open. This critter keeps coming back with a different name, but can easily be ignored. Let's not silence everyone because of one contaminant :-)

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  21. Today's featured work on poets.org is a Robert Graves poem I'd never heard of. I love the final (unexpected) image in this one. I'm sure Simon can relate!



    Ghost Music

    Gloomy and bare the organ-loft,
    Bent-backed and blind the organist.
    From rafters looming shadowy,
    From the pipes’ tuneful company,
    Drifted together drowsily,
    Innumerable, formless, dim,
    The ghosts of long-dead melodies,
    Of anthems, stately, thunderous,
    Of Kyries shrill and tremulous:
    In melancholy drowsy-sweet
    They huddled there in harmony.
    Like bats at noontide rafter-hung.

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    1. I copy/pasted this. Shouldn't there be a period after "dim"? It sounds better that way.

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  22. "Like bats at noontide rafter-hung."
    Cubs/Dodgers or Jays/Indians?

    Are the NC rivers still rising?

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  23. Yes, Sir! They got them a mess out east (as the local parlance would inform).

    Love baseball. Always have. Royals (first love), Braves (National league/second love)
    I always jump on a bandwagon if neither of those teams is in it, so I'm going with the Cubs and Indians and rooting for the Cubs to win it all. They deserve a boon. It's only been 98 years!

    Nice to hear from you!

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  24. “Death the Leveler would be replaced by Life the Leveler of trash with masterwork.”

    The reader of much of Mr. Simon’s oeuvre over the years would get the impression that this cultural death-in-life is already the case…

    “I can’t help feeling superior to all those sheep (as I see it) who unquestioningly accept Christianity or Judaism, Islam or Buddhism, or whatever, but am also more vulnerable, more apprehensive about total, irrevocable cessation, deprivation, death.”

    Mr. Simon’s honesty is refreshing, appreciated, and unusual among his peers.

    “So I must conclude with a question mark…”

    Eric Voegelin wrote that the problem with the modern age is not so much the loss of the Answer, as the loss of the Question.

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  25. I see in retrospect that my first remark is vulnerable to misinterpration. I didn't mean Mr. Simon's oeuvre itself; only the culture brought to critical relief by the honest light he shines upon it.

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