Words and Actions

John Ames, narrator of Marilynne Robinson’s beautiful book Gilead, raises a fascinating question about the relationship between words and actions.

He describes midway through the novel the similarities between the stories of Abraham & Isaac and Hagar & Ishmael—in both instances Abraham is asked by God to sacrifice both of his sons and in both instances the sons are saved by ministering angels.

These similarities led Ames to think about cruelty towards children and how much room for misinterpretation there is by saying that “the child is within the providential care of God” (p. 130). Ames links this sentiment to a common argument heard both inside and outside religious circles: namely, that if a body or being greater and more powerful than my individual self claims responsibility for the care of another, then I am absolved of responsibility and can behave how I want.

Or, in Ames’ formulation, if the oppressed are within the providence of God, then “it will be taken by some people to mean that it is not a grave thing, an evil thing, to insult or oppress” (p. 130).

We don’t need to be familiar with the teaching of the Bible to know that this claim is as gravely incorrect as any other falsity. Indeed, Christ teaches that it would be better for someone who causes a child to sin to be thrown into the sea with a heavy stone tied about his or her neck.

“That is strong language, but there it is,” John Ames sums up.

The relationship between saying that children (in this example) are in the providential care of God and the corresponding action or inaction is one I am having difficulty parsing out, but what follows is an attempt mainly in the form of “if/thens” and questions.

  1. If words are only words that the individual hears or says and these words are taken to have no correspondence with ethical behavior (action) on the part of the hearer or speaker, then the hearer or speaker bears no responsibility to those words. Better, then, that they were just inarticulate noises.
  2. If words are only actions and the individual hearing them “doesn’t listen to the meaning of words” (p. 130) as John Ames says, then the hearer doesn’t bear any responsibility for interpreting those words. The hearer is only able to/allowing him- or herself to react to them on the level of stimulus response. Ames explains this position as follows: “He just decides whether they are hostile, and how hostile they are. He decides whether they threaten him or injure him, and he reacts at that level” (131).
  3. If words are balanced by actions (in the “faith without works is dead” way of Saint James’ epistle), then the individual recognizes that the words he or she uses have a responsibility to concrete reality and not just realms of abstract thought and signifiers. The user or hearer of words recognizes that using words is part of a contract with reality, with God, with others, and with oneself. Thus, if I say, “Caring for people is a virtue,” or “We should care for people,” then I am responsible to carry out those words, on my own, as I am able, since I used those words and set them into the world. If I defer my responsibility for me language, then I return to proposition 1. To say “Caring is a virtue” and then say “God should…” or “Government should…” without taking any steps of my own towards caring—to say these things and then not act on them is tantamount to keeping words abstract and denying my responsibility for the words I use since I can thrust responsibility onto a larger and more abstract entity than I.

These three positions seem consistent to me; they seem to be the three available options when we speak about our use of language and ethics. If Christ tells us to love people or to care for the poor, and we say in response, “Oh, let the government pass a law that…” or “Oh, the Church should be doing…” without taking individual, non-systemic action—in a word, action on the level of the personal, the “You-and-I-alone-without-governing-bodies”—then we are guilty of breaching our contract with the world.

We are guilty, I believe, every time we make an ethical claim and then dodge individual, personal responsibility for that claim while at the same time shunting the responsibility onto some other body.

We are equally guilty, it is true, when we refuse to consider words above the threat/non-threat level. If we only use the dialectical of “These words are an attack” and “These words are not an attack,” we perhaps give too much power to language, breaking the balance between words and actions. An example of this might be how people react to novels with vulgar language or content in it: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has sadly seen antihistorical redactions and challenges in court.

At my high school, a mother got Fahrenheit 451 banned because the words “damn” and “hell” were in it in the form of profanity.

I suppose these examples are akin to discussions of banning speech, where certain things people say are considered to be an attack or a threat and (importantly) nothing other than an attack or threat. In a word, this language people want to ban is never treated with grace or mercy or understanding—never taken to be spoken out of real fear, real hurt, or any other real human experience that ought to be taken seriously and understood.

That is something compelling and convicting to consider. It is something I need to think about more before I have any clearly consistent position to take, but if we hold the third proposition above to be true and reject the first and second as having disastrous flaws and consequences, then the above example would certainly be damning of and should be convicting to those among us who want to be considered virtuous out of pride and in the hopes of visibility and meaning and connection.

I think the takeaway here, where I want to leave it, is that not only do ideas have consequences and thereby associated responsibilities on the part of the individual person (look at Christianity, Islam, National Socialist Germany, Stalinist/Leninist Russia, Venezuela today, and/or the crony and venture versions of capitalism), not only these but also words have consequences and responsibilities that go with them.

If this claim is true, and I doubt that anyone can coherently and convincingly argue that ideas and words are without consequences and responsibilities, then it is more and more vital that each of us develop a consistent ethics, one whose parts are not in contradiction with each other or with the whole.

This contract we make with ourselves and the world and, hopefully, with God must rid itself of any claims that are mutually exclusive and in contradiction so as not to compromise the validity and efficacy of that contract.

How wonderful would be to then say, at the end of our lives that we have lived the good life, which as Saul Bellow writes in Mr. Sammler’s Planet is to do what is required of us (cf. p. 260, Penguin Classics edition)? And to be able to say, at the inevitable end, that we have fulfilled the terms of our contract.


On Hermeneutics

In Biblical scholarship and interpretation, certain methods are appropriate for the interpretation of scripture, and they are based on a series of criteria that allow scholars to determine whether or not a certain text if a valid text or whether or not a certain interpretation of that text is valid. In this sense, Biblical hermeneutics is somewhat more empirical than literary or social hermeneutics.

The term “hermeneutics” generally refers to the interpretation of Biblical texts, at least, this is the context where many encounter the term. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines the word as “the interpretation of scriptural texts,” a “particular system of interpretation for scriptural texts,” and in a second entry as a “particular system of interpretation or scheme of analysis for language or actions.” It is this latter entry that I want to focus on.

Though the question of validity in the twenty-first-century may be passé or not relevant, since the question itself may give too much weight to the “truth-value” of a certain thing, literary scholars in particular discuss whether or not a certain interpretation is supportable or supported by the “text.” This would be a fine hermeneutical statement to make if literary scholars as a whole stuck to the terms of their own claims about interpretation. The problem, however, with the statement of “supportability” is that often scholars forget about the actual means of approach a literary work, or simply put, the approach to the novel or poem or play.

This question of approach leads us into a variety of different questions and challenges some assumptions with regard to literary criticism, the first among them being the discussion of ends and means.

Wendell Berry writes in “Discipline and Hope”—from Berry’s astounding book, A Continuous Harmony—that contemporary culture, the literary critic included, lacks something which would allow participants in culture to practice the best version of their own work. That something is discipline, and Berry’s unsurprising exemplar is the farmer:

“Instead of asking the the farmer,” he writes, “to practice the best husbandry, to be a good steward and trustee of his land and his art, [the standard of efficiency] puts irresistible pressures on him to produce more and more food and fiber more and more cheaply, thereby destroying the health of the land, the best traditions of husbandry, and the farm population itself” (pp. 157-158, Recollected Essays, North Point Press).

Simply put, the cultural pressure to produce work quickly and cheaply has disastrous consequences on the very soil used for growth. If you work the land hard with a single crop for years without end and without diversifying your crop, the land becomes unable to support healthy cultures.

I come from Kentucky, and in my youth (and certainly before my birth) tobacco farms spread across the Bluegrass. In my home town, several even bordered one of the major four-lane roads I would take to school every day. Those farms are gone now. The funny thing about tobacco is that if you grow it year-in and year-out, it eats away at the minerals and nutrients in the soil.

Berry himself does not take the cheap, quick, and easy way and attribute this destruction to capitalism as a whole. He does, however, connect this cultural pressure to produce to means and ends. For Berry, nothing is wrong with producing, and finding better ways of doing things is good—only if “better” doesn’t mean “more efficiently” without regard to the effects of how one does things.

These various failures, in Berry’s astute estimation derives from “a profound confusion as to the functions and the relative values of means and ends,” and this confusion lies in assigning “to ends a moral importance that far outweighs that which we attribute to means. We expect ends not only to justify means but rectify them as well” (p. 188, Recollected Essays, North Point Press).

I could quote every word of “Discipline and Hope,” but the relevant key for this discussion is this:

“Once we have peace, we say, or abundance or justice or truth or comfort, everything will be all right….It is a vicious illusion. For the discipline of ends is no discipline at all. The end is preserved in the means; a desirable end may perish forever in the wrong means. Hope lives in the means, not the end. Art does not survive in its revelations, or agriculture in its products, or craftsmanship in its artifacts, or civilization in its monuments, or faith in its relics” (p. 189, Recollected Essays, North Point Press).

Lest I quote too much, the point is this: how something is done is the only way to preserve the end result of that thing. This is a conviction I hold dearly, a hill I would make my last stand on. We cannot have peace if we obtain it through war. We cannot have difference if we promote sameness. We cannot have tolerance if we suppress, exclude, or shout down. We cannot have these things because these ends are polluted in the means we use to obtain them.

Ends never justify the means, and this is also true for the hermeneutics of literary criticism.

Though relativity may hold sway in many spheres of contemporary life, good and bad still must exist—and like a good Saussurean, I want to claim that we know what is Good by seeing the Bad (and, please, do not take this to mean that I am saying “the good” only exists because “the bad” exists; rather, we can distinguish good actions from bad. Goodness is pre-existent).

Since good and bad must exist as categories, there must also be good and bad things—this would include hermeneutics.

Following from the discussion of ends and means, what ought to be clear is that bad hermeneutics holds to the position that the ends (my interpretation) will both justify and rectify the means (how I actually do the interpreting).

Good hermeneutics, on the other hand, necessarily recognizes that how a literary critic approaches a work to interpret it matters much, much more than the end result.

A passage from Ken Kesey’s magnificent novel, Sometimes A Great Notion (and, I think, one of the best books in United States literature) describes a method of good hermeneutics clearly and beautifully:

“[Y]ou can make the river stand for all sorts of other things. But doing that it seems to me is taking your eye off the ball; making it more than what it is lessens it. Just to see it clear is plenty. Just to feel it cold against you or watch it flood or smell it when the damn thing backs up from Wakonda with all the town’s garbage and sewage and dead crud floating around in it stinking up a breeze, that is plenty. And the best way to see it is not looking behind it—or beneath it or beyond it—but dead at it. And to remember that all it wants is its fair advantage” (p. 152).

Just to see it clear is plenty. By looking dead at it.

These are words to live by; these are words of trust, words of hope, words of recognition that allows the river to be what it is at its best (but mostly, it seems, at its worst).

Much United States literature can teach us this lesson, if we would only let it. I’m thinking here of the great Midwestern literature, in which Americans struggle against and to understand the new land they have come to dwell in. O. E. Rølvaag, Willa Cather, Saul Bellow, and Marilynne Robinson are prime examples of this kind of work, one of whose primary conflicts is that of interpretation.

Cather in particular tussles with interpretation in her work. Novels like My Ántonia, O Pioneers!, and Death Comes for the Archbishop raise questions about interpretation that are essential not only to the nation-, individual-, community-, and faith-building motifs within the novels but also to discussions of hermeneutics.

In these “plains novels” (Archbishop only slightly, and begrudgingly excluded) Swedes, Bohemians, Germans, and French have all arrived to the Nebraska plains, a hostile and alien world in which many cannot survive. In Cather’s work, especially O Pioneers!, it is the characters who seek to impose their own wills and ideas about how the land ought to work onto to the land itself that do not survive.

Allow me to pause and perhaps clarify.

The farmers, like Alexandra’s brothers Lou and Otto, who cannot succeed (or sometimes dies) in the land are those who impose—an act of bad hermeneutics if ever there was one. To impose means to bring something from without, something that is not there and does not belong there and try to force it onto the thing or place you are with or in—imposition then becomes an act of violence in this sense (since force is always violence).

In farming, in Cather’s novel, imposition involves trying to grow things in the land that will not grow, that the land explicitly and expressly rejects. Imposition also involves attempting to farm with practices that do not work with the soil or the weather or the seasons (again, this is an act of violence that damages the ecosystem of the Nebraska prairie, a poignant note of historical fact since there once was red grass spread across the plain but now lost, the same red grass that makes up the most beautiful passages in Cather’s My Ántonia).

Alexandra, on the other hand, is able to succeed because she observes, she learns from the land, and she changes her practices to fit what the land says and does. Like her father, who came to Nebraska and died in a dark time, Alexandra believes in the land; she trusts it and does not care when she is ridiculed by family and neighbors.

By observing the land, by approaching the land on its own terms without imposing her own ideas and will on it, she becomes the most successful farmer in Hanover, Nebraska, allowing Cather to declare the land a “Fortunate country, that is one day to receive hearts like Alexandra’s into its bosom, to give them out again in the yellow wheat, in the rustling corn, in the shining eyes of youth!” (p. 159).

We should learn to be like Alexandra—to work hard, certainly, but moreso to trust that which we are working with, in, or on. We should look dead at the thing—the novel, the field, the people—and interpret what is actually there, visible before our eyes without trying to impose ideologies onto the works or looking behind them or beyond them. What is there is what matters, making it anything more lessens it.


On the Matacão

I’m currently reading Karen Tei Yamashita’s brief and mystifying novel, Through the Arc of the Rainforest, a beautiful (and hilarious) book about meaning, interpretation, and the international ecosystems that connect people to each other. I recommend it.

Early in the novel, a place of deep significance to the book’s characters is accidentally “dis-covered” in the Amazon Basin, and subsequently becomes a site of befuddlement, development, and attraction to the world. The place is called the Matacão, which translates from Portuguese as “boulder,” a description more than a name that refers to the sheen and inscrutability of the thing discovered. Every possible interpretation is brought to bear on the Matacão—importantly, every interpretation is imposed onto the Matacão rather than derived from the place itself—from ancient advanced cultures, to signs from God, to aliens.

But, what is mystifying about the Matacão is how people from all over the world flock to it out of faith, that it is a place enchanted, a place where miracles might happen. (I’m still uncertain what to make of the novel’s conclusion and how it relates to the faith I’m attempting to articulate here, so I’m not going to comment on that; it’s better to let it stew for awhile, so look for a follow-up over the next few months at the least.)

An example: “J.B. ran to the balcony in time to see the Matacão flood with a great mass of people. They ran around and pressed upon a single man at the center of the commotion….The man was Chico Paco, just arrived from his long pilgrimage from São Paulo, for the promise of a small crippled boy named Rubens. Suddenly, Chico Paco was lifted on the arms of the crowd into the air, and the whole mass of humanity seemed to sail away in smooth waves above the Matacão toward the distant shrine of Saint George” (p. 108).

If you read this passage out loud, its lyricism becomes tangible, especially the slithering, oceanic sibilance of the “s” in that last sentence. Something about the way Yamashita presents faith in this passage (one of many) awakens in me a longing to be part of something this corporate—to be one of those lifting Chico Paco, to help him rest his tired feet, and carry him to the unmovable shrine of Saint George on the Matacão.

Each person in this crowd bends his or her entire being toward faith in the miracles surrounding Chico Paco. Each individual embodies an act of worship, an act that gives those people access—both individually and corporately—to something meaningful, and this is powerful and moving and awakens the faith in me.

One question I haven’t settled, though: Is this corporate act of worship—and therefore access to meaning—a good thing if it isn’t true?

To ponder, then.

Yours, etc.

Epilogues, Epiphanies, and Phenomenology

George Steiner, in his wonderful book Real Presences, speaks of the fracturing of the logocentric nature of language and meaning. The Adamic contract between language, meaning, and reality remained, and even “the most astringent scepticism, even the most subversive of anti-rhetorics, remained committed to language. It knew itself to be ‘in trust’ to language” (92). This contract and the time from the beginning of recorded history until—Steiner identifies this moment—the latter 19th Century was marked by the Logos, what Steiner calls “the saying of being” (93).

From the 1870s-1930s and onward, Steiner argues, the break with the Logos developed radically, and everything after “must be understood as coming ‘after the Word'” (93). Steiner asks: what is the status and meaning of meaning, of communicative form, in the time of the ‘after-Word’? He calls this time the time of the epilogue, which of course, house the Logos within it. Without being content to allow the epilogue to act as a coda to human existence, Steiner knows full-well that epilogues are also prefaces and new beginnings (94).

It is the epilogue that attracts my attention.

It is the housing of the Logos that remains.

If the epilogue is both the end and the beginning, then how can we say that we have left behind the “old order” and the “old structures” of our being? That we have killed God and left behind the logocentrism to move into the Derridean exergue remains suspect if still the Logos is unshakeable.

The Logos is both beginning and end—this to suggest its being-in-the-world, its presence in both beginning and end.

The Logos is both beginning and end—this to suggest its inexhaustible presence at both beginning and end.

The Logos is both Alpha and Omega. And of course the suggestion of Christ is unshakeable. That the Logos is lodged within—housed and at the source of—language reveals that the Logos is both prologue and epilogue. Ironically, what Derrida has noticed about prologues is helpful here: they are written as after-Words (I defer to the Steinerian construction) masquerading as something that comes before, this suggesting a false ontology of sorts in which what comes after pretends to be what existed before the beginning.

Derrida, in his early writing at least, would deny the presence of the Logos in either prologue or epilogue, arguing that these two are unstable linguistic constructions with only differance as their base: the vacant Aleph, the tomb sans corpse. This for Derrida is the empty house of meaning: behind the Aleph lies nothing except the origin we cannot get to, the differance that may lead to nothing anyway. Yet, The Gift of Death speaks of the Messiah always in the process of coming, but the Messiah that will never come.

A return, a prologue masquerading as an epilogue.

A sunset always becomes a sunrise: the idea “inhabits our vocabulary and grammar” (Steiner 3): A new day will dawn and so forth. This “phantom of grammar” (Steiner again) would be God as one who clings to our culture as a “fossil embedded in the childhood of rational speech. So Nietzsche (and many after him” (3).

Yet the idea persists.

The idea persists because even in the moment when the Logos has been supposedly cast off by man (“Wohin ist Gott? … Wir haben ihn getötet—ihr und ich! Wir alle sind seine Mörder” —Nietzsche as quoted by Steiner, In Bluebeard’s Castle, 40) the Logos “would not rest” (39). “The memory of His Ultimatum,” writes Steiner, “the presence of His Absence have goaded Western man” (39).

We have sought to destroy that which cannot be destroyed because God is eternal, even if he were invented. The implications are astounding, for both the Christian and the other. For the Christian, God cannot die: God is, was, and shall be in every sense of the phrase.

For the other, it is—or should be—frightening that mankind (especially the kind of man that has been looked upon as primitive, e.g. the Jews) has the creative power to invent something that lasts and exists beyond time and eternity, beyond the full understanding and perception of man, beyond full comprehension of His ways and all hinged on the promise that He has come and will come again to resurrect the living and the dead.

It is understandable that the response would be to try to kill Him.

For, if He is eternal, then we have a moral imperative to hold ourselves accountable to His standards, and this is fear incarnate: to live according to that which is handed down—invented or real—without seeing or knowing audibly to voice which gave it.

Wohin ist Gott?

According to Nietzsche and Derrida and others, He is dead and His blood is dried up.

His salitter is draining from the earth. Salitter is the term used by Jakob Boehme to describe the essence of God.

The essence of God.

That which is denied by the God-killers.

Yet the presence of His absence remains latent in our language. Negative theologians and mystics like San Juan de la Cruz in his La noche oscura del alma and Subida del monte carmelo believed in the human attaining deeper knowledge of God through his absence, suggesting something similar to what Father Walter Ong in Orality and Literacy does about sound: that sound only have its existence, ontologically, when it is going out of existence.

The two senses of the idea are quite compelling and disturbing.

The first: God only really exists when we are removing Him from existence, when we are stripping His Image from our culture and language. This is the sense that one never really knows what one has until one is losing it.

The second: while we were still children, He fed us the milk of His Word and His Presence because we were not ready for the meat of His Absence.

His salitter remains.

Steiner argues: “Any coherent understanding of what language is and how language performs, that any coherent account of the capacity of human speech to communicate meaning and feeling is, in the final analysis, underwritten by the assumption of God’s presence” and “infers the necessary possibility of this ‘real presence'” (3).

“Speech,” he writes, “can neither articulate the deeper truths of consciousness, nor can it convey the sensory, autonomous evidence of the flower, of the shaft of light, of the birdcall at dawning…It is not only that language cannot reveal these things: it labours to do so, to draw nearer to them, falsify, corrupt that which silence…that which the unspeakable and unspeaking visitations of the freedom and mystery of being—Joyce’s term is ‘epiphany’, Walter Benjamin’s is ‘aura’—may communicate to us in privileged moments (111-112).

This is the being-in-the-world of which Heidegger speaks in Sein und Zeit. Dasein exists within the “thrownness” of his being, thrown from Being into the world without a total understanding of the fullness of Being. This is the unfolding process of becoming that Kierkegaard calls the condition of man. Of course, Heidegger turns the fledgling phenomenology into something more thoroughly rigorous and complex.

This is the Omega Point of de Chardin.

It is the moment when the unfolding process reaches its point of maximum complexity and that which has been drawing all things towards this Omega Point—itself—returns and reveals itself to those who have been engaged in a process of becoming all along the road, all within the river of Being, thrown there without our choice or input but placed in time.

Within it, inhabiting it, we return to fill and fulfill the Aleph, to awaken the corpse that has always already been there, to turn the epilogue into a prologue.

We stand at the precipice, between an ending that never can remain an ending—the late afternoon of our being shall not last because we cannot deny forever the process of time and complexity and consciousness becoming around us—and a beginning that waits for man to return to the Aleph all that he has stolen, removed, or otherwise attempted to hide, maim, and kill.

It is the prologue that marks a new process—the one of desires filled, of hopes attained—a process of becoming committed to the phenomenological being of Dasein and in trust to language—to the Logos and the necessary possibility of the real presence.

We are, in John Ashbery’s words, “A people chained to aurora”.

Some Thoughts on Literary Criticism and the Sacredness of Language

When Kenneth Koch writes about the multiplicity of meanings in “A Note on ‘Sun Out'”, he showed that he clearly understood the subtleties of language and the power of misapprehension.

He writes about his time studying in France, during which he did not speak the language quite well. He noted that a lot of the words sounded the same, and indeed, to the untrained ear, hearing some words that sound similar but have entirely different meanings (in English, “led” and “lead”—also think about the other pronunciation of “lead”) can be quite unsettling and often, at least in Koch’s case, humorous.

This poetics of misapprehension would mark his career, and seemed to inform his poetics of deep attention to the backgrounds which he and others within the New York School sought to foreground (in the best Pasternakian sense).

By bringing to the fore the overlooked moments of life, Koch did more, I think, to put meaning back into language than any of his contemporaries, continuing an often overlooked project of the modernists: that project of recapturing the fullness of the universe that so marked medieval literature, what C.S. Lewis, in his grand introduction to Rennaissance and Medieval literature, The Discarded Image, claims was thrown aside by the Rennaissance thinkers and the fascination with the paganism of Greek and Roman culture.

What this means—this being the fullness of the universe bit—is that everything we encounter has meaning and is full of meaning such that the sacred is fused with the mundane (however, not in a transcendental sort of way).

What is so fascinating about this prospect is that should we, say, think about “sacred” for a moment not in its explicit religious sense but in a literary/critical sense, we run up against some big questions (at least for me in my critical life).

One of these questions is, if like Koch maintains in his poem “The Boiling Water”, that even the insignificant things in our lives have meaningful moments, how can that shape the way we do critical invesitagtion of a literary text?

If this seems like a stretch, bear with me. Everything has meaning, everything is sacred. Therefore, the author’s literary text then, is “sacred” insofar as it has meaning such that when I read a novel like Jude the Obscure or one of Koch’s poems, I then have an obligation to respect the work for what it is and, therefore, an obligation to approach those texts without imposing any sort of agenda upon the text that would detract from the meaninginfulness (aka, sacredness) of the text itself.

If something is to have meaning on its own, then any agenda imposed on the text, or any form of reading meaning into a text (i.e., read: making a text say what you want it to say because of personal or critical viewpoints—i.e. feminism, marxism, deconstructionism, structuralism, to name a few of the worst offenders) is the worst form of desecration that can be committed upon a text by someone who calls himself a literary critic.

If we then bar agendas from literary criticism (i.e., the tiresome race/class/gender narratives that are far too reductionist to be of any good use to someone who’s trying to find something meaningful to say), what do we have left?

My answer: an honest encounter with the text itself, and perhaps the author himself as well.

In other words, the beauty and meaningfulness Jude the Obscue or a Kenneth Koch poem need not be obfuscated or violated by critical agendas that fit into some hierarchical narrative imposed upon the text from without.

To get the gears turning and the conversation started,

Yours truly.

Suffering, Art, and Drops Like Stars

I dislike abrupt beginnings. I also dislike abrupt endings. Mostly because I don’t know what to do with them, i.e. there are no categories of experience that I can put them in in order to make sense of what’s going on.

But, sometimes the only way to begin is abruptly. Abrupt, that is to say those single words or short punchy sentences that hook you, grab your attention, shock you. The problem is, I don’t like being hooked and grabbed and shocked. I’d imagine most people are that way: we don’t like the unfamiliar and we don’t like having to adjust to the idea that life is no longer what it once was and that the present is eternal: James Schuyler’s unchanging change and Eliot’s time present and time past.

So when something like a suicide occurs (there’s the abruptness) you are forced to confront it (or deny it battle) and try to make sense of it, and you feel the pain of it and the questions that have no answers. And you want to know why and if you’re me you want to know whether it was a product of parenting, society, religion, peers, school, or some combination of all of those.

And that’s for someone I don’t even know, someone who’s existence is (or is it was now?) only apparent by relation of a sibling whose name I was only familiar with. Which begs the question: If a person has no reality for us, if they exist only by a moniker (like someone’s sister) without an image associated with them, how can it hurt? How can I feel the pain of another’s loss without knowing who they are or what they value or what led to this tragedy?

And this is where art steps in and takes over. To call a blog post full of more questions than anything “art” is perhaps too brave of me. But I can turn to true art, the literary and visual kinds (like Joyce and Woolf and Caravaggio) to develop this idea. Why turn to art in times of suffering? What can art do that mere consolation and human closeness can’t?

Art’s relationship with agony is complex and often the greatest and most enduring art arrives from the mind of one who suffers much: think Mrs. Dalloway. Yet the question remains: why art? What can art do that human interaction cannot?

Some would argue that there is no duality there: that it’s a false binary to say that human interaction isn’t any different from art. I’d say it is, but that’s semantics at the moment. Art, especially music, can provide a sort of closure—music can put into sound what we could never put into words. It evokes emotional states (ergo why it’s so beautiful, ergo why it’s so dangerous); it draws up from the depths of the human something lasting, something stable (even in all its apparent instability or indeterminacy), something so entirely transcendent that there still haven’t been words created to describe what this is: it goes way deeper than the soul, down to the primordial essence of a man—that which is him, that which was him, that which will be him.

It is that voice speaking out of the burning bush.

It is the name that is I AM THAT I AM.

That which cannot be anything other than it is because it is stable and is unchanging in the long history of human existence.

This is what art so earnestly desires: this is what it seeks in the emptiness man has created for himself through reason and knowledge. And what does all this have to do with suffering?

Good question.

Art seeks unity. Human life seeks unity: it seeks its boxes and its frameworks for understanding experience and suffering happens and those frameworks disappear. You just can’t understand why that dearly beloved of ours had to go the way she did when she did and there’s nothing that anyone can say or do that will help you understand or even begin to make sense of something that rips out your very heart.

The worst thing for the sufferer to hear are those explanations that seek to resolve the pain too quickly: that empty religious language that it was God’s plan (which may be true, but think about how trite and unhelpful that sounds), that language that isn’t right or honest or real.

When what Rob Bell refers to as the “existential horror” (cf. Drops Like Stars) of suffering comes, there’s nothing that can stop us from being forced to consider what life is now and that it will never be what it was before and the questions about why and why me and all of that don’t apply because the only thing worth asking at this point is: What now?

Bell calls this the “Art of Disruption,” by which he means that the only thing we can do now is imagine what comes next now that all of our standard reference points have been smashed and thrown out with the bathwater.

It’s what Keats would call negative capability: the ability to live between the tensions and not having to have answers: to wonder why but being okay with not knowing: to know that suffering is and that everything that is, so far as it exists, is beautiful (cf. No Man is an Island, Thomas Merton) and that because it is beautiful we don’t need to resolve it only look at it from a different angle, from a different point of view where there are no boxes because they’ve been erased by that horrible pain that





This is where art is crucial and necessary. The greatest artists affirm that you, I, he, she are not alone in your suffering: that you are not the only one who is experiencing or has experienced the pain of loss: they are the honest ones who ask the questions you’ve been wanting to ask but are too afraid or too hurt or too much in denial to ask.

They touch the universal ache.

They open the gate that leads behind the veneer of life that says everything’s okay when it really isn’t: it’s the honesty they touch, the reality they bring into sharp focus.

Which is to say, they touch meaning—those songs rip us up because they mean something, born from the primal drive for unity and wholeness that speaks of a world shattered, where identity is unstable, paradigms are made to be relative, dualities and binaries collapse into a swirl of confusing hype and rhetoric that tells us to ignore the pain, that another fix (of that drug, of that happy meal, of that new television, car, movie, pop song, book, makeup, dress, or hairstyle) will make everything okay and that there’s nothing to worry about.

But this is not how we are meant to live (think the first track off of Switchfoot’s Beautiful Letdown album).

And within that suffering comes a kind of solidarity—of connection and unity—that no other commonality can bring. Art is a means of creating that connection. Art is a means of saying, “Join with us—all those who have suffered, whose very blood cries out from the earth.”

This is when it’s helpful to know that there are others who know what we feel. This is when it’s helpful to know that I AM feels what we feel: for He suffered




God came and cried out in agony. Just like we do when moments of suffering wreck the only things we have to frame our understanding of the world.

And when we strip it all away, when we eliminate the clutter, the unnecessary, the trivial, and the superficial, we get at the things that matter the most.

The things that have meaning.

The real things. The true things that do not change and never will.

The trick is keeping those things close, not letting the clutter invade again, keeping the superficial forever distant and to keep in focus that which really matters.

And which art has a peculiar ability to highlight.

Which is to say, human connection.

And to retain this level of connectedness requires negative capability, requires asking the question, “What box?” and living outside of any kind of categories of experience.

It requires us (to borrow from Rob Bell again) to see raindrops as stars.

Meditation on Grammars of Creation

Words mean.

Did you know that?

Words aren’t just letters connected to form a linguistic construction we call “words.”

They mean. They have definitions. They have connotations.

But what is fascinating is that each word carries within and behind and beyond its linguistic construction every meaning it has ever had.

Words mean what they meant, what they mean, and what they will mean. And this is important because language is important because that’s how we communicate. And when we communicate with words, we use them (think about that deeply, because words mean). Use. What is that? Use, verb? Use (“youse”), noun? Which is it, or is it both? Or neither?

Because the way
how words
mean and
give meaning

Why did I write that paragraph that way? Ask yourself what that does to the meaning of those words. Ask yourself what it would do if I wrote it this way: Because the way matters: how words “mean” and give meaning matters. Or this way: The way words are used matters because words mean different things.

Think (just do it AND/OR…
about (add a preposition for what or…
how words (how to think…
mean. (of words and meaning)

If words mean, if they contain within them the past, present, and future (oh, ye darkest of seas!), what then can we say about words and language? We can say language matters, that the very (this means actual) words we use (this means emlpoy [this could mean exploit (this means to corrupt [this could mean to rape])]) matter (this means substance) more than any of us could ever possibly imagine (this means awareness of possibility).

We could
also say, “Words


(What does it mean to structure that sentence that way?)

If words contain within them (is that the correct preposition? Where does meaning reside?) all of their history and all of their future and are known to be in a constant state of flux (How about you? HBU? hbu? u? u) are we supposed (this means should) to let them change, let them assume a new meaning so that they may again function in a society that imposes its own meanings and functions on everything it touches?

What if
some things should remain

Constancy. Think about what that word means. Should we change what words mean or should we allow words to change what we mean?

If we impose our values and meanings onto a word, it loses what it once meant and becomes what it means now (for us as individuals, for us as a collective) and the trajectory of meaning is thrown (out of whack?) in a different direction (maybe) than what it was before the instance of change.

If words change us, if words impose their values and their meanings on us, what happens to us then? Isn’t it strange to think of a constructed thing as having any sort of agency?

For a moment,
a breath,
a pause,
a time in which all of our preconceived notions about what language is and does and means and what words are and do and mean,
why don’t we try to let words come to us and change us so that things like
redemption and
forgiveness and
begin again to mean what they have always meant and always will mean and could have meant and could at some point mean without our impositions and personal ideas getting in the way.

That redemption no longer means liberation
it once meant freedom (which is a definition)
and love isn’t equivalent with sex because it didn’t mean that until “to make love” was constructed into an expression of meaning equivalent with sex.

Let’s deconstruct that phrase: to make love. To construct love. To express love. To fabricate love. To generate love. To invent love.

To create love.

Each verb means something similar, but none mean the same thing. And I wonder why that is, and I think in some very strange way, the answer lies at the beginning. Words mean [In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made].

What’s the function of those brackets in the preceding sentence?

And what does love mean in the expression “to make love.” Let’s make love. What if that is supposed to [always was supposed to [always has meant]] mean more than sex. What if love is not a feeling, not really a noun at all but more and more a verb as we now go back into the past where we will discover what things will/have/did/do mean.

But I digress (this means to move away from).

Now sit with me a while. Why use the verb “to sit” when you’re reading either standing or sitting and about as far away from me as one could be. It’s “just the way we say things”? Or is it an inaccuracy. That is to say, think about the words you use and how you use them and how they are used at or to you and how you use them at or toward other people (to, toward, towards, hmm.)

What happens if we are still in the silence of the moment and let words come to us and define themselves for us and alter our selves and our use of words?

What if u
transforms into
u? hbu? HBU? How about you? What are your opinions regarding this topic we are discussing?

What if k
ok. OK. Okay. I understand what you are saying, and this is the action I am going to take as a result of what you have just said; thank you for telling me.

And the beauty of it all is that what has been discarded can be redeemed (I choose not to say recovered, though it comes from recuperare [L, to get again], but break it into its constituent parts it could mean [why italicize that?] to hide something again; only it doesn’t).

And this is why: “Language is its own past. The meanings of a word are its history, recorded and unrecorded. They are its usage….Words mean. In the most rigorous sense, meaning is etymology. Each word comes to us, as we learn and use a language, with a more or less measureless freight of precedent. It will, where it pertains to common speech, have been thought, spoken, written, million-fold. The ‘total’ dictionary, the dictionary which comprises all dictionaries, contains and defines the atomic particles of all meaning….Thus the infinite library of Borges’s fable, in which are shelved all past, present, and future books, is simply the ultimate lexicon and grammar of all grammars. In whose words are latent all sentences, which is to say all conceivable, though formally infinite, combinatorial possibilities and eventualities.”

Words mean: why did I structure my essay this way?

Reflections on “Ave Maria” by Frank O’Hara

Ave Maria by Frank O’Hara

Mothers of America

                                     let your kids go to the movies!

get them out of the house so they won’t know what you’re up to

it’s true that fresh air is good for the body

                                                                             but what about the soul

that grows in darkness, embossed by silvery images

and when you grow old as grow old you must

                                                                                they won’t hate you

they won’t criticize you they won’t know

                                                                         they’ll be in some glamorous country

they first saw on a Saturday afternoon or playing hookey

they may even be grateful to you

                                                            for their first sexual experience

which only cost you a quarter

                                                       and didn’t upset the peaceful home

they will know where candy bars come from

                                                                                 and gratuitous bags of popcorn

as gratuitous as leaving the movie before it’s over

with a pleasant stranger whose apartment is in the Heaven on Earth Bldg

near the Williamsburg Bridge

                                                       oh mothers you will have made the little tykes

so happy because if nobody does pick them up in the movies

they won’t know the difference

                                                         and if somebody does it’ll be sheer gravy

and they’ll have been truly entertained either way

instead of hanging around the yard

                                                                 or up in their room

                                                                                                     hating you

prematurely since you won’t have done anything horribly mean yet

except keeping them from the darker joys

                                                                             it’s unforgivable the latter

so don’t blame me if you won’t take this advice

                                                                                      and the family breaks up

and your children grow old and blind in front of a TV set


movies you wouldn’t let them see when they were young

(text borrowed from poetryfoundation.org)


There has always been a tension between innocence and experience in the human mind and human life. How much of one or the other should a child be exposed to (yes, one can be exposed to too much innocence and too much experience)? How much should a mother shield her child from the “darker joys” of life is a question properly explored by Frank O’Hara in “Ave Maria.” It is a question brought about by the reality that if a mother won’t allow her children to experience life, they will find ways to experience themselves; however, there would be no filter. There would exist no means by which a child could describe or understand or cope with the experiences at hand. And if a child doesn’t have that, what are the implications of such a mode of living?

O’Hara begins with a plea that mothers should let their children go to the movies and espouses his reasons for this plea. On a first reading, it would seem that O’Hara is advocating a hedonistic indulgence in the banal “darker joys” of life—that a pivotal first sexual experience must be had and why not for only a quarter? It would seem that O’Hara rejects the “old-fashioned” view of the mother—that is, a shepherdess raising her children up in a way that shields them from the evil world—in favor of a progressive let-them-do-it-because-they’re-just-going-to-do-it-anyway representation of parenting.

So, to continue with that train of thought, it would appear that the poem cries for children to be emancipated “free thinkers” who can say and do what they want because to stunt them and deprive them of those experiences would be to make them hate the mother, the family and would make them rip the family apart and waste away in front a television screen experiencing all the things that they would have experienced anyway if only mama had let them.

However, as with most poems, successive readings yield deeper and more complex levels of meaning wrapped in the subtleties of language and turns of phrase throughout the latter half of the poem. Of course, a student of history would recall that it is in the 1950s and 1960s that the idea of the rebel as hero came to widespread popular prominence—like a plague, an infection that took the population and spawned leather-jacket-wearing, motorcycle-riding bad boys with their combs in their back pockets to slick back their greased back hair. With the advent of rock and roll music lurking in the middledistance, it is easy to understand the fear (perhaps paranoia but most definitely anxiety) inside the family unit during this simmering pot on the verge of boiling. (Not to mention the frightening parallels to our contemporary culture, which would take the space of an entirely other discussion)

So, it is in this virulent period of growth and change that O’Hara writes his poem, curiously titled no doubt, urging mothers to let their children experience life at its fullest (albeit with a strange connection to religiosity in the Hail Mary, Mother of God). There is so much more to be said of the poem itself, certainly about its construction and meaning and appeal to historical and contemporary readers. However, I want to focus on a key aspect to understanding the implications of the poem.

There is in the last several lines of the poem an idea which suggests a deeper and more full meaning of the poem. The idea that these mothers’ children would “grow old and blind in front of a TV set” watching “movies you wouldn’t let them see when they were young” brings the poem back to its source in a resetting of ideas postulated by the poem’s begging. O’Hara exhorts mothers to let their children go to the movies and supports his call by saying that those kids will just watch those movies anyway except that the family “breaks apart” and the kids will be up in their rooms “hating you.”

The implications of this idea are astounding. Upon first reading the poem, I missed this recasting of the ideas put forth, and I thought that O’Hara was merely exhorting a hedonistic, sensual experience of life. However, I see now that what O’Hara instead is doing is giving another recourse to the reader in a brilliant cultural criticism.

I don’t think the poem suggests that parents should have no rules or restrictions at all; however, it seems that is children are allowed a freer range of experience while they are young, at least they will have someone (in a cohesive family) to help them understand and categorize that experience in order to cope with it. And what if those children do not have the means to cope with such experience and are left to their own devices to “figure it out themselves”? What kind of warped understandings of the world would emerge?

O”Hara’s deep insight perhaps didn’t come from any sort of goodwill or desire to see family units stay together, but his prescient vision in creating the poem in the exact way he did, does seem to indicate that he intentionally suggested the idea of aided experience comprehension.

Experiencing life is not a bad thing. In fact, innocence can lead to sheer naïveté and, frankly, stupidity. A completely sheltered experience neglects the wider realms of thought and art and music and friendships that could only be found by coming outside of oneself—outside of one’s own beliefs and experiences and values—and entering into the Otherness of another. Think Scout on Boo Radley’s porch.

It’s taking a moment of not trying but actually inhabiting the seemingly unknowable other. It’s giving, for a moment, absolute credence to another’s point of view or beliefs or customs or knowledge of everything that is and isn’t. It’s believing in God and what all that means and entails, if you don’t and vice versa. That’s standing on Boo’s porch. That’s experiencing life.

But, as the poem suggests, it’s the experience tempered by understanding. We need someone who knows help us to know what we are only coming to terms with. And coming to terms requires thinking. It requires time to contemplate and process everything. Everything. It’s not doing something right away (or even at all). It’s merely thinking. It’s the “weighing and considering” of Harold Bloom’s synthesis of his theory about how to read (a la Francis Bacon). And we could extrapolate, how to live life.

I am left then with questions more than answers or solutions, which, I suppose, is the plight of the solitary in a world of action. Or maybe it just means I think too much. How then can a society claim to care for its children only to give them up to process experience on their own? How then can we create a culture of understanding without hate if we refuse (or are just plain ignorant) to temper our experiences with careful contemplation of the Other?

And wouldn’t the lack of that contemplation just lead to an intolerant culture where something we don’t understand is something that we hate and fear (even though we won’t admit it)?

And wouldn’t that just lead to a society or a country chock full of cultural supremacists who just because they have the moniker “American” (what does that mean, really?) are therefore somehow automatically supposed to be the shining light of how things should and ought to be done because we’ve got the most guns?

Come now. Ponder. Think. Analyze. Stand on Boo’s porch looking out for a change. Then respond; don’t react. We won’t find the answers to questions such as these in a few moments of reflection.

But maybe we don’t need to. That’s what negative capability is all about, right?

Oh, and mothers, let your kids go to the movies.

Picking Paint Colors

We were picking out paint colors for the walls of our home. It’s a simple process, really. You flip through a massive stack of paint swatches, picking out families and shades and tones and funny names like “Jalapeño Jelly.”

But there’s also something about picking our paint colors that speaks to what it means to be fully and completely human because picking out what color you want to stare at every day, the color that spans the void between the mystery and question of the previous occupants to your departure and the mystery and question of the succeeding occupants, isn’t just picking out colors. It’s not the colors that matter.

But it’s the void that matters – how you shape it, how you define its edges and contours, how you speak about it, how you…paint…it. Those and all of their negations are all wrapped up into a period of time that lasts but a breath in the cosmic sigh. And it’s a void simply because it’s a canvas, a tabula rasa you can make your own.

And part of what it means to be human is to live in touch with and in contemplation of who we really are deep down. To be aware that we act out of those traditions and underlying assumptions about the world and experience and, if they are fundamentally good, act from them, allowing them to inform our experience and reality. That is, the one true reality that exists apart from ourselves and not the one we conveniently construct for ourselves in order to escape the hard truths of life. Remember the words of Lear: “O, I have ta’en too little care of this…Take physic, pomp!”.

And then we should move beyond ourselves, to look at the culture in which we live, the culture that was picked out for us by the landlords of the country in which we live: government, politicians, idiots, popular opinion, Hollywood, corporations that sell us products we don’t need—products that we have to invent a use for. We should look at the culture that’s been painted on our walls for us, and if we don’t like that color, we should change it—we should change it, not talk about changing it, but do it.

The problem is, people have their own preferences. Some match, others don’t, and we are left in a confusion of criss-crossing colors—a rainbow that should be beautiful but is only chaotic because we’ve forgotten what beauty looks like because we’ve forgotten about order: that order exists, that it is necessary for life, that no matter how much we discard it, disregard it, disbelieve in it, order is still there lurking at the edge of our perception because we can’t deny what is intrinsically woven into the fabric of existence.

That is to say, reality exists because order exists. That is to say, reality is order, and the kind of order that allows a complex system made up of smaller systems into what is called a human to construct and define things like language and culture and ideas and science and architecture and literature—you get the idea—that kind of order is something that cannot be grasped by the human understanding.

Which is to say, this kind of order is transcendent. It exists outside of ourselves, which means that there’s something greater than what we can see, taste, touch, smell, hear, or feel in the deepest part of ourselves (I say feel because I’ve never come across a word that accurately describes that which stirs at the very core of our being). We know it without being able to explain it, understand it, control it, or dispel it, but we know it. And as much as we want to deny it, to deny the existence of such a thing, in the end we can’t because if we deny that kind of thing—that kind of transcendent reality—we deny existence in its totality.

And reality, as Philip K. Dick puts so plainly in I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon, “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” And since beauty is order because order is beautiful, we cannot deny a transcendent idea of beauty. Think Plato’s forms.

If we accept order in its most transcendent form, then we must, by default, also accept that there must be some form of objective language, definitions, and morals. We must accept that while not everything is black and white, most things are. That murder is wrong, that corruption is wrong, that lying is wrong.

That selflessness, that self-sacrifice, that truth, that correction, that discipline are all right because there is order to those things and no truly wise person would refute that.

If you don’t believe me, look at science. From the macro to the micro, scientists observe order. At the sub-atomic level, there is order and predictability to things, albeit an order that we have a hard time understanding until we observe it—when we can. At the cosmic, pangalactic, universal level, there is an order to the way stars are made, die, and drift apart. Hydrogen undergoes thermonuclear fusion in the core of a star to produce helium, which produces energy (light and heat). There’s a hierarchy there—an order just like the things we do every day. But here’s the question, where did that subatomic, cosmic order come from?

There are all sorts of answers, but the wise would say that that order comes from something greater—some transcendent hierarchy that we cannot grasp or contain or control or manipulate into anything, and it is okay that we cannot understand or control or manipulate that hierarchy because perhaps we weren’t meant to do that. Perhaps we were meant to live in the tension between that which we can know and that which we cannot but desire to know. Keats called it “negative capability.” I call it peace.

That I don’t have to have or know all the answers to all those complicated—and really—unanswerable questions about my life (like why I am here) is beautiful.

And it all has to do with picking out the paint colors of my living room wall.

“We Have No More Beginnings”: A Reflection on the Act of Creation and the Existence of Hope in the Twenty-first Century

When we speak about sunsets, we speak about something powerful.

We speak about the coming on of night and the coming on of darkness: of uncertainty, of the inability to see beyond that proverbial arm’s length in any direction.

Backward. Forward. Past. Future. Present. All are obscured by setting of the sun, the snuffing out of that ball of raging flame we trust and by which we live and move and exist – we think. Then there is the cessation – the pause – the silence between day and day wherein all things become one in and with the night. If not harmonized, we are at least together, clustered by our mutual uncertainty into nervous isolation.

The music of the night indeed.

In a more simple time, when we were not hypersensitive to our own existence of being – our ego, our id – we would enter the darkness willingly. Or if not willingly, at least with acceptance, perhaps even with assurance. We would do this because we knew that interregnum of Luna and Nox (the Greeks would call her Nyx) would be cast down for a time in favor of Sol and his realm of light and fire. Rest warring with Motion. Silence with Noise, with Distraction.

There was a time when we embraced the night, but now we seek to push it back. To exclude it from our sense of being, from that vestige of Form out of which we are what we are in an endless color of variation and flavor and scent and texture. We seek to ignite our own little flames that flicker and die in the passing breath of a cosmic sigh.

Look up and in, brother, sister, mother, father, and tell me what you see. A hundred thousand million twinkling lights. Some have gone out and you simply do not know it yet. But tell me, look up and in, and tell me what do you see?

Night and darkness.

So we have sought to intrude on the sovereign hold of night, to invade her land with our insignificant fires – wick, magnesium, fluorescence, neon – which would not even be stars if they were seen from the shoulder of Orion.

Attack ships on fire would give off a better glow, and Roy Batty just wants to know what it means to be human.

But not us. We have sought to displace the night, to extend the day from waking to waking to waking. 36 10′ 30″ N, 115 08′ 11″ W – a barren waste brought up out of sand and hot days and cold nights. A waste in which Somnus (Greeks would call him Hypnos) lies dead in a gutter, his throat slit with the shards of a neon bulb.

And we pass by, moving from diversion to diversion in a stasis brought about by our own drive to escape that which makes us uncomfortable, that which frightens us, that which forces us to come to terms with our own isolation in what one poet terms this “hollow modern shell.”

We would rather float the Lethe.

We would rather look up and out at the emptiness of the universe rather than up and in at the fullness of it for fear that we might find ourselves outside of that fullness. So we prolong the day, the high, the stupor brought about by industries and systems and beliefs that have no place in our being, that have no part to play in living a distinctly human life.

So we push on, drunk with entertainment after entertainment. We never must slow down and welcome the silence – if not welcome it then endure it. We never have to sit beneath a blanket of stars and look up and wonder why we are so alone.

We never have to think.

Still the question remains: Why must we stave off the darkness? Why must we fight so hard to light up the night and press onward toward the sun, only sleeping when we physically cannot go on?

Is it because we have lost hope in this twenty-first century? Are we afraid to plunge headlong, accepting and assured, into the night because we are no longer certain that the sun will come back?

And if we are not certain that the sun will come back, then why do we still insist on motion? Motion is life, and life insists upon a sunrise. Life cannot be stagnant. But if we look up and out onto emptiness, if we refuse to acknowledge the mystery of our being, then we have emptied the universe of anything higher than ourselves, of anything that carries the weight and burden of meaning.

We’ve emptied it all of anything that we cannot understand – anything which transcends our comprehension. So we have no hope because we are frozen – stagnated, put into stasis, what you will – by the fear of what another poet termed “negative capability.”

Look up and in brother, sister, father, mother. What do you see? Twinkling stars that we won’t know are dead for another billion years.

Night. Darkness. And that scares you. And you begin to think –

So if we have no more beginnings, perhaps it is because we have no more endings. Perhaps it is because we fear the act of having to create anew the beginning of something that could never be the same as it was before the sun turned red in the west and the moon rose pale in the night.