I once wrote on the back of the cover of a book I loved passionately, “My last words: I had something profound to say but I’ve forgotten what it was.” I hadn’t actually forgotten; sometimes we say things but what really matters is what’s implied. The longing to say something beautiful and meaningful, and the knowledge that such things are forgotten. Or maybe that such things don’t really exist. I think somehow it sums up the essence of who I am or was.
I have another quote, its related but it comes to mind only because I know how shitty and useless my original quote is; “Bad art is more tragically beautiful than good art because it documents human failure.” That one is from a movie called Stay, it was a great film (not well reviewed or understood), but I can’t be trusted when it comes to Naomi Watts; she’s perfectly imperfect. I like idea of human frailty, of human tragedy, being seen as beautiful. It’s the only real beauty I know. The effort to be beautiful, to touch god, and the magnificent failure of it all.
I imagine Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam in the reverse; where Adam desperately tries in vain to touch God, and God remains just out of reach. Like Christ on his cross as he utters maybe the most important words ever said, “Eloi Eloi Lama Sabachthani” or “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” God is helpless. How we might long for his embrace, to bring justice and kindness to the world, but still, he remains out of reach.
The Creation of Adam (in reverse) also makes me think of a beautiful woman. The moment you see her and feel undeserving of her presence. What incredible thing could you do that could match her beauty; that could make her feel what she just made you feel. That could make you worthy of her. That’s the only way I know how to define beauty and the only time I am in contact with it in every day life.
I started writing without any direction whatsoever, I don’t want to die without saying some things. I know none of this matters but its all I have to give, or all I think I have to give. It’s probably useless dribble, I probably have nothing to give, but I want to be sure I said it all. I believe Marx’s last words are said to be “last words are for fools who haven’t said enough!” Probably bullshit but I like to think it was true. So here I am being a fool. Though they likely won’t be my last words, they may very well be my last important words.
I never did well in school as a child, I was mostly bored; I never got to learn any philosophy or history, never got to talk politics. I remember learning Greek mythology in the fifth grade and asking my teacher why the gods punished man for what they were fated to do (we were learning about the fates). I still think that was pretty profound for a fifth grader but the point is, I was instantly hooked.
In my teens I became a Marxist. I disliked religion and it lead me there. I didn’t have a cross on my wall but I had a Che Guevara banner I used to pray to. I had this profound impulse to want to do good, to want to sacrifice my life for justice. Don’t we all have that? I always find it amazing that people argue and fight over fairness that has nothing to do with them. That’s humanity! Even the crazy ones on the extreme, how beautiful, that it matters what is fair and what is just. How beautiful! I used to go to bed at night dreaming about dying in a South American jungle in the name of the proletariat. Of course, at the time I didn’t realize that I would have been called a terrorist! Or that I would essentially be working for drug dealers, and not communists! I thought people would have admired my deeds, but I know now that doing the right thing is often a very lonely and miserable existence. I didn’t truly appreciate that back then. Great men suffer. You don’t change the world without making people in power hate you. I was naive, I just didn’t get it.
By the time I got to Nietzsche, Foucault, Derrida, Sartre, Camus, Althusser, Gramsci et al., I lost faith in my own ability to reason. How could we think or speak or know anything if our very reason is infected by discourse or ideology or whatever the hell your kink is. The hegemony was in my mind; it would have been narcissistic of me to believe I could objectively rise above it. I became a nihilist. I wanted truth more than anything else, and truth was impossible. I used to sit and be hungry and think, “is being hungry good or bad? Is my impulse to eat something to be ignored?” I came to the conclusion that true nihilism leads to a complete state of inertia on the basis that we needed a reason to act and there was no true reason, it was all lies. Nirvana is knowing this and not caring; I knew but I still cared. This made me sad, it bothered me. I wasn’t one of the post-modernists celebrating the death of God and the malleability of culture and life; I was crushed and in mourning. God was dead. I was reaching for something that wasn’t even there.
With time and mourning I came to the realization that there were some truths, some essential human characteristics, that were beyond the realm of ideology. In my nihilism, the mourning was real; the longing for truth and beauty remained. It came to me suddenly, this was the essence of humanity; the holly grail. I dated a christian girl once (and this is when I was a “new atheist” which I’m not anymore) and I asked her how could non-Christians who weren’t even exposed to Christianity be saved, if salvation required accepting Christ as your lord and savior? She responded, “God puts in the heart of every man the desire to know him.” I laughed it off. But isn’t it exactly what I am saying now? The longing for meaning which we often ignore and get used to suppressing. The middle of the night wake up calls when all your consumerism making sure your keeping up with the Kardashians doesn’t seem right and your life doesn’t matter. When you’re in a state somewhere between slumber and wakeness and everything in your life seems… questionable, far more fluid then you could be comfortable with. “Is this who I am?” You might ask yourself. Then you wake up and brush your teeth, get settled in the routine, and the night terror doesn’t matter anymore; “this is real life,” you say as you wait for the train to take you to your meaningless job. It’s all bullshit, I was right about that but I could no longer suppress that I wanted it to be more; I wanted it to mean something. Something was in my heart that longed to know something more.
That’s when I became a Romantic. I know what other people pretend not to. I know there is no God, no love (in the layman sense), no justice or beauty. It’s all a fleeting fallacy. A lie that exists and even then only momentarily. A fleeting lie. But how we live to cherish those moments!
You might call my cynical or dark for believing these things are lies. You’re mistaken. I appreciate those things so much more passionately precisely because I know they aren’t real. The moments are fleeting precisely because they take so much work to cultivate. Multiple people (two or more) lying and pretending so that they could make it true. The grinding, and touching, and sweat, and pretending culminating in a fleeting orgasm.
I saw Zizek point out once that the film Life is Beautiful had a fatal flaw. That at the end of the film the boy should have shown that he knew all along that it was a lie; that he knew his father made the games and stories up to comfort him. I agree. But the film itself is still wonderful. That the joy we give to others is cultivated by our own imaginations, of what the world should be, what our souls cry out it for it to be, and not what it is.
What are we left with? I’m made of wood and I long to be a real boy but I cannot dream myself into humanity. Those dreams do not belong to me or you, they belong to us. It takes a socitey to invent justice, multiple people to invent love, and a community to invent God.
With all my knowledge of what I truly know is the essence of who we are and what a good life us, I am left only with the thought that I cannot do it alone. Its haunting. Homeless, peerless, I am. Alone and in a meaningless, empty, dark world, where the light cannot touch me.