So now that I know how to do this, I’m going to repost those other things. My current reading list (in case anyone gives a hoot).
The Politics of Nonviolent Action – Gene Sharp
My Experiments With Truth – Gandhi
Provocations – Spiritual Writings of Soren Kierkegaard
Resistance, Rebellion, and Death – Albert Camus
Here’s those quotes again:
In most cases the artist is ashamed of himself and his privileges, if he has any. He must first of all answer the question he has put to himself: is art a deceptive luxury?
From Create Dangerously by Albert Camus
True individuality is measured by this: how long or how far one can endure being alone without the understanding of others.
— SÃ¸ren Kierkegaard
Ned — I approved your comments, and it only has to be authorized once from me, then you can comment to your heart’s content (it keeps unsavory-types from getting on our blog). Comment away!
Thanks for this, Ned. All very interesting.
I find the Kierkegaard quote far more compelling than the Camus, in this instance. With the Camus, we get the tired sense that artists and writers have to justify themselves continually, as if what they are doing is somehow embarrassing or somehow a “luxury.” I find that incredibly stifling, ultimately–and have felt that stifle my own creativity.
Of course, I grew up Lutheran, so I probably have presuppositions that support the Kierkegaard. But it’s an intriguing question, of how long one could endure without another’s understanding. It makes me wonder if being misunderstood, or the feeling of being misunderstood, is finally in one’s own head and nowhere else…
On to Colorado, where the air is thinner and maybe I’ll be thinking more clearly. Or not.
In fairness to Camus (that was not his last comment in the essay) here is another that perhaps you’ll find more provoking: “Absolute justice is achieved by the suppression of all contradiction: therefore it destroys freedom.”
The truth of this statement is apparent. The Bolsheviks were in pursuit of â€œabsolute justice.â€ Thereâ€™s a scene in the BBC version of Dr. Zhivago where the infamous butcher Strelnikov tells Yury, (Iâ€™m paraphrasing here) â€œI wanted to create a world where kindness was mandatory.â€
Ned and I have briefly discussed the first Camus quote last month and Iâ€™ve thought about it some more since then. Pardon me if I take it out of context.
This business of â€œdeceptive luxuryâ€ is like crack cocaine for born and bred idealists like The Hollow Men. I would go a step further than Camus and say that if art is a deceptive luxury then, for most of us, life itself is a deceptive luxury. We need food, water, and shelter to survive. Any activity that does not directly contribute to the physical health of yourself or your family group is a deceptive luxury.
Iâ€™m through with hobbling what meager creativity I have with thinking like this.
Yes, life is a deceptive luxury and Iâ€™m going to take pleasure in all that I can. Yes, from the obvious pleasures of roses, red wine, steak, and sex but also the less accessible pleasures found in the pungency of rotten flesh or the exquisite pain of oral surgery and the everyday pleasures of feeding the cats, doing the dishes and blogging. The list of pleasures is endless but each is fleeting and vulgar.
Iâ€™m though with it lads. Iâ€™ve got too few years of life left to dick around being an discontented idealist. We all must make moral choices and compromises. Guilt and shame does not aid this reasoning. It hinders it.
It seems as though I’ve created quite a firestorm with that Camus quote, which was completely unintentional. It was just one line from a longer essay that I found interesting, because I had wrestled with such thoughts before. The essay is actually quite compelling, and, were you to read it, you would find that Camus is not suggesting that an artist should stifle his/her creativity. Perhaps it’s my fault for removing something from its context. I must admit I am far from done being a discontented idealist. As a matter of fact, since in this day and age (or any other) one is unlikely to be a contented idealist, I think that a “discontented idealist” is exactly how I would like to descibe myself. Thanks for that term J.E.
I didn’t think that that quote would draw more attention than my other post in response to Toby’s “doppler effect”. Perhaps I should have just stuck to BOTP. I’m sorry. I feel quite badly about the whole thing. Here’s another quote.
â€œIt is a queer thing that so few reviewers seem to realize that one writes poetry because one mustâ€¦ It is quite possible to have a feeling about the world which creates a need that nothing satisfies except poetry and this has nothing to do with other poets or with anything else.â€
What do you have to feel badly about? I like firestorms.
Actually, the “feeling badly” and then offering another quote was supposed to reference the whole Protestant/Catholic guilt thing. But it’s difficult to convey a tone of voice in a blog.
Indeed, tone can be capricious in the blogosphere.
Ned, J. E.–
This is all very interesting, and gets to the heart of some of our long-running conversation. Is it better to be an idealist–whether discontented or not–or not? And what is an idealist anyway? And where does the discontent come from?
I suspect, and I point the finger at myself here, the discontent comes from being an idealist but really not doing much–at least, not really–to create the ideal situation. And as Ned points out with his second quotation, perfect idealism, absolute justice, etc. ultimately result in a loss of freedom. So why be an idealist?
Perhaps it’s that there MUST be a middle way, one where we strive for anything but absolutes of any kind. Frankly, I think as a culture/society, we’re incapable of creating an absolute anyway.
If Ned wants to call himself a “discontented idealist,” then great. But, if I understand J. E. right, I’m with him–that we shackle ourselves with guilt and shame. It’s difficult for us–we’re men of the Plains–to shout out our virtues and triumphs, and that’s not what I’m advocating. But a quiet and persistent celebratory attitude toward the world seems to me a rare and beautiful thing. I think that’s what J. E. is suggesting when he says we take pleasure in the obvious things afforded us–wine and sex, etc.–and we also should take pleasure in the less obvious–pain, rot, etc. That’s a strain of Buddhist thought. Christians–and we are all born into that thinking, whether we accept it or not–find this difficult, since we’re generally taught to deny ourselves certain things.
I get caught in that. My intellect believes that we should find pleasure in whatever way we can in the smallest and largest, strangest and most ordinary places in our lives–our breath, our relationships, our art, and our crushing defeats. But it’s very, very hard to find pleasure in those crushing defeats. It’s very hard to forgive people who crush you, disappoint you. It’s hard to find pleasure in pain. I haven’t reached that next evolution. And so I tend to deny those who hurt me, deny myself of certain pleasures, or deny myself the opportunity to create pleasures for myself or for others. I recognize that as a weakness.
But as I said before, I recognize also that that denial, that need to ask permission of myself or another to exert the pleasure of writing, for instance, creates yet another obstacle in my life.
I don’t know what this means, nor do I know how all of this would boil down into a label for myself. Maybe just: hopeful.
To Any Who Read,
I think the “tone” issue is of the utmost importance here, but because there is no “tone” or “spirit” to all this blogging, words are open to interpretation.
Now that we’ve cleared that all up let me take a few more things to task. Finding pleasure in everything seems to me to be odd: menial tasks, pain, the holocaust? Finding meaning in these things, yes, absolutely. I can find meaning in suffering, but not pleasure.
I have to say that being burdened by guilt is not healthy, but being motivated by it is. When I look at this country in relation to the rest of the world I feel plenty of guilt. And I think it’s healthy guilt. Period. That does not mean, by the way, I think that we should stop writing poetry, making art, or pursuing creative ambitions (or stop having sex for that matter) to go work in a soup kitchen or be in the Peace Corps. I think this problem was part of the reason I found A Painter of Our Time to be so compelling.
Meaning is pleasure.
I’m not going to argue semantics with you, for obvious reasons. I guess I might say that I’m not going to argue with you at all. I just feel that there are moments when understanding, realization, growth, or depth of the human spirit are achieved through suffering, pain, tragedy or loss and these moments are better described by me as meaningful rather than pleasurable.
I donâ€™t think â€œpleasureâ€ is the best word nor is â€œmeaning.â€ Regardless, I donâ€™t want to argue semantics either and Iâ€™ll keep using pleasure until I can find a better word.
The pleasure that I am trying to evoke is not found in observing or recalling the suffering of others (i.e. the holocaust) nor in any idea or memory of an event. I am referring to the personal moment of experience, not reflection upon it. This pleasure is moral-less. This pleasure is vulgar because it does not reach for the higher truths as meaning sometimes does. This pleasure is not the full experience of any moment. Pain is unpleasant but it reminds me of this marvelous resource of life. It reminds me to be present.
Regarding menial tasks, I have a choice weather to take pleasure in those moments of doing useful work or to ruefully surrender that time to the past while looking only to the future. I can either own my time or give it up to the past. It is difficult, but I want to own it.
Yes of course this is Buddhist philosophy, specifically inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh who says it better:
Easy to understand. Very difficult to practice.
All this is building up to a point Iâ€™m trying to make about guilt but my coffee has run its course and now I must sleep.
Thanks for the Thich Nhat Hanh passage, J. E. Very useful and relevant, and something to strive for. And very much what I had in mind in terms of “pleasure” and “meaning” vis-a-vis living in the moment, deeply attendant to one’s task or feeling or pain or breath.
I think, J. E., you mention an important thing in what is moral-less and what is moral-ful. Admittedly, as someone who wants to attend to meaning in most if not all things, it’s very difficult not to attach morality, in some way. The difficulty may be in keeping the moral out, when it screams to be let in and attached to observation and experience. (Probably a by-product of a liberal arts education.)
Sorry about suggesting a semantic argument. I do find pleasure and meaning somehow related, but perhaps they’re not as _equated_ as I earlier suggested. Perhaps it’s that both are at some remove, ultimately, from direct experience–a Romantic notion of “recollection in tranquility.” In some way, we distance ourselves to recognize pleasure or to recognize meaning. Whereas with pain, the experience is more direct and immediate, and we don’t have the luxury of distance. Though it’s this distance that, as I take it, J. E. is arguing against. It’s this distance that makes art so often at a remove from experience, but how to close that distance is the real question–of art, of life.
Yes that is exactly it, Shotts. It is this distance from experience that Iâ€™ve been trying to reduce in my own life and, if it can be considered a separate thing at all, my creative life.
I object to arguing semantics because I am lazy. It is an argument I could really enjoy if I had you guys in the same room but composing complete sentences doesnâ€™t come as easy for some of us. I find semantics plenty interesting though.
Before you replied “meaning is pleasure” I had typed the exact phrase but decided to put it off and incorporate that point into a more thorough reply.
More on this soon. Iâ€™m not through with it.
Thanks for the block quote! I was too tired to figure it out last night but it bugged me. I hope you’re not spending too much time cleaning up our sloppy blogging habits.