On Excess, Beauty, and Horror

Photo by Dan Leak: https://www.flickr.com/photos/floweroflifephotography/

The numbers of dead do not say anything about the loss: they only point to an excess of death. The living world as well, cannot be circumscribed. Similarly, a flower, a child, a river all escape our categories. They only point to an excess of life. The world of calculation is not the real world. The real world is in the excess, in what cannot be imagined.

When we read the news, it’s good to be mindful of the fact that our so-called facts only marginally correspond to reality. We have our categories but there is a dark side to our mania for the convenient ‘wrapping-up’ of information — we are given a false sense that we understand what is beyond language. There are so many experts on oceans, who haven’t ever gotten their feet wet.

The expert actually knows knows much less than the amateur, even if he or she is highly articulate. Why? Because the expert has circumscribed his understanding, has limited that understanding to categories and abstractions. The amateur, on the other hand, is a lover of life: The etymology says it all: ‘Amateur from French, from Italian amatore, from Latin amator ‘lover’, from amare ‘to love’.

When terrible things happen the lover of life cannot help but be sad. But there is real sadness, and then there is the collective emotion, which is a watered down, safely stereotyped, reaction. This is the danger of social media emotionality — that it is a substitute for bare experience.

I suggest we stay with the bare experience always, before launching into substitutes — like messages of hope or despair or love or hate or whatever. Only silence will help us digest and learn from our experience. The coward does not avert his eyes, nor does he launch into reactivity and/or speechifying.

When bad things happen we search for the the consoling message. But that message is like a little hit of nicotine — it only appeases the pain temporarily. Speeches by politicians are so often dubious for that reason: they give us a message of hope. Hope that we will smash our enemies, hope that everything will be alright. Messages of hope are highly addictive — like Facebook. But do they nourish us really? Aren’t we most hungry for reality beyond those false promises?

The poetry of existence never has any overt ‘message’. Insight is anathema to message, and we are a message obsessed culture. That why there are so many pandits and marketers and so few poets. Poets have nothing to say — but only that nothing, paradoxically, really says something. (And I mean poetry in the larger sense, of living life poetically instead of mechanically, rather than merely writing poems.)

The sophists can only condemn or applause, they cannot truly speak. They provide pablum for people do not want reality, but rather would like to be told that ‘everything will be alright’. I am pretty certain that this phrase ‘everything will be alright’ is the most common line hollywood style television and film, because false consolation is the consumer drug par excellence. But the real consolation is not of some imagined future where everything will be alright, but in being able to pierce through the miasma of the present into timelessness.

It’s better not to try to ‘say something’ but to reveal the mystery of what is, in its naked fullness. When we try to ‘say something’ we are doing ideology. Ideology is word manipulation, a kind of false charisma. By overstating everything the ideologe says nothing of import, even while he attracts millions of followers.

People use atrocity to forward their ideological agenda. This is disgraceful opportunism. Instrumentalization of every act, every gesture, is the bane of our time. Having a message, a program, an ideology, is what keeps us in the dark. It is what keeps us from seeing each other as we are, in our excessive nakedness, rather than through caricature and programmatic lenses.

So what should we do, how should we be, when bad stuff happens. Well, there is no recipe, but do we really need collective catharsis? This is only part of the ugly game: the creation of scapegoats. Maybe the most courageous thing we can do is simply be there without judging the situation immediately. Better respond to atrocity with silence, than risk saying something false and pretentious in the face of the unspeakable. The public outcry meme is often the most impotent. It gets inflated and huge, and then is instantly forgotten, changing nothing …

A suggestion. Don’t get hooked to that substitute emotion. Don’t try to define what has happened. Don’t make a plan of action right away. If there is horror, don’t move away from it. If there is beauty don’t embrace it right away. In any case, the horror will always be excessive. And beauty will always be effulgent. Nobody has ever found a way to change this. It’s just way things are, like it or not.

Compressed scraps of angel melody, stories, essays, rants against reductionism, commands from the deep.