In grade school I used to chase girls on the playground. The cute ones. The ones that drove me crazy. Sometimes girls chased me. We were children caught up in a game no one understood. But we liked it.
It feels like I’m working with a child’s concept of romance. Often I push too hard for the attention of a woman I like. Rather than allowing the game to naturally unfold, I shout, “Okay, I’m here and I’m going to chase you now,” telegraphing my every move. And when the game doesn’t go as planned I assume I’ve played it wrong from the start.
My culture dictates that the Boy “go after” the Girl. I get that. But at 34 I’m starting to wonder what being chased might look like. Maybe I should play it cool. Maybe she’ll come after me.
At any rate, I’m tired. Recess ended twenty-five years ago. And I’m out here all alone.
I relate the following fables without much explanation. Let’s just say they seduced me. I have no idea what they mean. But I wonder.
“Consider the story of the soldier who meets Death at a crossing in the marketplace, and believes he saw him make a menacing gesture in his direction. He rushes to the king’s palace and asks the king for his best horse in order that he might flee during the night far from Death, as far as Samarkand. Upon which the king summons Death to the palace and reproaches him for having frightened one of his best servants. But Death, astonished, replies: ‘I didn’t mean to frighten him. It was just that I was surprised to see this soldier here, when we had a rendezvous tomorrow in Samarkand.’” (Baudrillard, Seduction, p. 72)
“A little boy asks a fairy to grant him his wishes. The fairy agrees on one condition, that he never think of the color red in the fox’s tail. ‘Is that all?’ he replies offhandedly. And off he goes to find happiness. But what happens? He is unable to rid himself of this fox’s tail, which he believed he had already forgotten. He sees it everywhere, with its red color, in his thoughts, and in his dreams. Despite all his efforts, he cannot make it disappear. He becomes obsessed with this absurd, insignificant, but tenacious image, augmented by all the spite that comes from not having been able to rid himself of it. Not only do the fairy’s promises not come true, but he loses his taste for life. Perhaps he dies without ever having gotten clear of it.” (Baudrillard, Seduction, p. 74)
Below is a post I made to the sports blog Bleed Cubbie Blue. I wasn’t surprised that it received little response, given its philosophical nature. But it means something to me.
Indulge me in a little thought experiment.
You fall into a wormhole and land back in the year 1909. You’re still a diehard Cubs fan, but your trip through space-time has zapped your knowledge about the team. You’ve forgotten that the Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1908.
In an attempt to regain your sense of history, you watch every Cubs game from 1909 through 2014. Every win, every loss: 106 years of not winning it all. It takes 23 hours and 59 minutes of actual time on this earth to get you through 2014. You’re dejected.
But then you watch the 2015 season unfold in one second. The Cubs win the World Series. The clock strikes midnight. Was it a good day?
Does the celebration of one great victory cancel out 106 years of disappointment? Or does the joy surrounding this title, the longest wait for any fan base, shine brighter in light of all the heartache?
I’ve written many times about our inability to know the world, to understand and tame its restless energies. Often in this thought I’ve assumed a pessimistic tone, arguing that trying to know anything is futile. But that’s the coward’s way out. There are truths we can grasp; that most of the world remains unknowable does not mean nothing matters in the end.
This week I’ve been reading The Specter of the Absurd: Sources and Criticisms of Modern Nihilism, published in 1988 by Donald A. Crosby. Among the many facets of nihilism that Crosby examines, is the nihilist’s contention that nothing is certain and thus life is absurd and meaningless. Crosby concludes much of what I mentioned above, and he finds the nihilist’s perspective regarding the impossibility of knowing anything as shortsighted and dangerous.
Crosby discusses God a lot. He writes that, at least in the Christian tradition, people assign limitless knowledge to God. Humans are destined to search and search for answers, but we’re fundamentally incapable of finding everlasting truths. To illustrate why this realization need not lead us to despair, Crosby includes an insightful passage attributed to Gotthold Ephraim Lessing:
If God held all truth concealed in his right hand, and in his left the persistent striving for the truth, and while warning me against eternal error, should say, Choose! I should humbly bow before his left hand, and say, “Father, give thy gift; the pure truth is for thee alone.”
Say we suddenly knew everything. The Quest would end. There’d be nothing left to ponder. No mysteries to uncover.
The Truth is clever, elusive. Although silence is often the answer to my calling out, in my persistent striving I’ll keep listening for the Secret time won’t tell.
In 1967 the literary critic and theorist Roland Barthes formally announced the Death of the Author. “It is language which speaks,” Barthes declares, “not the author.” Echoing Bakhtin’s concept of heteroglossia, Barthes writes:
We know that a text does not consist of a line of words, releasing a single “theological” meaning (the “message” of the Author-God), but is a space of many dimensions, in which are wedded and contested various kinds of writing, no one of which is original: the text is a tissue of citations, resulting from the thousand sources of culture. The writer can only imitate a gesture forever anterior, never original. (emphasis added)
There’s nothing new to say. Writing is a performance, a mix of styles. The author’s ideas are someone else’s. He merely borrows and reappropriates them in his text. Assuming the author creates, that it’s his Genius on display, is false. He is simply a conduit of culture; language speaks through him.
This is true of blogs. Even when I’m not setting off another writer’s words in block quotes, I’m summoning ideas already thought. Baudrillard. Bakhtin. Barthes. Putting dead philosophers’ words in my mouth.
Life is full of challenges, stressors, disappointments. What if I could leave everything—my depression and anxiety, feelings of inadequacy, unfulfilled wishes, guilt over hurting loved ones—in God’s hands?
“Here you go, God. You get my shit together.”
Of course this is pure fantasy. It’s a reflection of my desire to relinquish personal responsibility. A sort of letting go by letting God have it. God as the impossibility of God. My inability to unload the Burden. The bliss that never comes.