Friday, May 13, 2005

Navel-Gazing With a Purpose

I take a lot of flack from several regular readers of Silentio, but typically the criticisms come down to a couple of things:

(1) "You don't post enough, Brad."
(2) "You post too much smarty-art-religion shit, Brad."

Interestingly, I often hear the same criticism from the same person, in the same email, during the same conversation. They obviously pine for the days of old when I had untold time and energy to write about my views on the build-up to war in Iraq, post bookcovers of Swedish erotica, and as well as the occasional diatribe about Christian bookstores and asphyxiated Jesi. Yes, such were the good ol' days.

I'll first address (2). I've attempted to remedy this accursed pretension, to some extent, by doing most of my academic-type posts over here. If you're interested in that sort of thing, bookmark it.

As for (1), I have no defense to offer. None at all. I'm one part busy, the other part lazy. And, if I'm allowed a third part, a bit bored of the blogging medium -- i.e., it just isn't the same outlet of frustration it used to be. Hence the false promises of posts to come, and posts that consist mostly of blockquotes. It's really quite sad, I know.

I once described Silentio this way:

As it stands today, if the blogosphere is a road map, Silentio is a gravel road just off the dirt road that inexplicably emerged from a cornfield two miles away from the state route that leads to the highway. You, my friends, most of you literally my friends, from days of old, are for the most part, like it or not, not included in that dialogue I just mentioned. We're alone -- crickets chirping -- traffic humming far in the distance -- rural mendicants, maybe squatters, huddled around a campfire, singing occasionally, arguing often, but never silent. No, never that. Silentio is yours as much as it is mine. This is what I tell myself, what I like to believe.

Obviously, our gravel road path has now become more weeds than gravel, and is trodden by only a few who happen to know the way around these parts. It doesn't even connect to the state route. All that remains of the campfire are the grey, nearly hollowed-out dry bones of some nondescript animal we ate in our bygone bacchanalia.

The party was over quickly, wasn't it? Perhaps it was indigestion. I realize I might be writing to myself by now, since I never check Sitemeter anymore, and I don't mean to overstate the importance of Silentio, because it probably was never as important to you as it was to me. (I offered it to you, sure, but only to the extent that I could control the offer. My gifts always come with strings attached, to yank back at any moment, without notice.) And yet, I can't help but think of it as an experiment akin to my beloved German Romantics: Friedrich Schlegel, Novalis, Friedrich Schleiermacher. They had such grand, noble ideals. All of which, or most of which, lasted about three or four years. A blip on the timeline of philosophical and artistic history, let alone their respective lives. After only a few years of meeting in the parlors of Jena and Berlin, the circle of friends and egos fell apart. Schlegel finally married his lover Dorothea, who he had illicitly wooed away from her husband, and quickly thereafter converted to Catholicism; Novalis finally got his wish and died, joining his young bride in the Germanic ground; and Friedrich Schleiermacher seamlessly reconciled his Christian piety with his pluralist leanings, and wrote one of the influential sytematic dogmatics of the nineteenth century.

The grandeur, perhaps naivete, of Romanticism was over in a flash. Gone was their 'new religion' of irony and wit, art and sentiment, of the world as infinitely progressive poetry. Unsurprisingly, it quickly spread throughout Germany, then Britain, and then America in a bastardized form wherein feeling and sentiment was valorized to an extent it never was for Schlegel and his ilk, who always insisted that its purported pantheistic spirit is pierced to the core by an irony that is as destructive as it is creative. (Melville understood this, clearly.) Without irony, it's little wonder that the trajectory of Romanticism went to two kinds of death: (a) the natural kind, wherein an idea is tired and withers on the vine, or is locked away in the asylum, to live out the remainder of its days; and (b) the malevolent kind, wherein an idea is appropriated for ideological purposes, for uniting the Volk, for the sake of ethnic purity and an avowed necessity of historical rule / exception.

All of this makes me wonder, in a way that will make many of you moan with thinly veiled exasperation, about the idea of eternity. Christians await the eschaton, the time of reconciliation and redemption, when things shall be made right -- whatever that means. This time is a no-time, however, because it is the end of time. The end of history. Such has been the promise of many an idealistic philosophy, and yet they have always lasted less than a generation. What if, contra Marx, this isn't a sign of the priority of materiality, and thus the proof of a certain historical inevitability, but simply a indication of infinity's ephemerality. That is to say, what if infinity is to be understood not as a certain duration of experience, but as a the possibility of a certain (miraculous?) intensity of experience -- whereby 'the end', of history / time / etc. (heaven, nirvana, etc.) is, materially, but a moment; and, thus, always just a flash in the pan. Like a certain blog.

S. Žižek says somewhere that the most difficult part of any revolution is the day after its success. What to do after the intensity of 'the end of time' (i.e., the end of the status quo, the breaching of the horizon of a given politico-economic reality) has exploded with its mighty but short-lived fury? The temptation, and to some extent necessity, is to normalize such intensity -- to make it appear inevitable, destined, and thus that which must be inforced by a new rule of law, status quo, etc. The extent that this is true, I think there may always be a place for prophets and martyrs ... even after the promised 'eschaton' of redemption or revolution.