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it's cold
2003-05-24 - 3:38 p.m.

Brrrr.

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Brrrrrrrrr. (This is a noise that indicates that I am cold.)

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Um, sincere apologies to Mech and Star. I got d/c and then I couldn't get back on again.

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Ok, there's this idea for a parable that I've been meaning to write. I'm just going to write it out here and you can tell me what you think. I don't think it's very good but, you know, I can work on it somehow...

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There was once a holy man, a very old and wise monk, who had two students. They followed the old man, trying to learn his wisdom so that they could be holy men themselves some day. One day the holy man said to his two students that he had to go away to meditate alone for a while, and he would set them a task so that their development could continue in his absence. Yes, great one, of course, whatever you ask, they hurriedly agreed. Well, said the holy man, here is a parchment, I want you to sit here and chant the words on the parchment for as long as you can, until I return. Alright, said the students, and the holy man went away.

When he was gone they opened the parchment they discovered it had just four words on it, written again and again, but they were used to receiving strange instructions, and so they obeyed the old man, and chanted.

When they had been chanting for some time, the sun began to go down and it became difficult to read the parchment. One of the students stopped chanting and said to the other, "You know, we should light a fire, so that we can see the parchment better." But the other thought this was ridiculous - after all, it was just four words, they had spent the better part of a day saying them again and again, it wasn't like they were going to suddenly forget what they were! But the first student was enraged and said, our master said we were to chant the words from the parchment - not from memory! Either they would obey him completely or not at all!

And so the second student became angry too - did the master expect them to throw away their common sense just because the literal word of his instructions called for them to read from the parchment? The two students were so angry at each other that they began fighting, and in the heat of the moment, one of them hit the other with a rock, broke his head and killed him. Feeling completely justified in his actions, he sat down again to resume to work the master had set him, and began chanting: "Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not kill..."

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Ok, and here's some more stuff, some writing I did for my PhD today.

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What’s the frightening part of choice? What am I reluctant to say?

I think maybe the anxiety about making the right choice is somewhat like the Winnicottian anxiety that one brings on to disguise one’s real fear… I’m anxious about making the right choice, because I’d rather be afraid of that than face the possibility that my choices don’t matter. It’s certainly a much more depressing prospect. Like Anny in Nausea, looking for perfect moments, looking for some way to make a dull and empty world feel as though it had something of some importance or significance in it, I want there to be a right choice that I can figure out. When one has enjoyed a certain number of successes and failures, and realised that both are transitory, it is possible to start believing they are the same as one another, that there is no true success, no true failure. Every test is like that… throwing a coin on the ground and guessing which face is up. You succeed or fail but feel no despair or elation because there is no horizon of meaning to make it feel that something has happened. So, yes, the anxiety is a way of trying to produce difference… this empty, boring world can be made into something if I torture myself over these little decisions… I can have the anxiety about whether or not I am going to be right, followed by relief or despair when the guess is revealed as right or wrong. Anny tries to engineer a perfect moment, feels anxious as she waits to see if it will come about, and the despair that follows from other people failing to fulfill their role is at least something, some event, to tell her that these situations are real, have real consequences, there lies a horizon of meaning.

And so the obsession with drama and conflict; again, we are desperately trying to create difference when we set up these oppositions. Because we are afraid that without difference then life isn’t worth living. It’s all the same, every song on the radio leaves you feeling nothing, you eat or sleep or walk about and it all ends up in the same place, life isn’t interesting at all, you know all this stuff already, everything takes an effort and gives back less than it cost you to get it, you’re just mechanically going through the motions of doing what you’ve done a thousand times before and what millions of others have done billions of times before… useless redundant existences piled endlessly on top of each other. Everything just exists, and that is all that really matters about it, the rest are superficial distinctions, but to exist is the one thing that they all have in common… but any one thing existing is enough, all the rest is redundant, it’s all just the same…

…rather than get too close to this sort of thinking, we employ violence, the violent spasm, as a way of getting a sense of movement, or purpose, destiny. Nationalism is so bizarre unless you think of it as a way of escaping from something even worse. A Godless universe. Nationalism is the modern religion… because we have lost faith in a magical world, an enchanted world, the wonder of fairyland… then we try to replace it with something else, some other ideal world to which we can aspire. But religion… not all religions are the same, each has a specific character and specific consequences, has its own spirit.

Or perhaps… perhaps it is precisely the fear that they are, in fact, all the same, that makes them struggle against each other. This is the paradox of Australian nationalism, that we can be fiercely patriotic about a historical accident that has no clearly obvious distinguishing characteristics. But when people talk about the national character, or write those magazine articles about what it means to be Australian, then there’s a great deal of anxiety in them… none that I’ve seen has dared to suggest that there is no national character, that we are more or less like any other modern people…

…we do have something, I think, some kind of national spirit, but it isn’t embodied in any of these specific things, like Hill’s hoists, or notions, like mateship, that people want to find it in. It’s not… we use the words “spirit” and “soul” and “ghost” precisely because they are diffuse and intangible. You don’t whirl and point a finger and say, “There it is!”, but nonetheless, when you are in the presence of it you can feel that it’s around.

But if I believe that the world is enchanted, that we are surrounded by these wonderful intangible spirits, why am I afraid that they are not there, that the world is a dull and empty accretion of superfluous existences?

Calling the third part of the trinity “The Holy Ghost” has always disturbed me… maybe because it seemed incongruous, somehow connecting Casper the Friendly Ghost, or the various Halloween people-under-sheets, with something that ought to be transcendant and special. I don’t know. But maybe part of the reason I get disenchanted is that I want to deny certain ghosts their existence, either because they scare me or disturb me or have a character that I dislike… when one is not inhabited by a spirit, it is ugly… or I hate those who are inhabited by it.

This appears in Simmel, I think. He says that money makes everything equivalent to everything else… and then it gets dragged down into a feeling of worthlessness in which the self is inextricably entangled. It’s all garbage… and so am I.

I have my answers to this, I suppose, ways of coping with sameness that do not rely on oppositions, but I worry that I go to them too quickly, that I don’t fully and properly acknowledge the horror of sameness that I feel, and others must deal with, too. I go to those answers so hurriedly because I do not want to spend too long contemplating the possibility that they are not real, maybe they are illusions, and the whole world really is all one undifferentiated mass of boring matter… The trouble, I suppose, is that the possibility is so awful that never wants to spend long with it, and so there are a variety of ways of getting out of it… either by looking for distractions, or looking for enchantment, or stirring things up with one of those violent spasms, those anxious fluctuations… “looking for enchantment” usually fails, and I think that that is what makes me cynical and dubious about its existence, because… it is only by entering into the spirit of despair, the ghost of despair, that one can find the magic that is already present. One is rescued from misery not by the gods of joy but by misery’s own gods…

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"Ne me quitte pas" - Jacques Brel


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