The day began clear and sunny, then later the clouds rolled in and by now it’s raining. The new Maupassant book arrived yesterday. I haven’t really examined it yet aside from the back cover blurb. It’s very nice of course… The rain is coming down with some force just now. Yesterday I had some interesting thoughts about idealism and a perfect world, and what struck me was being unable to really feel this. The world of Platonic Forms, the ladder of Jacob’s dream, the expectation of Jerusalem and so on just seemed impossible to me. People live with imperfection in this world and we can’t hope for anything better. There’s no such thing as perfect. And I think the words perfect and ideal mean the same thing. Or perhaps it’s just a sign of the times when we abandon our notions of a utopia, whether here on earth or somewhere beyond our immediate world. Life has gotten very hard, and it’s also quite difficult to tell good from evil nowadays. Hamlet said, “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” The world has been thrown into confusion— even like in Macbeth with equivocation and the lies like truth. Again it seems that we need to get ourselves back to the Garden. I only wonder if the touchstone for a better life really is the Bible…
I’ve never lived through a Democratic rule without alcohol before. It’s a very strange experience, and looking around me I see much that I missed the last time. It kind of raises the issue of how important religion is. And is there any way to bring it to life again?
I was up before five, so it was a long wait till the store opened on Maxwell Road. For a week or so I’ve thought about perfection and what that means in our experience. People seem to disagree on whether it exists. In a way, it’s what Christians are waiting for with the New Jerusalem. Many people are discontent living with imperfection. If it doesn’t exist here, then we expect it with the sublime. I think my streak of Romanticism has reached its end. Still, there’s an argument I find it hard to refute, and that is what Plotinus says about The One. Without this, the particulars or individual things could not be. It’s a purely ontological line of reasoning, but when you’re on his turf you can hardly use any other than his own terms. Similarly, when I was in school, it took me three years to repudiate Berkeley’s idealism. When I did, I took only one more class in philosophy… I don’t know if utopia is for real. The very word means “nowhere.” Is it possible to build paradise?
I will not cease from mental fight
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.
Whatever the truth is, there’s something in human nature that always reaches for the Ideal. It’s a notion that resides not outside of us, but within.
Nine thirty five.
I’ve been to the store and back in the rain. The wind made it hard to use my umbrella, so I ended up putting up my hood and just shivering through it. Didn’t see much of anything new for the trip around the bend. A book I ordered of Paul Verlaine is delayed a couple of days, no explanation why. The deeper I go into Western literature, the farther I have to go to find my way out. I feel like pulling the plug on all of it and following nature, the world of ordinary things. The thing that puzzles me about Baudelaire is his jump to metaphysics from everyday reality, spontaneously addressing prayers to the devil and so forth, just assuming the existence of such beings. It seems naive to me not to know the difference between material and spiritual, and yet he uses the term “ideal” freely. Maybe I’m the one who’s naive? And maybe the natural world I seek doesn’t exist… The rain keeps coming down. On a good day I’d say it was a shower of fine wine from heaven. Today is rather blah; the rain is merely water, the sky a vapid gray.
The City of Eugene finally sent out a team to pick up the leaves at our curbs. This is just ordinary stuff. Lord or Lucifer had nothing to do with it.
Ten thirty evening.
Today’s business was executed this morning, so after that it was rather restless and dull. My dog doesn’t seem very happy with me. He goes through moods and phases like anybody with a degree of intelligence. I try not to personalize it; yet it’s a mistake to say he’s just a dog with hardened heart and ignore his needs. Again tonight I feel convinced that consciousness anywhere is a rational thing, and if logic is thrown off balance then it’s an instance of contradiction: life is supposed to be healthy and sane, everything in harmony. How could we possibly get it so messed up? An acronym I don’t hear very often is “fubar,” or f—d up beyond all repair. This is probably because people get used to living with the state of things less than perfect. The condition gets quite tricky with philosophy and religion because of the elitism of the first clashing with Christian love and forgiveness. It reminds me of the terrible phenomenon of Hitler and his ultimate defeat by the Allies. Perhaps philosophy is too idealistic for a world that’ll never be perfect? Maybe it’s about loving people and things the way they are?
I agreed to show up for Advent midweek worship Wednesday night at the little church on Maxwell Road. Something made me think of my old psychiatrist saying that humans are a cancer on the face of the earth, and the big decision I made to leave him in favor of an idealistic Christian church five years ago. The key word is idealism, and it’s not a dirty word. There are Christians and there are Christians, some more cynical than others, some of them anti intellectual, and so on. But I think there’s always something to be said for honesty with a dream. Cynics tend to be the biggest sinners because their attitude gives them an excuse to act accordingly. It’s not about moral superiority, however. Not about holier than thou. I think it’s a matter of a sincere wish to believe in something beyond the physics, a heaven we can all look forward to: and to defend the dream against annihilation. I keep remembering the lines from William Blake where Newton blasts the trumpet of doom for the future of the religious imagination. It may be really as simple as the real and the Ideal. Unfortunately I think I’ve been too much of a Newton. Maybe we all have.
I realized something a minute ago. I don’t daydream very much anymore. That is, it’s nothing hypothetical, a pure fantasy that I weave out of nothing. I’ll have reveries from memories of the past or I’ll make guesses about the future, but I don’t dream up scenarios for the pleasure of it anymore. I suppose I don’t see the point or the relevance of this these days; my youth is used up, totally exhausted, and I’m left with my old age, a withered old fart.
I’d kind of like to get out of the house again today but there’s nothing I really need from the store. It’s quite beautiful out right now. I think it was yesterday morning when I saw the full moon 🌕 waning in the western sky on a backdrop of blue. In only a few minutes it dipped below the rim of the trees and rooftops, denying that it had ever been there: so you are left to doubt your own senses for having witnessed the spectacle. The moon was the only remarkable, otherworldly thing I saw that day. The rest was quite humdrum and drab and very ordinary, showing a poverty of imagination for beautiful things and possibilities because our minds are so fixed on grubbing for material satisfaction. All’s not gold that glitters; and precious gems as well could be so many worthless rocks that clot the streets like the ones in Voltaire’s El Dorado. But this little sermon will still fall upon senseless eyes and ears— at least until the next full moon comes around.
…while the marketplace keeps buzzing with business of people blind to the love that lies dormant someplace out of sight…
Life may seem like a struggle between the poles of animal and human. But apart from the tension of psychodynamics there is radiance far greater that reclines on a couch neither terrestrial nor celestial, sipping sunny nectar as elegantly as Helen of Troy. She is perhaps the daughter of Cupid and Psyche whom we know as Pleasure. Or she could be a star more sublime; but either way, she surpasses everything for perfect loveliness and grace.
Well I’m glad this morning is behind me and I have two days now to rest and take it easy. I started writing in my new journal this morning: really pleased with it. Seems to inspire me to better thoughts than ordinary blank books. A while ago I returned to my old theme of individual freedom, especially in Continental thinking, for instance Spain and France over the centuries, from Cervantes to Sartre. I just love that stuff. I always get excited for the idea of personal liberty, whether or not it’s illusory, perhaps an impossible dream. The point, I guess, is to keep the dream of freedom alive in our imaginations and work towards its realization. It’s awfully easy to get depressed with the belief that we are nothing but pawns in a government game, puppets controlled by a master puppeteer. This is especially true if you are a mentally ill person snared in the system, having to take the medication and jump through the hoops that ultimately boil down to economics and the associated greed and corruption. Even if freedom is only a dream, still dreams inspire people to action in the end. I might argue that Edgar Allan Poe flew to the moon just by writing a story about it, because posterity made his fantasy a reality, inspired by his original idea.
I read and skimmed the chapter on Sartre in my new book by William Barrett, and I came away from it feeling inspired and rejuvenated. I wrote some notes in my journal, arriving at the conclusion that human freedom has no limits, at least from certain perspectives. I know it probably sounds too optimistic, or “idealistic” in a naive sense of the term, yet what else is philosophy for if it can’t exaggerate a little? And now I’ll finish reading Native Son to see what ideas the story bears out.
I bet I sound like a kook to you with my talk of freedom and so forth, but it’s still important to me. Maybe there’s something kind of Peter Pan about libertarian ideas. However, the implications of liberty in the abstract are far reaching, and it’s a serious philosophical issue with a lot of relevance to our lives. Someday there’s a couple of books I want to read in their entirety: one is Being and Nothingness and the other is Don Quixote. In my experience with Cervantes and Shakespeare, the former is about individual freedom, the latter is deterministic and fixed, more like Freudian psychology. It’s interesting that the two writers were contemporaries and died on the same day in 1616. For me, it’s kind of either/or, one or the other, and I think I pick Cervantes.
I remember when in college I was sort of forced to accept Shakespeare and Freud, the unconscious, the idea of nature, and all that, after I’d been exposed to Sartre and other philosophers, plus Don Quixote. There’s a world of difference between these two angles. It might be said that the idealistic side has no common sense, hence the meaning of “quixotic.” And then you have to consider the role of Sancho Panza, the one who has sanity and a clear head. Sancho is realistic.
I don’t know about all of this, but I’m just getting started with my exploration of the possibilities, and the Barrett book fueled the fire for me today.
Quarter after eleven at night.
“Light one candle to watch for Messiah / Let the light banish darkness…” My mind is a jumble even though the night is quiet and golden. The world has far to go to be anything like perfect. If only it were as easy as buying the world a Coke and teaching it to sing in harmony. Around here, I still don’t see very many people of color. I wonder if they are happy with the current social climate. I’d like to get a chance to talk with some of them about their feelings. Years ago a young Mexican guy told me about a rock band in Mexico called Los Tiranos del Norte, and he said they were very good. I imagine they were indeed, with a name like that. I was working as seasonal help at a music store in the Gateway Mall, where I met a variety of different people in public. Once I ran into a mother and her young son who were Greek, with a swarthy complexion that could be mistaken for something else, but now I know better about Mediterranean people.
I don’t know; everything just feels so incomplete and out of joint, especially for so-called minorities and those who don’t have anything. And all we can offer them are a flag to wave and a cross to bear. I get tired of listening to my sister’s conservative opinions, especially when she spouts about the homeless, as if they were to blame for their plight. Worse, as if they chose to live that way. I find her attitude very uncharitable and unkind. A perfect world is one where people can be what they want to be, where they can use their natural gifts to share with everyone. I fear that perfection will be a long time coming, though I hope for the Golden Age to be restored and all of humankind fulfilled.