Wednesday, July 4, 2007


You're on to my tricks by now. Drifting until I spy my theme, then pouring out images in great emotional waves until we're swept away or overwhelmed. The sudden shift of direction, changing tone and topic, almost aimlessly, only to draw the strings together at the end in a violent knot. Part of it is art. But I have other outlets for art. What I'm doing here is just talking. You know how people talk. They ramble. They hardly ever listen. I observe the arc of most conversation, and that's what I see. Well? Here I'm talking to myself. If you listen, I hope you get out of it what one hopes to get from a conversation. But I am, after all, talking to myself.

As must be the case when someone is caught talking to himself, it's a bit off-putting to be found out. I hadn't really believed anyone hears me, here. Tonight someone I have a slight acquaintance with mentioned that he had dropped by. Yes. The door is after all open. But suddenly to find oneself not entirely alone is a little startling. The door is open though. You know what you do, with open doors. You look in. Sometimes face forward, out of the corner of your eyes. Sometimes sticking your head in. Rarely someone steps over the threshold and engages me. Yes. All are welcome.

But I'm not really all that friendly a guy. It's not on purpose. I wish it were different. I'd like to be warm and approachable. I'd like to be hospitable and gracious. I'd like to be friendly. That's a good way to be. I am the Lord of Ice.

There was a time when I was terrifically less inhibited than now. But that was motivated by anger. Life has taught me the futility of anger, and it's left me with hardly any personality at all. I need to build another, but after this long I doubt that I can.

Perhaps it was last week that I was riffing on the theme, and in a loud and overbearing voice I said something like, "A man doesn't need anyone." It was only later I realized that this was actually one of the things my father used to say. Out loud. Not talking to himself, but to us, his sons, as if it were a true thing that a father would want to impart to his heirs.

That's just insane.

But it's also programming. It is certainly more than 35 years since I last heard it, but there it was, ready to be spoken in a loud and overbearing voice.

I was a really good kid. I remember from every age being distressed at dishonesty, and unkindness, and injustice. There seems to have been so much of that sort of thing. Ah well, we can't change the past. Maybe we can't even change the present. Some scripts take on the depth, the deep, engraved-tablet gravity of holy writ. I'm like that. A thing is what it is. That's how I look at the world. And the fact that I was a good kid, who revered his father and believed his every word -- well, that seems not to have been wisdom. I have believed lies, for all that my childhood was a vertiginous, nauseating hall of mirrors where I knew that something was terribly, terribly wrong.

I was an angry teenager and a self-righteous adult, and now I'm broken and don't know how to change. I say it dryly, with no affect. That's just how it is. Well, no. It's not that I don't know how to change. Of course I know how to change. Say yes instead of no. I know how to do that. It's a matter of courage. Of energy and will. And again without emotion, I can say I'm pretty much out of all that.

I've said some pretty raw things, buried in these pages. About abuse. About self-worth. About pain and betrayal and loss and despair. You have no right to be impatient with me. You are my guest, and I require courtesy from my guests. It's not that executions need witnesses. It's that I want company. So I leave the door open, and you stand there at the threshold and nod or shake your head. I won't make eye contact with you, but I know you're there. Do you think it's enough? If it's all there is, it has to be.

You see? No tricks. Just me, doing what I do. Trying to be honest. Trying to dig up the bodies and identify them for proper burial. I must be tired, to be so artless. Maybe artlessness is the trick though. Or maybe I'm just talking to myself, with nobody listening. I thought I knew you were there.



The Chieftain Of Seir said...

Even when you are talking to somebody face to face, there is nobody listening. Communication is one of those big jokes that we humans perpetuate for who knows what reason. That is why people need so much alcohol to have a proper social gathering. Without it, the fiction can get hard to sustain.

Talking to other people does have it uses though. It can lead to despair. And it is only through despair that we can see beauty

Jack H said...

I'm not one to argue, but I simply cannot agree. We must be using different definitions for "despair."

Yesterday was my son's birthday. The day he was born was the most beautiful day there ever has been. The sky sang, for its blueness. There were patches of grass showing in the snow, and the world was never so young. Everything became something better. Where is despair, here?

Yes, there is pain, but it is not through pain that we feel pleasure. Spice might increase flavor, but it doesn't create it. Adam didn't need sin to know love -- he needed it to know righteousness.

When God made the world and all that is in it, and pronounced it good, he knew what lay ahead, but did not despair for it. Creation was beautiful in itself.

Jesus on the cross cried out not in despair -- *why have you forsaken me* -- but from the depth of pain. Despair, after all, means giving up. The cross is exactly the opposite of giving up.

Hopelessness? There is beauty only through hopelessness? Is there goodness only through evil? Is there joy only through anguish? There may be a pleasant and superficial symmetry to such formulations, but the reasoning is fallacious. God was good, before there was evil. The angels sang before there was betrayal. Hope is a light that shines in darknesses other than only despair. In fact, there is no light in despair. If there is no light, how could we see beauty?

As for the joke of communication, again I have to disagree. Nobody is listening? Surely you are wrong. That we listen imperfectly doesn't make us nobody. That our understanding is flawed will not diminish our effort.

It is an error do demand perfection. Of course those who love us will fall short of our demands. Our demands are unreasonable. Our demands are foolish. Just because there is frustration doesn't mean we shouldn't try. It's called learning -- we get better at the things we practice.

Why do we communicate, or try?

In any case, jokes are a form of communication. Your position is self-refuting. Despair and any effort to communication cannot exist together.


The Chieftain Of Seir said...

That got more of a reaction out of you than I thought it would. Truth be told, I am not even sure why I left that comment except that I am currently not accomplishing what I wanted to accomplish. Playing the troll on your site seemed like it would bring some welcome relief from banging my head against the wall.

Inadvertently though, you proved my point about communication with your response. We can hardly be said to be communicating. No new insights have passed between us. We are talking to phantoms in our own minds and lashing out with arguments that only make sense to ourselves.

And that is the general form of all human communication. We listen to one another only long enough to figure out what kind of mental box we should drop someone in. We ponder just long enough to figure out if someone is conservative, liberal, or just boring. Then we launch into answers meaningful only to someone who already shares our thoughts.

We seek out those who are like us because our conversations are like talking to ourselves and the commonality of thought spares us the discordant notes. We avoid talking about subjects that we know we will disagree on precisely because we have given up on communication.

Of course, I haven't given up on communication. But then, I am an irrational man. I believe in the miraculous. I think that the dead can live. Such a belief is a necessary precursor to belief in communication. For it is only those that live that can hear and respond.

But I don't think that a rational man has any reason to hope that communication will accomplish anything other then signaling the box that we belong to. We are dead things governed by our a priori. Your cute little piece on communication capturers the desire of the living dead to know, but it fails to recognize that they can not hear.

Am I boring you? I suggest a beer. It makes all forms of human conversation easier to bear.

As for me, I eschew the alcohol because I am afraid that it might mask the despair. And without despair, I would not be able to recognize the beauty.

But as you say, you simply cannot agree with any formulation that has despair as a revealer of beauty. I can accept that. Though if you want honesty; if you believe that it can actually accomplish something to speak ones thoughts freely; then I will confess that I would prefer to be disagreed with personally rather then have a phantom sacrificed in my stead.

Less metaphorically, I don't recognize the argument that you took the time to argue against. In so far as it possible to know one's self, I don't think that it was my argument you are arguing against.

Now I fully accept that your mind must be governed by your perceptions just as my mind must be governed by my perceptions. So I can't say that you were wrong to perceive my comment as you did. But the fact that I cannot authoritatively say that you are wrong in your perceptions of what I say is the driving force behind my despairing comments on communication. We can say what we like, but it has little to do with what the other person hears.

Jack H said...

Oh, just give me something to get my teeth into. Don't tell anyone, but I was lying about not wanting to argue.

The test of communication is not that something new has been said. We'd stop talking pretty quickly, if that were the case. And that our perceptions are not direct, but as you suggest, the mere image of phantoms -- well, haven't I already said as much?

"Words and sentences do not correspond to reality ... they are mere approximations. This is certainly true, just as what we see is not what actually is: the translation of reflected photons through the cornea and into neural impulses within the retina, processed in the visual cortex of the brain and somehow transferred from the distorted cortical map to be imprinted upon our consciousness -- none of this is the actual thing that we see. Of course not. Color blindness and the need for glasses demonstrates this. Reality doesn't have blurry gray edges. Or maybe it does. Both perception and communication are compromises. Is this not true? / If all this is bullshit, as it is, well..."

[From my brilliant "On the Existence of Rocks." cf. -- probably the best essay on philosophy ever written.]

We are a couple of pompous gasbags, aren't we. Blah blah blah. But that proves MY case, bucko. Your arguments make sense to me. I just don't agree with them. That doesn't prove the futility of communication. It proves free will. Somewhere from within the willful cosmos of our egos, we still know that someone else matters. If it weren't so, we wouldn't bother. To try to establish some sort of communion isn't lashing out, it's reaching out. This seems more redemptive than aggressive. Are we pathetic? Most certainly. Love me all the more, for that.

Yes, we certainly do listen so that we may put someone into a category. It's a reflection of our need to organize the apparent anarchy of the universe. But this is not the ONLY reason we listen. (You might have a little penchant for overstatement.) Finding such similarities, that we may categorize, is a necessary aspect of intelligence. Association is how memory functions. It's just and aspect of data storage and retrieval, and the only important problem that arises from this, generally, would be that we get lazy, and think that similarities tell the whole story. Yes, this little digression of mine might seem like I just listen for something that I can respond to. It might also seem like two people sharing new things. New, even if only to this conversation. I find no embarrassment in this.

I have found that those who disagree with me can be good listeners. For all that I like to play the cynic, I've seen minds changed.

It's best to give up on communications with fools. Hardly anyone is really a fool. It's just that we have to deal first with their sense of dignity. When the walls come down, reality breaks in. I wrote something here called "Travail,"

on abortion. It got a fair bit of feedback. Touches on the issue at hand. Point is, anyone with the courage to examine a case honestly risks having to change. It's not that communication is futile, it's that it is dangerous.

Did I write a cute little piece on communication?

I've never tasted beer. Haven't you been listening?

I hope I didn't sound like I was saying despair cannot play a part in revealing beauty. It's just the formulation as an absolute that I was responding to. We mustn't mistake the frame for the picture. I'm not one to romanticize suffering. It comes. Hopefully it goes. I've balanced on the precipice of despair a few times -- too often to respect it. It just sounds something like saying you need to be in a wheelchair to dance properly. Uh, no?

I don't know if they were arguments or not, but what I was responding to were the statements, "Communication is one of those big jokes..." and it's "only through despair that we can see beauty". I'm too important and busy to parse myself, re these two, but I expect that everything I wrote addresses in some way one or the other of those to absolutes.

Mate, if you despair because people form wrong conclusions through sloppy listening, well, then you can't be wrong. If that is your expectation, you are right to feel hopeless. But why stop there? How do you know you perceive your own thoughts accurately?


The Chieftain Of Seir said...

I kind of gathered that you liked to argue while reading your blogs. I like to argue myself. But If I am going to do something, I like to do it all the way. That is why I put links to essays that I have written in my comments on your blog. I figure if you wanted to argue, they would give you something to argue with. If you just wanted to brush me off, no need to go further.

If you read the relevant essays that I have written and I read your relevant posts it will save us both from having to reinvent the wheel. We will still have an argument, but at least we will a better idea of where we are coming from.

Of course, you may not have time for that. But then, you don't really have time for an argument. I don't believe in doing anything half assed.

As it stands now, to carry on a proper argument I would have to go over a bunch of things already covered in one of my essays just to get the argument going.

For example, on the subject of Despair/Beauty I would have to explain my conception of beauty, why I think some people embrace an aesthetic that is nothing but despair, what I think the results of trying to have aesthetic without despair are and I why I think such an aesthetic has no beauty, and last of all, the alternative to those two aesthetics. All that is covered in my essay The Aesthetic of Despair.

Is there anything to be really gained by spelling it out to you piece by piece in the comment section?

A similar situation applies to my dim views on communication. Only in this case, I have been sloppy with my language. Properly speaking, I have a dim view of reason. Since reason is a major part of worthwhile communication I often treat the two subjects as if they were the same.

Spinoza, Einstein, and the Failure of Reason is my essay on that subject. I recommended that you save that essay for some other life though. It is too long for most mere mortals to be able to follow the argument.

Since I have a dim view of what reason can accomplish, I don't expect arguing to accomplish a lot (barring a miracle), but I do enjoy the exercise.

And since you asked at the end of your last comment, my essay called An Apology describes what I had hoped to achieve with my essay site. By extension, it also describes what I hope to achieve by communicating with people. But that essay is not really relevant to either of my arguments.

Jack H said...

I actually did go through some of the essays you've posted, some days ago. That I haven't cited them here is certainly not meant to be taken as a brush off. But I'm sure you'll be the first to point out that your efforts are of no small length, and it seems not entirely reasonable to engage in what would necessarily be a massive correspondence of quibbling and contradictions, or of slavering and fawning agreement, as the case may be. We are busy men, and I for one find ad hoc conversations far more appealing than rehashing old posts, yours or mine. I drop in links of my own, but would take no offense whatsoever from anyone not clicking on them. They are ancillary, and free-standing, and there for edification and amusement, should anyone be pleased to look.

I would suppose that a courteous and convenient convention would be to cut and paste in any particularly salient passage from one's work. I've been known to do that. In fact, I did it here. One of the things I've learned in formal writing (which none of this is) is that every effort must be made to increase the convenience and understanding of the reader. Thus, quotes instead of links.

As for arguments, I'm afraid I wasn't quite straight before. I must have my little jokes. I really don't want to argue. I do enjoy it, or used to, but it just gets old. I have other and more direct outlets now, for my competitiveness. That which you do, do it with all thine heart. My heart is not in arguing. See me 30 years ago, if that's what you want from me.

If you want a conversation, why that would be great. I love to converse. I don't think of it as re-inventing the wheel. I think of it as being human. One of the benefits of "spelling out" your views in a comments section is that the ideas are streamlined. Honestly, C, these aren't subjects of such arcane complexity that thousands of words must be dedicated to their explication. Idiots don't read my blog. I appeal to bright people, who are capable of apprehending subtle thoughts without being hit over the head with multiple explanations. None of the ideas I lay out here are hard to grasp. I imagine it's how I say things rather than what I say, that holds any appeal I might have. Same with all of us. Keep it simple. We get it. You do, and I do, and we all do.

As for the aesthetics of beauty and despair, I responded some weeks ago, in "On the Existence of Rocks." Upshot is, philosophy is bullshit. Mine most certainly is a crass and philistian opinion, and one that is not entirely consistent, but there will be no apology for any of that. I try to be pragmatic, and where I'm not, I indulge myself according to whim. Both beauty and despair are feelings, with both of which I have had some dealings. This reality beats the hell out of any musings I might indulge in about their aesthetics. As I say, unapologetically crass. I think of it as one of my endearing qualities.

The cold fact is that I just flat out disagree with you, about the beauty of despair. I simply see your case as manifestly wrong. There isn't likely to be any point or example you could raise, to change this fundamental stance. I don't mean to be close-minded. It's just that one does, finally, grow up and form a worldview. Any argument on your part regarding the b of d must ignore or idealize the reality of what despair actually is -- the thing that causes suicide. Yeah, to think it's pretty is really Goth. But the Goths are adolescents. I do not take my moral or aesthetic instruction from death-worshipers.

Your statement that you take a dim view of reason is peculiar. Why argue, then? Do you mean a dim view of most people's faulty reasoning? If so, that wouldn't apply to *this* conversation, now, would it. What I took away from your very very very long essay on reason is that you seem to have failed to draw out the importance of the truth of premises, in logical (read reasonable) formulations. A syllogism may be valid without being true. All men have beards; Socrates is a man: therefore, Socrates has a beard. It's logically valid. It's just not true. Not all men have beards, therefore Socrates may or may not have a beard. We do not bring reason into disrepute because people have erroneous axioms. We use rationality to identify their axioms, and if they cannot be corrected or convinced, we agree to disagree, or we recognize an enemy, or what have you. Reason brings us to clarity, when used rightly. You surely did not mean that you take a dim view of this process.

If I may be blunt, if your Spinoza piece is too long to follow, the operative failure isn't in reason but in your writing. We write to be understood, and length most certainly matters. Most certainly. You and I might enjoy a leisurely read, but we are exceptions. And frankly, I only enjoy a leisurely read if the writing is of absolutely stellar quality. Anything less should be brief. Like this is.

And by the way, Kierkegaard is demonstrably wrong. Animals despair. We know this from studies of drowning rats. They learn hope when they are rescued, and swim for longer next time, by orders of magnitude. Hope, as you know, is the counterpart of despair. Hope is learned. Despair then doesn't make us infinitely sublime spirits. It's just something that animals feel.


The Chieftain Of Seir said...

I am not a busy man. I am young punk. I make my living by working as a glorified (in terms of what I get paid anyway) laborer. I use my free time in an effort to improve my mind. I don't have the time constraints that you have.

On the other hand, I don't have the talents that you have either. I can’t say anything meaningful in short paragraphs written on the fly. It takes work for me to speak. If I were to try to express the thoughts in my essay in ad hoc conversation, I would wind up using as many words as are in my essays to less effect.

That is why I play the troll. I don't really expect my essays to be read. Instead, my links to them serve as kind of psychological justfaction for myself. As long as they are there, I can pretend that it is my readers fault for not understanding me. I can laugh at them, instead of at myself.

Really, I know the truth. It is always the writer's job to be understood. But human psychology does not require the truth to make us happy. At least, not in the short term.

I don't want to waste your time. I would like to be concise and carry on an honest conversation. I really would. But I don't know how.

That is why, to my mind, the only real alternative to playing the troll is to just to let things drop. If I try to be concise, we will get nowhere.

You doubt me. But you have already read the most concise statement of my views on despair that I can conceive off. It was that statement by Kierkegaard that led off my essay on despair….

Is despair an excellence or a defect? Purely dialectically, it is both. The possibility of this sickness is man’s superiority over the animal, for it indicates infinite sublimity that he is spirit. Consequently, to be able to despair is an infinite advantage, and yet to be in despair is not only the worst misfortune and misery—no, it is ruination.

You apparently read that statement. And how did you respond to it?

By saying that Kierkegaard was proven wrong by some carrot/stick study that was undertaken with rats. That study with rats was so utterly beside the point that you might as well have said that Kierkegaard was wrong because the sky is blue.

Do you really think that Kierkegaard thought that ceasing an activity that has no foreseeable benefit was proof of the existence of the spirit? If so, you must have read the above passage with the presumption that Kierkegaard was a fool.

For the sake of an argument, grant that animals do not despair as human's do. Would that prove that man has a spirit? Similarly, if an animal does despair, does that prove that animals have spirits?

The answer to those questions all depends on your understanding of the nature of despair. The key to Kierkegaard statement is not the nature of man, but the nature of despair.

I did not put Kierkegaard statement at the head of my essay because I thought it proved anything in and of itself. Rather, I wanted to prepare people for the idea that I would be advancing. My essay took so long because I could conceive of no other way of giving meaning to Kierkegaard's concise words.

Does that mean that Kierkegaard's words are not true or does it mean that I am bad writer? Or could it be that it is just a complex topic that cannot be easily handled given the limitations of human thought and human language?

But you have ruled out that last possibility. You say, Honestly, C, these aren't subjects of such arcane complexity that thousands of words must be dedicated to their explication. Idiots don't read my blog. I appeal to bright people, who are capable of apprehending subtle thoughts without being hit over the head with multiple explanations.

You must have at least one idiot reading your blog. Because I did not come to my views easily and I still cannot articulate them easily.

You say "The cold fact is that I just flat out disagree with you, about the beauty of despair. I simply see your case as manifestly wrong. There isn't likely to be any point or example you could raise, to change this fundamental stance. I don't mean to be close-minded. It's just that one does, finally, grow up and form a worldview. Any argument on your part regarding the b of d must ignore or idealize the reality of what despair actually is -- the thing that causes suicide. Yeah, to think it's pretty is really Goth. But the Goths are adolescents. I do not take my moral or aesthetic instruction from death-worshipers."

Tell me, why do the Goth think that despair is beautiful? Why do they think that death is the only real thing? What gives despair its appeal?

I think those questions are worth answering. The Goth are as human as we are.

But don't confuse me with the Goth. I don't think that despair has any beauty and I look forward to the day that it is done away with. I hold with Kierkegaard who said that despair was the most horrible of things known to man. So how can you say that I hold that despair has beauty?

That is rhetorical statement of course. I know you took the first sentence of my essay as straightforward statement of my views and that is why you presume that I think despair is beautiful. One would have thought that you of all people would have been able to recognizes statements were not meant to be taken completely seriously…….

But we will let that pass.

If you wanted a quick and easy way to pinhole what I think about despair you should have glanced at the end of the essay instead of the beginning. For at the end, I said….

But many people love The Lord of the Rings without thinking about why they do and what about it moves them. They don’t stop to realize that the beauty of Tolkien’s work depends on your perception of the otherworldly. Speaking to a grieving Arwen, Aragorn says “I speak no comfort to you, for there is no comfort for such pain within the circles of the world.” Tolkien himself faced the modern world and he too felt the despair. He saw that no other aesthetics were possible in the circle of this world than that of Saruman or Denethor. To rephrase this in the terms of this essay, Tolkien saw no choice in the circle of this world except the aesthetic of Warhol or the Goths. But as Aragorn also said to Arwen “In sorrow we must go, but not in despair. Behold! We are not bound forever to the circles of the world, and beyond that is more than memory.” This was Tolkien answer to the modern aesthetics. To Tolkien there was no beauty to found in them because anything that denied the otherworldly would never be beautiful.

Whether you hold with Tolkien’s aesthetic or not, the fact remains that in the circle of this world despair is the only possible base for an aesthetic. Unless of course, you think being drunk counts as valid aesthetic. For whatever the universe may do, we can see the downward spiral that happens in our very own bodies. That downward spiral testifies to us that the things that we love of this world are as ephemeral as dreams. If we don’t bury that thought in our minds; if we face the fact that everything we look at is dying, how can we do anything else but despair?

But despair is not to be despised. For despair is like a purifying fire that burns the dross and reveals the gold. If you can not see any gold, it is not the fault of the fire. But if the fire does reveal gold, than you will learn to love the burning for what it reveals.

I am afraid that taking those last few paragraphs out of their context will give you as many misconceptions about my views as you just glancing at the first couple of paragraphs. But that is the nature of being concise.

But I see that I am approaching 3 pages so I guess I will stop playing the troll and let the matter drop. Vanity of vanities as the preacher says….

Jack H said...

Yuck. I had no idea I was wasting my time with a young punk. I feel so ... cheated. Hardly seems worth the effort. I suppose you're busy too, though, what with your slam dancing and all the face tattoos and genital piercing you have to get. Good thing you're well-paid. Hair gel gets expensive. Oh, by the way, son, could you spare a poor albeit monstrously talented old man a little change?

Thank you, thank you. But seriously folks...

First rule of good writing: organize. Second rule of good writing: get rid of the extra words.

I don't doubt you. I think you're wrong. You're sounding quite honest. But you've set up a false dilemma. There is at least a third choice, other than verbosity or silence. That you're saying you don't have the skill to communicate efficiently may or may not be honest, or true, but it is not cause for quitting. It really is a matter of discipline. Skills are learned. There is no pass for just wanting something. Earn it. A saying among writers is, Kill your babies. If it's good but purposeless, dump it. For real writing, I mean, not these little jottings.

We'll just have do disagree regarding K and my rejection of his reasoning. I don't call the studies I've cited carrot/stick. That would be behaviourism. This is not behaviourism. This is classical observation and deductive reasoning. We cannot state for a fact that drowning rats that chose to give up are feeling despair. We cannot say it, because they cannot utter a verbal statement telling us of their feelings. But we don't need such statements from mutes, to know that they have feelings. Observation is sufficient. It would over-extend the evidence to suppose there is some other motive for the like-actions of rats. In logic and science it's called Occam's Razor -- the principle of parsimony that forbids the multiplication of causes. We go for simplicity, unless contingencies require more. Get it? If it swims like a rat, and drowns like a rat, it's a rat. If it's over our heads, and blue, it's the sky. The water is despair. The sky is hope. Both are blue, but we do not confuse the two. Easy.

K was a fool. It doesn't matter how gracefully one presents ideas. Somewhere, truth and validity must make an appearance. To be the nominative founder of a school of thought that raises angst and nausea to the highest tier of human expression is no recommendation. Boo hoo. Now get over yourself.

Ceasing an activity that has no foreseeable benefit is not what despair is. So no, I don't suppose that's what K imagined proved the existence of spirit.

You offer up an inchoate syllogism: "For the sake of an argument, grant that animals do not despair as human's do. Would that prove that man has a spirit?" No. "Similarly, if an animal does despair, does that prove that animals have spirits?" No.

Syllogistically -- *Things that despair have spirit; humans despair; therefore, humans have spirit.* Logically valid, whether or not true. Or: *Things that despair have spirit; animals do not despair; therefore, animals do not have spirit.* Logically not valid, regardless of whether or not it's true.

As you say, then, it depends on what despair is. First we define our terms, then we observe. Despair is not simply the halting of futile circumstances, or the feeling that accompanies futility. There is after all frustration, and efficacy. I said it at the onset -- despair has to do with hope. They are linked pairs, flipsides. The presence of one is the absence of the other. That's where the rat studies come in. Regardless of any putative affect, the observed result of rats being rescued is that next time they would survive longer. Certainly it's learning. But it is learned hope. If I last a little longer, I might be rescued. Hope. A kind of trust. So yes, C, using the objective definition of despair as the absence of hope, and making the concrete observation that animals can learn to hope, I conclude, syllogistically, that spirit is not defined by the ability to despair. Maybe animals have spirit, and maybe they don't. Rather like the possibility that the sky is blue. But both maybes are irrelevant to the meaning of despair. Therefore, K is a fool.

That you haven't arrived at your positions easily and aren't able to express them succinctly has nothing to do with idiocy. I said "apprehending subtle thoughts without being hit over the head with multiple explanations," not "expressing thoughts concisely". Apples and oranges. One has to do with understanding good writing, the other has to do with being a good writer. See? I didn't say that good writers read my blog. Get it? Or should I say it some other way? Use up a lot more words, in case too many already are still not enough? Huh? What do you think? Should I? What you like that? Would that work for you?

Goths? You tell me: Why do serial killer think that sadistic murder is sexy? Why is blood the only thing that gives them an erection? What gives terror its appeal?

I think those questions are worth answering. The sexual sadists are as human as we are.

"But we will let that pass." Big of you. But let's not. I have supposed you think there is beauty in despair because you titled your treatise "The Aesthetic of Despair." The primary definition of aesthetics is, *that branch of philosophy that deals with the nature and expression of beauty.* And then, when you say things like "it is only through despair that we can see beauty" -- well it just seemed like there was a connection. Call me mad.

"you should have glanced at the end of the essay..." I did. It goes back to the idea of massive correspondences. There's hardly a sentence or a conclusion that I agree with. Overstated, of course, but fundamentally true. I just did it mentally -- went through your two quoted concluding paragraphs -- and I could argue against just about every statement. Parse the whole ponderous complexity of your inconcise tome? Your ideas are not as complex as you seem to imagine.

No insult implied. I could be wrong. If we approach it in a spirit of good-will, we might be edified. But I'm not edified so much by the presence of many words, as by an honest, non-intoxicated conversation. Like what I'm having with you.

Of the writing of books, there is no end.

Ave atque vale.


The Silverware Thief said...


Third party intruding here . . .

Jack, in your opening comment in this thread you said, "We must be using different definitions for 'despair.'" Later, you defined despair, saying, "Both beauty and despair are feelings".

I understand your definition. But I am interested in your thoughts about despair as viewed from a spiritual perspective. That is, rather than the passing emotive impulses you defined, what about hope and despair as spiritual states?

The Apostle Paul has said, "remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world" (Eph. 2:12 NIV). Viewing things from this spiritual perspective, would you agree that "without hope and without God" would define spiritual despair?

Then, separate from God we are in a state of spiritual despair, reconciled to God we are in a state of spiritual hope. The spiritual despair is the result of spiritual recognition that we cannot live up to the holy standard of God (without hope) and the consequent death/separation from God (without God).

All men begin in the state of sin, aware of their state because God's "eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse" (Romans 1:20 NIV). But from this common state their comes a division, as it is said elsewhere, "Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death" (2 Cor. 7:10 NIV), or if I may adapt that slightly to the present circumstance, "Godly despair brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly despair brings death."

Those whom God has called come to despair of a salvation by their own efforts and by faith recognize that, "when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly" (Romans 5:6 NIV), but as to the rest, "The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God" (2 Cor. 4:4 NIV). Thus the world blinds itself either by reveling in the very things of their despair (every type of wickedness) or else by pretending there is no cause for despair (that is, by attempting to convince themselves that they really aren't wicked). But to those whom God has called the spiritual despair leads to repentance and faith in Christ Jesus, our hope and deliverance from that despair.

In this fallen world despair is very real and necessary. For, those who are in Christ must despair of all possibility for salvation in themselves and cling to Christ. In coming to life in Christ one moves from despair and death to hope and life. The rest of the world continues in spiritual despair.

Your thoughts? This may do nothing for your disagreements with the Chieftain, but do you agree or disagree with this articulation of spiritual despair?

Jack H said...

Greetings Jean. Despair is crushing. I don't mean refining. I see it as utterly negative. To be brought low is one thing -- necessary, frankly, that humility might bring us to, uh, repentance. To see our dreams destroyed is painful, but we might dream again. When it finally overtakes us that we will never succeed, never be happy, cannot be saved, must always fail -- that's a bit closer to what I mean, when I say despair. Despair is the certain knowledge of complete and inevitable futility. It is the farthest end of the dark side of the continuum.

I clarified myself, I trust, later. Beauty as a feeling is a pretty sloppy formulation -- of course I would have meant the apprehension of beauty. And while the experience of despair might seem like an absence of affect, that would be more depression than despair. I’d have to think about it, but it seems like there is a fair bit of energy involved in despair. It’s a sort of determination, a sort of resolve. It’s a commitment to proving that there is no love, or goodness, or light. As I say, it is the far end of a continuum. There are all sorts of gradations to negativity. But despair must mean that the universe is fundamentally meaningless, and a fraud. So it could become a sort of cause, a defining purpose. Manifestly evil.

Lots of people are without God, yet not despairing. False hope is still hope. No one who has hope can despair. It's the awareness of hopelessness that makes the difference. It might come to us all. In it I find no good thing, and if I cry out to be rescued from that body of death -- well, I wouldn’t cry out, because no one will ever answer. Despair. The gates of hell are marked by it. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.

As for being reconciled with God, I don’t see that this involves hope. Seems like knowledge, to me. When we trust, we don’t need to hope. I hope the sun will rise. Rather a silly sounding statement. We might be using the word loosely, as referring to the thing we look forward to -- the hope of his appearing, and all that. But I do like to be precise, when I remember to be.

As you know, the natural man is dead in his spirit. Natural is of course *psuche*, *soulish*. There isn’t really such a thing, then, as spiritual despair. How can a dead thing despair? Psyche, nephesh, the body of mind and emotion, most certainly can despair. As for whether or not someone who has a revivified spirit can despair, that would depend on one’s view of the permanence of salvation. I think that the Shepherd knows his flock, and who can snatch one of his own out from his hand? So the spiritual man cannot truly despair. So it seems to me. It can certainly feel like despair. It’s just depression.

As I’ve said, hope can be learned. That must make despair a reversible decision. I think it can be repented. But then there’s the case of Judas, who tasted of the blessings and then went and did, quickly, what he did. Pretty unforgivable. This might mean there’s a sort of gray area, where knowledge is sufficient to make despair unpardonable. Ah well. It’s beyond me.

There is psychology, and philosophy, and all the wisdom of men. I seem to recall that certain of the apostles didn’t have so high a view of such things. I see it all as devolving from the natural man. We do what we can with what we have. We might even call soul by the name spirit, if we don’t know the difference. Perhaps we might be called out of our foolishness. Perhaps as we feel overwhelmed, and could swim more but feel we cannot, so that we sink -- perhaps some hand will reach out and take hold of us and pull us up into warmth and safety and comfort. This might happen even if we neglect to cry out, because we know that no one hears. It might happen. Someone might see us in our distress, in our despair, and have pity on us, or compassion. We might be shown grace. We might learn hope. How are we to know? Some are left to drown.

Despair is only as necessary as Hell is. In it I find no good thing. It is the body of death.