The Field of Being

Georges de La Tour’s Magdelen and the Smoking Flame. 1640

William Barrett, in his Irrational Man, introduces us to Existentialism and summarizes the development of Western Thought in the process. The book came out in 1958, but can be read fruitfully and applied productively to the problems we face today.

In the section on Heidegger, whom I haven’t read in years but should return to, Barrett discusses Heidegger’s Field Theory of Being, and places it in historical context.

The Greeks were the first to remove objects from their surroundings, their background, their context, so they could study them in isolation.…

The Divine Invention

The Beguiling of Merlin, by Edward Coley Burne-Jones. 1874

 The truly divine thing is invention, creation, imagination. All religions were created by novelists and poets. That has been on my mind and under my thoughts for decades. It reached the surface again tonight, like the creative process itself. In a rush, a burst, a light coming on against nuanced black. We tell stories. Some of us make stories. Some repeat them. But novelists invent, poets invent. Song-writers invent. They take things from nature and their own lives and think again. They expand from kernels and images they can’t escape. They weave and add new people and make stories for them, too.…

Meaningful Searches, Exits and Traps

The (Post-)Modern Search for Meaning:

Tolstoy’s Escape from the Trap

A Reflection by Sean Howard

For the last few years, a close friend has been complaining, with light touch but increasingly heavy heart, of a deep-seated creative malaise, an impasse in his search for an authentic voice and message. Among other sources, his depression can be traced to his intense and academically accomplished engagement with Wittgenstein, whose humbling exposé of the ‘language game’ – and, therewith, what my friend calls “capital-P Philosophy” – leaves him both full of admiration and “with everything – and nothing – to say”. Or, rather, with a desire to say ‘something true’ thwarted by sensitivity to the unrealizable nature of any such (language-based) project.…

The Choice

I watched Doctor Zhivago tonight. Keira Knightley as Lara. Hans Matheson as Yuri Zhivago. It’s a well done TV miniseries from 2002. Moving, especially at the end. It’s not David Lean. But it works in its own way. Expanded, because of the extra time. And updated to allow for more modern depictions of the love affair.

Many things jumped out at me. But especially this: brief, ecstatic joy in the middle of a sea of sorrow. The embrace of that joy. Being consumed by it, perhaps because it is so brief. As is life. Especially life in the middle of revolution and civil war.…

Break on Through!

(For Roy)

Jim Morrison

I always find it interesting to discover mergings, connections, and cross-fertilization across the arts. Fusions, juxtaposition, new combinations. And one of the most interesting of these, for me, is when Rock stars are influenced heavily by great novelists, poets and philosophers. Especially if the range is wide, and influence is not just on the surface. One such case was Jim Morrison of The Doors.

Morrison lived the life of a nomad, growing up with a father in the military who eventually became an admiral. They moved frequently. Perhaps that nomadic existence pushed Morrison into the philosophy of Nietzsche, another wanderer, and into the poetry of Rimbaud, who may have set records along those lines.…

Camus and the Absurd

Albert Camus

There was a lot of absurdity in Camus’s life. When he published The Stranger in 1942, France was occupied by the Germans. Even though it was an indirect rebuke of the Vichy government, among many other things, the German censors let it go. Camus had his Goya and Velasquez mojo working, so Vichy and the Nazis didn’t see what he was up to. Nor did they know about his work for the Resistance, and Combat, until it was too late.

It was absurd that Camus died in a car crash at the age of forty-six, just three years after receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature.…

Rilke: The Panther and the Writing Table

Castle Duino, Italy. Photo by Johann Jaritz

Rainer Maria Rilke was a sublime poet, one of the greatest lyric poets of the 20th century, and quite possibly a lousy human being. His Duino Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus rank among the finest works of art in any language, taking us softly, profoundly to the nexus between life and death, pain and redemption, mourning and new hope. Through his poetry and other writings, he conveyed a level of empathy and understanding toward women that may surpass any poet in the last 100 years. Though it seemed he rarely showed that insight and understanding in real life, at least if we are to believe several recent accounts about Rilke’s life and loves.…

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