The idea of routine these days has taken on a sort of oppressive new meaning, limited as we are in our ability to socially interact and move about freely without concern of infection. Before the onset of the dreaded virus relieving a tedious daily cycle was as simple as a museum visit or dinner out with friends, experiences that give life meaning, expand imagination and help us realize possibility.
The conundrum has me thinking about cyclical time, how daily experiences reoccur with a good deal of regularity. Eastern Religions have long understood time to cycle on a cosmic scale which, I suppose, gave hope to those living less fortunate existences (who also looked forward to reincarnation). The philosopher Fredrich Nietzsche came up with a thought experiment he called Eternal Recurrence. The idea is to suppose one is destined to live this life over and over repeating the same experiences forever, an eternal cycle. The implication is, that if such were to be the case, one would want to be very careful that each moment of life was lived to the optimum: as best and as positive as one could make it happen.
What we need to do in covid world, I guess, is find ways to sustain ourselves positively, in uplifting ways. As important as it is to stay centered, alive and present in the moment, distraction may be in order. Many may find solace in readings with happy endings while others may seek the catharsis of apocalyptic disaster literature. Hobbies might be developed. Exercise is always good, solitary sport activities might be explored.
I really don’t have any particular advice for anyone, just trying to work it all out for myself.
There are certain theoretical physicists contemplating, as I understand it, the idea that perhaps we are not living a base reality but are in a simulation, an artificial reality. We may be, they surmise, virtual beings created by a higher intelligence with infinite computational facility. These cyber-gods’ superior intellect along with our limited capacity to fully understand our world renders it impossible for us to grasp the closed system provided by our overseers.
The overseers, acting as game players, pit us against each other, create inventive situations for us to deal with and suffer through and then play favorites, much as the ancient Greek gods did. The idea is, I guess, our overseers are using us as pawns in the ultimate virtual Game of Life.
Well, if I am existing in a virtual closed system, I really can’t complain too much, reclining, as I am, in my lounger in front of a warming fireplace. I do, of course, face difficulties from time to time: existential psychological eruptions I must deal with, but all in all life is pretty good. If I am a virtual being in a created world it would seem my cyber-gods are fairly benevolent.
As things began spiraling out of control she wondered if belief in God was a viable option.
Well, maybe belief was the wrong word. It seemed to her unlikely one can suddenly ‘believe’ something, but there were remnants of belief she had taken to be credible at some earlier time in life. There were beliefs introduced to her as a child that had drifted along in her sub-conscious all these years until recent existential shock brought them (the beliefs) to the surface, beliefs which seemed, suddenly, to be just the thing these extraordinary times require.
So maybe it was more like expedient, practical to seek and find a supernatural entity to appeal to in these dire times when her resources were strained and uncertainties about her very survival constantly weighed upon her. She had settled, after all, as she had thought about it over the years, on an enlightened agnosticism, resisting the hard atheism embraced by some. God as a concept was elusive but not easily dismissed in totality and now seemed the time to, if not make re-acquaintance, at least allow the embedded idea to come a bit closer to the surface. There is something comforting about the idea of a benevolent overlord, protector, benefactor in these uncertain times.
But finding and maintaining belief, she realized, wasn’t that simple.
While doing fall chores the other day the ladder I was on gave way. Apparently, my weight was above the fulcrum which was the roof edge causing the foot of the ladder to begin sliding backward. I found myself on an accelerating descent. The ladder slid off the edge of the deck propelling me backwards into a reverse summer sault, my body eventually coming to rest on the ground. As I lay there on my back, I was taken with a feeling I can only describe as euphoria. Other than a few minor aches and pains, a few bruises, I found myself in a better place mentally, more upbeat, than at any time in recent memory. Given that I did not intentionally seek this sense of exaggerated well-being, I nevertheless got to thinking that the experience must be something akin to the adventures sought by adrenalin junkies, those who regularly defy fate, put themselves in situations of potentially serious danger.
The exhilaration was great to experience though it faded fairly quickly, was gone in a couple of hours, but I have no intention of re-creating the emotional high through intentional risky behavior. I’m too much of a realist and kind of old (brittle bones, you know). But If it should happen I make a bad decision while at the mercy of gravity in the future I’ll hope for a similarly favorable outcome.
In his masterpiece Either/Or Soren Kierkegaard contrasts the moral relativity of the aesthete ‘A’ with the clearly defined moral values of the ethicist Judge Wilhelm. ‘A’ revels in seduction, he pursues women, is attracted to the young, innocent and beautiful girl, whose total commitment he gains through devious manipulation. Then, though, once the quarry is won, interest is lost. The ethicist judge castigates ‘A’ for so shallow a behavior informing him he doesn’t understand the significance of a deep personal relationship, that love and duty to a first love produces a deep bond and a constantly renewing true aesthetic relationship.
It seems pretty clear that K. sees himself in both characters: the break-up with his once betrothed Regine on the one hand and his obsession with the moral rigidity of the pietist religion he was brought up to revere. There’s little doubt he experienced serious psychological conflict that eventually resulted in a ‘leap into the absurd’, a total embrace of Christianity.
I must admit I can’t relate to K’s situation but he does do a really good job of getting me to focus attention on my own personal existential self.
I’ve been reading that some people never grow up. I guess many of us live life one distraction after another, placating ourselves with momentary satisfactions while never achieving a meaningful grasp of what it means to be part of a whole pluralistic social structure. But then, coming to grips with existence is an ongoing dilemma for most of us I guess., egged on as we are into confronting the play-ground bully that is reality.
I’m thinking one explanation for our arrested development, at least in part, is a coddled existence: we take for granted not only basic needs but creature comforts that give us a sense of affluence and well-being to the extent that we question how it can be people are homeless and food insecure even though we are informed on a daily basis of human suffering throughout the world.
Well, it’s something to think about for those of us who have tended toward a little Peter Panishness on occasion. Reflection is never a bad thing.
While on a bike ride the other day, I got to thinking about an unpleasant event that occurred a couple of years ago while riding the same circuit I was currently on. The past event involved hitting a dog that bounded out of a ditch, crashing, getting back on my bike and proceeding along. The bump on my helmeted head was disorienting enough for me to forget where exactly I was going.
As I continued along what I then perceived to be my current ride I got to wondering whether, in fact, I didn’t make it home at all after the crash years ago: that everything I have supposedly experienced since the dire event is imagined, the product of my active brain within my comatose body. Suppose I then thought, that, in fact, I’m lying in a hospital bed intubated, attached to a feeding tube, my loved ones by my side debating when to pull the plug.
After I supposedly got home and supposedly took a shower, wondering how I could know for certain the nature of my existence, truth revealed itself. My imagination, I realized, is insufficient to conjure the occurrences reported in the nightly news.
It’s hard not to be a bit anxious these days, I guess: the dread disease the realities of pervasive systemic racism, political ineptitude, failing social structures have me despairing as I follow the daily news. I find myself positioned above an abyss within which lies a state of serious anxiety. (Well, maybe that’s a bit extreme, but it is dark in there.)
Anyway, I’ve been reading this new biography about the life of the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard that seems pretty relevant to current dilemmas. Kierkegaard, it so happened, was deeply troubled. His personal insecurities had him thinking and writing a lot about anxiety, not the kind of anxiousness one has awaiting a dental appointment but a deep existential angst unbounded by time or place or context. He came to the realization that to survive one must proceed alone without expectation of support and embrace despair to fully grasp the gravity of life. Such a perspective, he thought, would relieve him of the illusions of unearned well-being and bring about deep inner understanding and peace.
This existential view acquired a lot of followers for a while, early to mid-20th century. The trying times of the Great Depression and two world wars, I suspect, made such a philosophy pretty palatable. K’s salvation though, the focus upon which he centered his being was Christianity. Embrace the absurd, he wrote, and take the leap into faith.
I guess what it all comes down to is finding that personal center of being.
I’ve been thinking lately that language is a limiting and essentially inadequate means of describing experience. (As I think about this it occurs to me I’ve probably thought this very thing before; in fact, I doubt I’ve had a truly original thought anytime recently).
Anyway, language may be the only way of describing experience, but the descriptions rendered no matter the mastery one may have of the written word will fall well short of sufficiently describing the color and complexities of sensual experience.
Roland Barthes, The late French literary theorist said that man does not exist prior to language. If I might be so bold as to contradict such a noted scholar, my experience suggests to me such an idea is nonsense. Such a statement would have to mean my colorful and complex sensual experiences can only occur to my conscious self in the form of language; that until language supervenes upon my colorful and complex sensual experiences that my most wonderful remembrances don’t exist.
But, then, maybe my memory is going, I am aging after all; brain cells are being lost. Still, the visual imagery is there and doesn’t seem to require captions. I’m thinking language is over-rated. It simply is unable to account for the ineffable.
It doesn’t take a lot of imagination these days (for scifi buffs especially) to envision the collapse of civilization, an ensuing dark age in the not so distant future. For those suffering the hardships of living paycheck to paycheck when there isn’t one, a harsh reality has set in and shouldn’t be made light of. But for fans of apocalyptic literature a certain symmetry is to be found and acknowledged, if not enjoyed, as the various narratives and behaviors brought on by fear of the dreaded disease plays out.
The ever-present media coverage reveals incidents of hoarding of basic needs, stand-offs with armed militias, the spreading of deep-state conspiracies, but also compassion and self-sacrifice of many not the least of which are health-care workers. All these scenarios can be found in the best doomsday fiction. The zombie invasions of ‘World War Z’ come to mind as does the devastating epidemic in ‘The Stand’ and the cannibalism in Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’. And then, after civilization’s total collapse, centuries pass and the remnants of the 21st century are discovered, archaeological artifacts, as in ‘A Canticle for Liebowitz’.
Such fictional story lines remain entertaining because, of course, no one really believes things will become all that dire. Maybe there’s a bit of cathartic relief, after all, in imagining how much worse things could be.