Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Our intentions are intangible and sweet

For much of our lives we are not living them but going through the motions like we were in a waking dream. Life, life as a routine: numb, orderly, devoid of passion, joy and serious thought, serious emotion, conformist and ever fearful. Our natural situation in the world is to lose connetion to the essential by the dead routines of this neutral, materialist Western society. (In the premodern times this disconnection was accomplished by horrible physical want, by irrational and unjust creeds and hierarchies, false collective identities). Our natural situation is not to be connected - but we can be, even here, we can have shorter or longer moments in this life: love, art, friendship, pursuit of understanding are my personal values, my escapes to seriousness. How easily lost in this word, how universally longed for: for our intentions really are intangible and sweet, and even if in history our typical state is this disconnectness, we can escape it even here, and can have, no matter how unrealistically, the end of history as our fundamental goal: the liberation of our better selves into timelessness, the liberation of our seriousness and warmth, our love and sympathy.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Matthew Arnold contemplating Shakespeare

I wonder why it is that the high literary seriousness of the Victorians seems somewhat funny to us, even slightly fake? Victorianism has gotten itself various revisionist defenders over the decades and is not thought about in such black and white terms any more which is naturally mostly a healthy developement. I'm not totally persuaded though: any era will be a polyphony and have much value and high cultural achievements. Even my real bête noire, that awful short 18th century had some real worth amidst all the scented savagery and fake finery of carefully simulated emotion (now talk about unfair descriptions...) And when one reads Matthew Arnold or even Leslie Stephens, there is clearly much that it valuable there. The really awful things you can find in any cultural era, they will always be there. This note is about a certain flaw in strength.

The chasm is likely historical: the 19th century could have next to no idea of the following one - whose shell shocked, scattered survivors we are, frivolous and materialist, amnesic. The Victorians did not know a significant part what they were talking about - from our perspective they are innocents, attempting serious postures without a sense of real historical tragedy. This is of course unfair too, anachronistic, but all eras will aim for conversation with all others, with what has been, what is and what is to come. So, it's not only unfair - and to say this is not to absolve our own era which likely will go down in civilizational memory (should such be preserved) as much more abysmal than the mid- and late 19th century, and justifiably so.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Liht mec heht gewyrcan

Have been going back to some early incluences. Good taste, I must say, it was not all stupidity: no harry potters or the equivalent for me, but the actual stuff, the good stuff. And what amazing sense of history, of centuries does shine so brilliantly from "The Dark Is Rising" - that really must have been one of the central things along with certain others: "The Sword at Sunset" comes to mind, and Tolkien of course, above all, those mad appendixes, reeking of history, of a magic sense of the long perspective - combined with such high adventure: tonight will be bad, and tomorrow will be beyond all imagining... Excellent fragments I did have even if needed to shore against such abundance of ruins.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Carry me to the cold

A dramatic wall of cloud to the south over the still open Gulf of Finland, kept away by the bitter northerly breeze, inland the blue afternoon sky already turning towards pale orange hues: winter has surprised us, coming late in mid-January with a full blast of Arctic air - reading George Eliot in the warm bus, keeping to the old sport of reconciling feeling and intelligence, with varying success, as always. Sometimes we do cross to the other side of silence and although the roar is deafening, it is necessary. We need to live with passion, with intelligence, with feeling. This is not the place nor time yet to fully address some private issues but during these last few years, imperceptibly, I did lose much of my connection to the essential. That has meant some impossibly bad failings in my private life too. Well, this blog is not meant for any personal things but certain important truths should still be mentioned for the record.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Let us not speak for the love we bear one another (thoughts on Lauttasaari Bridge)

It might have seemed strange how much I have used the word love on this blog, how much I have relied on it as one of the most meaningful concepts in our lives. Especially thinking that my worldview otherwise is based on dry reason and a rather high, esoteric concept of art. But it just seems to be that these all are connected: art, reason, love. And not only romantic love, but all it's forms (and reason and art) are a defiant cry of rebellion against the age old dark reflexes in all of us, individually and especially as a collective, for aggression and domination, for ignorance and control. And how brave it is to love, to give hostages to fortune, to gamble with oneself.

My desert years were spent in the absence of that daring: they were spent in panicky fear, outwardly presented as cynical resentment and detachment. But miraculously I changed, not giving up reason or art in the process, but seeing them more freshly, deeper. Without the courage to love they were empty gestures. So, these things have become my values, and I cannot regret the route that led me to them, even though it hasn't, even by now, become easy or painless. And even if it actually has, in these past months, changed into something quite searing indeed as regards some very central things in my personal life. I cannot regret that route.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Designs for living

I surely will never get over this mad, immediate, unmediated sense of being in the world. There are no safety nets here: the views are breathtakingly beautiful and breathtakingly cold - and so the men in the tunnels under Larch Wood will always be kicking men to death. Cold certainty will catch our breath, eventually, and all will be lost and, practically, to all intents and purposes, is already lost. And what we have to set against all this is love that is cruel and brutal and daring - so we balance our lives against other peoples' lives, giving and taking hostages and so losing ourselves like any swimmers into cleanness leaping. That is love.

But if nothing else I'm a pragmatist: whatever that works will be fine with me and whatever that I am, I will, even if kicking and screaming, acknowledge truths and live accordingly. That is what life demands of us and what we will have to give to life if we want to live, if we want to be alive.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

On Congreve

I have admired Congreve from somewhat afar - his writing has felt so very glittering, so very polished to be not, maybe, wholly serious. But I might have been mistaken in this judgement, not having enough time to concentrate, just going for the obvious effects. This said after having encountered a very effective analysis of Congreve as one the central writers in the English canon. The era he so well reflected was perhaps even more unfortunate than most pre-modern times, such bizarre values connected with such corrupt elites. It is always strange to think about Shakespeare in this historical context, and maybe thinking about Shakespeare leads to this belittlement of excellent, perceptive writers, but then again he wasn't, Shakespeare wasn't so attached to his particular era - to what was he attached, actually? Well, in any case as Austen shows us, there can be deadly moral seriousness behind a comedy of manners, and I am quite convinced that Congreve did observe the way of the world with a seriousness, purpose and immeasurable skill of a great artist.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Great expectations

There once was, I solemnly believe, a moment when literary culture, serious literary discussion, was self-confident, confident in some sense of better things to come, or, more accurately, of the possibility of better things, of a real civilization. Or even, at bleakest, there at least was a belief in serious literary discussion, civilizational-ethical conversation, bone to bone, within a living awareness of a very liberal, very robust tradition. I have located this moment, half-seriously, to a point near mid-20th century in an obscurish essay by Edmund Wilson. But actually these were the last years about which one could even claim something like this. A brief moment, and now so much ground is being lost and serious literature is becoming an odd minority interest, and pretty much not even attempted any more. Yes, there are good writers and good books, but no wide scopes, no cultural self-confidence any longer. By and large we are rehearsing comedies and tragedies of manners with no attempts to George Eliotian or Conradian reach. No passages to India these days.

This nostalgia certainly is partly that: grumpy complaints about the times and mores that has always been going on. But I think in this particular matter, something has qualitatively changed, ground has shifted and new landscapes, bleak landscapes are opening before this generation's eyes.

Cock and balls

I wonder at our innate, automatic tendency to idealize, to make palatable. It is such a strong urge: anything to tame the immediate experience which is not reducible to banalities or even the most intricate subtleties - nor as it concerns the subject of this post, to pornographic coarseness either. But what does cut through these things, these protections, is the immediate experience. And even when saying this, writing this, one realizes that it is not it all, not what one meant at all. One always is where one never, exactly, was - and, nevertheless, the memory is not false, or the experience once wasn't, not completely. And so I do remember, and remember essentially correctly, some sweet past things, and don't know if those will ever return, if one will ever return to that purest of possible states. And yes, it is true: sex is not all and not every trembling hand will return me there.

Friday, August 23, 2013

History lite

One has to admire the ruthless, even carnivalistic cynicism of the makers of Downton Abbey: history is sanitized in such an obsessively careful way to be just enough to be saved into some semblance of realism by excellent acting and sharpish dialogue. Some viewers have enough background knowlegde to understand the essential unreality of the show, most probably don't. The more distant the epoch the easier the task of being credible without being true. The audience for this type of show wants a whiff of actual history, but nothing too unpleasant, too uncomfortable. Resulting in rather strange combinations of much fiction and little fact.