Thursday, February 5, 2009


We are forgetful people.  I think our feelings of rage at the creator and impotence in the face of what we feel to be massive injustice can largely be attributed to collectively letting our guard down.  We forget.  Marx called it alienation, and attributed it to the loss of creativity and identity through the processes of industrial capitalism.  He was pretty close, I think, but I also believe it goes a little deeper.

We forget that on all sides, at all times, we are beset by forces, neither benign nor malign, that propel us towards unexpected and sometimes grievous misfortune.  At best, it's what Camus referred to as the "gentle indifference of nature"; at worst, if we are to believe Werner Herzog, the unifying elements of the  universe are chaos, hostility and murder.  I try to believe the former more than the latter, although sometimes I'm not so convinced.

In a sense Marx was right; we all feel alienated, but to attribute this simply to the faceless toil of industrial capitalism is a little naive (this doesn't mean, however, that this system is totally off the hook).  I think the feeling of impotence and futility against amorphous and implacable tragedy is fundamental to our existence.  At all times are we being hastened towards our own ultimate misfortune, our own death, which is often without meaning and without poetry.  And when we are smote by the heavy hand of disease, physical injury or personal loss, we feel this futility at its most potent.  We glimpse the world for what it actually is for one cruel instant, and feel the strain of struggling against the current for the totality of our existence.  We remember.

Of course, it's easier to forget.  It's easier to invent a narrative that will make these things feel meaningful.  But isn't that lying?  It seems a bit much like setting ourselves up for dissapointment.  I'm not saying we need to all turn into depressive nihilists, but I don't think we can stumble through our lives in the darkness of this forgetfulness.  As much as possible, I think we need to saturate ourselves in the terrible knowledge of our fragility.  It makes times like these a little more tolerable, but not completely so.