The Good News: a Letter

I made two posts today that, I see in retrospect, complement each other. The first one affirms individual freedom as a gift from nature, and the second one suggests the agency of fate, in an apparent contradiction. Or, can fate and free will both obtain in the same worldview? Either they exclude each other or not. Sartre would say that the fatalism of the second post is bad faith because I tried to deny the fact of human freedom. I once had an English professor who noted, “Fate and free will are not opposites,” but I never understood his meaning. I believe the play in question was Oedipus the King. He, Oedipus, is warned by the Delphic Oracle that he will kill his father and marry his mother. And as the events play out, he does just that, though unwittingly. Oedipus fulfills the fate put in place by the gods, yet his actions are freely chosen. Could he have done otherwise than what he was fated to do? This was never very clear to me. But I think I agree with Sartre: deferring your liberty to something outside of yourself is to shuffle off responsibility. So that freedom and responsibility truly are intrinsic to every human being, and “inalienable,” as I said. But I don’t think Thomas Jefferson was quite the philosopher that Sartre was, and also, Pastor is probably unfamiliar with the latter. One thing is certain: one cannot be held responsible for his actions without first acknowledging his free agency, and the converse is also true. My sister tends to overemphasize the responsibility side of the coin, ignoring the good news of man’s liberty. It’s a rather fascinating topic for me. Do you have any thoughts on this? Pastor only scratched the surface in his Reformation Sunday sermon. He evoked Aristotle and Jefferson in relation to the issues of freedom and happiness, but there’s a lot more territory to cover, particularly Greek tragedy and the philosophy of Sartre. This is an investigation I opened since the lockdown last March. I’m still working on it and hopefully I’ll come to a conclusion before next spring.

Ancient Ethical Dilemma

One thirty. The guitar stands came, so I unpacked them and set them up. My mood is still pretty rotten, though better than a little while ago… I don’t enjoy much of anything lately, and it’s very rough to experience. Kate liked pleasure, and so did I; we both were sensual and commonsensical about it. Except, it wasn’t rational to drink a half case every day. The Greeks prescribed moderation, and it’s still the truth. I’m a little afraid that I’m close to a relapse of alcoholism, and this could depend on the outcome of the election. I know it shouldn’t be that way, but party politics are what they are, I guess. It looks like my vote went for sex, drugs, and rock and roll. The movies will go berserk with a Democratic win, like Pulp Fiction all over again. Life in general will be decadent and liberal, and even irreligious. This is how I see the Democratic Party, whether or not it’s absolutely true. Thus the presidential race still bugs me, and will keep doing so until after November 3rd. It’s possible I voted for the wrong guy. I guess I really want sex, drugs, and rock and roll, or however you formulate sensual pleasure. I used to have too much fun with my old friend Kate. But it’s very difficult to know what is right between the choices of stoicism and Epicureanism. The latter nearly killed me, and yet I want to have fun so badly. Some people are satisfied with just having more money; that’s all they wish for. And then there are those who want to burn the candle at both ends and party like there’s no tomorrow. That was me four years ago and before. I don’t know. Which way is more commonsensical? I realize that alcohol is my curse and not good for me, yet I voted for the liberal party in hopes that everybody could have a good time once again. It’s too late to change my vote now, but I see myself white knuckling it until all the votes are counted. 

After the Minotaur

Quarter of nine.

With church being over for me, I should find other people to see locally. Wait for the dust to settle, then look for a social activity; probably music. My new copy of Karamazov is coming today. Too little, too late. I’ve crossed that bridge, and now I’m unwelcome in church. It’s been a strange and hectic month. People say it is a time of division. I suppose there’s nothing magical about this during an election year. People in groups behave in specific ways, though I don’t understand the ways of sociology. There are predictable patterns of social behavior, as if the group were a conscious entity in its own right, a massive organism composed of individual humans.

Quarter of ten. I don’t know where I belong now, but I’m still along for the ride with everyone else. To be conscious is to be involved with the world. Maybe I’m just watching the wheels. A major part of me would love to go to Ireland or Scotland and have a few beers in a real British pub. This will never happen, but I can daydream about it. Careful about dreaming; it tends to leave you stranded… One needs to be his own guide through life. But sometimes it seems that there’s nowhere to go. No place for a new adventure. At the same time, there’s no turning back, so you’re stuck in limbo for a while. It’s important to be fearless with your thinking, to follow where it leads. Like being in a maze, you sometimes reach a dead end and have to start again. Life is one big maze, a labyrinth possibly with a Minotaur wandering through it. Alcohol was my Minotaur, but the labyrinth goes on and on. 

Turned to Stone

Turned to Stone




Humanity with fear is paralyzed,
Unable to enjoy a single pleasure,
Dissatisfied to even shed a tear
As if a Gorgon stared us into stone.
Medusa, hair of snakes, in spirit form
Sends out a signal petrifying all,
Revenge against her slayer Perseus.


But Perseus, the favored of the gods,
Is not asleep, and armed with sword and shield,
Is ready to behead her as before,
Releasing everybody from her spell.
So once again the world is free to feel
The joys and sorrows proper to its kind,
And more important, act accordingly.

Sunday Noon

Nine fifty. Sheryl’s belief in masochism was very offensive to me as a rational person. I outgrew this kind of mentality by the time I was nine years old. Rational transactions just made more sense to me. Anything else was authoritarian and might makes right. Reason and purpose make right, not force and domination… I’m getting drowsy.

Eleven thirty. Clouds have rolled in, saving us a little from the sun. But I still don’t feel very good. I feel oppressed by life, by factors that I can’t control. It seems like there’s no difference between the weather and society. It is all one force of nature, totally out of my hands. Is that a superstition? A mystical notion? And what governs our fate after all, and can prayer change it? A fire sacrifice to the gods, burnt offerings. It’s a primitive way of thinking, yet we still do it. The whole feels greater than the sum of the parts sometimes. We feel like puppets of the master in the sky. It’s only a feeling, but it may be right. The strangest part is how we’re all doing it together, like a cosmic dance. Like a Shakespeare play… The patchy clouds have become an overcast sky, as if in answer to someone’s prayer. Free will may be a mere illusion. And maybe we’ll never know.

The Muse Returns

Wee hours. I love El Salon Mexico! Hearing it in my head is pure bliss. Copland is one of the great composers, and so North American. Sometimes music comes my way like a coquette, and other times she gives me the cold shoulder. Such is the muse of inspiration when you are past your prime. In her absence you fill the gaps with reason and ordinariness until she comes again, a moonlit goddess, Diana herself. Why didn’t the Greeks make Artemis the goddess of music as well as the moon? Instead, Apollo was assigned the job of both sunshine and music. Perhaps like Midas I have donkey ears, being unable to judge between Apollo and Pan in a music contest. And what is wrong with the pipes of Pan?… My ad on Craigslist has attracted one bite so far. Very good news. And maybe my coy mistress, music, will visit me again and take me for a Jungian ride as she did in my thirties. Or will it be an Emersonian ride, something all American and proud of it?

Domingo

Nine o’clock.

I’ve been to the store. I forgot to mention my bottle returns to Vicki, so I’m out 30 cents. If I remember tomorrow, I’ll tell her then. She’ll believe me because she knows I don’t lie. Someone had brought in a bunch of sandwiches from the deli, so I bought roast beef and cheddar. This will make a good lunch today. By the way, the black ants in my kitchen have disappeared. I guess they got tired of being jettisoned down the drain with tap water.

I feel strong and independent this morning, like an equal human being. Our humanity is very important, as I wrote to my pen pal earlier today. The pride and glory of being human has gone out of our religion since the days of the Renaissance. I totally admire Pico della Mirandola for his Dignity of Man. By contrast, today’s definition of human is whatever makes us weak. I believe that being human is a grand thing, and we can take a lesson from Ancient Greece as long as those old books are available. Not to mention the poetry and essays by Renaissance scholars themselves. I still owe Castiglione a read through his Book of the Courtier. Also Sidney for The Old Arcadia. Anyway, the humanism of medieval Christianity doesn’t exist anymore. Modern day religion promotes the image of people as humble and groveling before their God. That just doesn’t appeal to me, and never really has.

Aesop’s breakfast is up in a few minutes. The sky is cloudless and we’re probably in for a hot day. I don’t plan on letting anyone get me down today. It isn’t worth it to feel ashamed for anything. Hold your head up and get on with it. Others will respect you for that.

Aeschylus: a Letter

Today I read the whole play of Prometheus Bound, largely from curiosity about Greek cosmology and how this affects human freedom. Aeschylus is the oldest known tragedian, coming before Sophocles and Euripides. Reading him in English translation is odd because you know that the translator has studied Shakespeare and Shelley prior to his treatment of the Ancient Greek. My little Loeb edition has the parallel Greek, which I wish I could decipher on my own rather than depend on the English rendering which sounds too much like Shakespeare or the King James Version. Interesting, though, when Zeus is referred to as “God,” as if the Greeks had been monotheistic (which they were not). I’ve seen some English versions of Plato that confounded Christian theology with the Greek as well. Every translator brings a personal bias to the original text, as I know you are aware (we discussed this before). Still, the Smyth translation tries to preserve and to revive the grandeur of the original.
I learned from it that human fate is determined by the “triform Fates and mindful Furies,” and not by Zeus. Actually, Zeus was a newcomer to Olympus, having overthrown his father Cronus and messed things up for the old Titans such as Prometheus and his brother Atlas. Zeus had planned to wipe out human beings and replace them with a better race, but Prometheus had compassion on us and stole fire kept in fennel stalks of the gods and gave it to humanity. He also says that every art known to humankind is what he taught us. So that the fire comes to symbolize the light of reason and knowledge hitherto unavailable to human beings. People had been living underground with eyes that couldn’t see and ears that couldn’t understand. And these acts of kindness on the part of the Titan were freely willed by him. It is his stubbornness and self will and defiance of Zeus that get him in trouble. His fate would have been to be released from the crag where he is chained by Heracles (Roman Hercules), but instead, Zeus blasts him with a thunderbolt straight to Tartarus, another word for hell or Hades. With Prometheus perishes the secret of the future overthrow of Zeus. The daughters of Oceanus also disappear with him in the end.
It’s interesting to me to consider how Prometheus the Titan is older and more informed than Zeus, who has only now usurped the godhead from his father Cronus. Zeus is referred to as a tyrant, and Prometheus gets a lot of sympathy from other divinities and mortals. And his punishment comes about all because of his compassion for the race of humankind. How deserving were we, anyway? We had no defense and no weapon, not even the fire of reason, to keep us alive, until this old Titan showed us the way. It’s quite a story, isn’t it?
I hope July proves to be a good month. June had its ups and downs. The coronavirus snafu just isn’t going away, so I wonder if I may never get to play music with other people again. A moment ago I thought of my sobriety, which had been so far from my mind during my retelling the tale of Prometheus. Maybe storytelling is a way to occupy my time rather than music in all this uncertainty and hullabaloo. Aesop hates it when I play my bass guitar plugged in. Perhaps he will get his way and the music will not pan out. The future is totally unforeseen, and every day is one at a time. I’m certainly getting tired of the lockdown however. I guess the answer is to surrender. To say que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be. Like fate that is entirely inscrutable.

Tuesday Morning

Quarter after eight.

It’s just an overcast morning. Supposed to be cloudy all day, chance of rain this afternoon. I pulled out my book of Frost and read “Design” again, a couple of times. His idea of a malign cosmos brings Melville to mind, also the later poems of Dickinson. Originally, it all goes back to Greek tragedy, about which I’d like to know more. I should review Sophocles, and Aeschylus and Euripides. The ideal would be having total recall of everything I ever read. I can start by reading all the Aeschylus I have.

Nine fifty. Fate in Prometheus Bound is ordained by Zeus, simply enough. But it’s humbling to turn the pages of a drama so ancient and venerable… I’m getting a haircut at eleven o’clock. The name “Prometheus” means “forethought,” which adds irony to a story of fate. The Titan knew in advance what would happen to him for championing humankind. He showed us fire anyway. Now he must be riveted to a rock in manacles of brass as his punishment for disobeying Zeus. With a stake of adamant right through his chest. Till the end he will be defiant and bewail the injustice of his fate. And of all beings, only Zeus is free. But what about Prometheus, when he chose to benefit humanity? Did he will his action, or was it part of his fate?… He is a martyr, as so many figures in antiquity were. Socrates, Aesop, Jesus Christ… The question I woke up with was if the universe is a friendly place. The Greeks believed in the lordship of Zeus, similar in some ways to Jehovah. He was the maker of human fates— but there were also the Fates, the Furies, and the Muses. I wonder how all this worked together? Interesting…

Quarter of noon. Karen informed me that face masks are mandatory starting tomorrow, and sold me five of them for three bucks apiece. I suppose, like death and taxes, it was inevitable… Shasta from the insurance office emailed me the information about earthquake coverage. I’ll call her back tomorrow and approve it. Now I guess I’ll read the rest of my Aeschylus.

Life Was Michelangelo

Ten twenty five. My senior year English teacher set a bad example, being rather a pervert. High school was kind of like that. The Spanish teacher the same year had a dubious personal life, never getting married and flirting with all the men. But people such as they, and everybody, need a merciful savior the like of Jesus Christ. Me, too. The foibles of the people I’ve met, including myself, are enough to make me cry. They make me wish I could be some other animal than a human being. Yet where does this feeling of shame come from?

People ought to be proud and bold, worshiping the human form as divine beyond all conception. This was the sentiment that raised Ancient Greece to the pinnacle of civilization. Those people, like Narcissus, saw their reflection in the water and fell in love with their own image. Humanity became an end in itself; and really, the spirit of the Renaissance was much the same. They revived antiquity and reveled in the joy and beauty of being alive and, above all, human. They did not despise themselves, spitting in their own eye. Life was Michelangelo, the human form exalted to divinity. The Renaissance was to be reborn to the perfect life.

Then what is this sense of shame, treading on cigarette butts and fast food litter on our journey to the convenience store? Whither fled the glory and gleam of this vision of human potential? Where is there a pool wherein to view our own beauty once again? Where is our New Renaissance?