The last post treated a sweeping panorama. For the right person (clearly one of them is me), that sort of thing has appeal. It gives the work scope and scale and provides the intellect with plenty of bells and whistles with which to amuse itself. Let’s be honest, though, it is kind of hard to actually imagine our place in that, right? We can talk for days about the wonders of God’s hands* in creation but what about our life?
Sure, with a little mania or a lot of effort, we can inflate our lives with imagination and convince ourselves that our actions have epic consequences on the spiritual world and, perhaps secretively, on the material one, too. Eventually that mania turns to depression and effort to fatigue and we are left with just our lives again. We get worn out, sore, frustrated and/or obsessed with petty shit we know is petty. We look at our labors and find how easily overturned they are, how fragile we and our achievements are.
Depending on your temperament and your mood, this will strike you as tragic, comic, or both. That’s telling and I suspect there is good reason why those categories appear so early in Western literary thought. The sorts of responses they aim to provoke in their audience are fairly basic to the human organism, laughter and tears. When you add the farcical** to that, you get a basic palette of humanity: fearful, laughing, crying, mocking.
Yeats, in A Vision, describes spiritual experience as catastrophic, as reaching a limit and suddenly catapulting in another direction. That’s a useful insight in this context. If we apply that to this concern, the pettiness becomes the basis for the sweeping and vice versa. What we find in the drama of our lives is a welter of the personal and petty, but it is precisely that which, carried to its extreme, launches us into the vaults of heaven. Inversely, it is from those vaults that we are thrown back down into the welter. Maybe we are kind of stupid and it’s only through those extremes that we can finally begin to make sense of anything or maybe it is only in the extremities of our life that something as grand as the eternal can find the screen large enough to reveal itself to us.
Or, perhaps, it is the smallness, fragility, and mutability of our temporal life that draws the eternal to us. There may be a glint of truth to the old jokes about heaven being boring and it may be in projecting some aspect of themselves onto the temporal that beings residing in the axis of eternity are able to change and develop themselves, albeit only through sudden shocks launched back from their temporal image.
This sort of attitude makes Nietzsche’s notion of amor fati exciting with the suggestion that we embrace fate because it is what is precious and attracts the divine to us, because in all the ups and downs, tears and glee, we are a sight that fascinates the generative forces of creation.
*Hmm…all eight hands? Maybe God is an octopus…though if you prefer to keep it anthropomorphic, just think of them as fingers. Don’t pester me with questions about thumbs, I have no idea.
**I’ll spare you a lecture on why farce and buffoonery might be the most fundamental element of this little trinity. Another time if you’re unlucky.