Creative Arts with Patrick Moore


Dark or Light? What Kind of World do we Live In?
June 7, 2016, 10:58 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

This morning I began reading a new essay about Melville. Why am I reading essays about Melville? Traci (my wife) and I have been reading Moby Dick to each other in the evenings. We had such a good experience last year reading Great Expectations to each other that we immediately started another classic. We are also reading Anglela’s Ashes aloud, with me imitating how Frank McCourt read it in his brilliant reading of the audiobook. As an interlude Traci read to me Ron Koertge’s Coaltown Jesus, day before yesterday. We are both writers and we find reading aloud more enlightening and entertaining than watching the tube. Our TV has a dust covering over it.

0607160802

After we started reading Moby-Dick, I sensed the author was trying to teach us something about religion. I wanted to find out what critics said about this so I went to Pima Community College and found Cricical Insights – Herman Melville by Salem Press.

[A tangent: The book had never been opened. In fact most of the books I get from the Pima CC library have never been opened. I am overjoyed to find 400-level books in this library system, even though the classes only go to 200 level. I am glad they allow me to borrow books even though I am not a student there. I wonder if all community colleges have this caliber of library?]

I loved the first essay on Melville’s America by John David Miles. I may write about that essay later. What a great overview of 19th Century America, from a literary perspective!

But what really jolted me to begin writing this morning was the third essay, Melville and the Transcendentalists by Clark Davis. Wow!

Why does this topic grab me so tightly–Dark Romantics vs Light Transcendentalists?

  • it mentions Poe as being in the same camp as Melville. I love Poe!
  • It deals with the question of, Is this a Benevolent World, a Murphy’s Law World, or Random?
  • I have struggled with the dark view of life..
  • My wife says I tend to be suspicious and doubtful..

For most of my life I have struggled with a Murphy’s Law view of the world, that anything that can go wrong, will. It is interesting I’ve never believed this law would apply to others, just me, as if I am cursed, as if a cloud constantly follows over my head, making my world dark, but not the Whole World, not for Others.

Now that I am beginning to embrace light, I find it is wise for me not to wholeheartedly leap into a Pollyanna optimism where everything happens for the best. I think that view would lead me to relapse. I want to really understand life, Nature, at least in relation to whether The World wants my life to be a happy one or a sad one, or neither if The World is not even a Being. Doesn’t this seem like an important thing to know?

We Learn about Life, the Universe and Everything from Literature

I think Douglas Adams also struggled with this question. What is the meaning of life? At first he asked the question ironically as if everyone knew this was a random universe. Or was it a negative universe, with a morbid sense of humor, dooming humans to gloom? But as he went along in his novels, especially after hearing the criticisms of the pessimism in his last hitchhiker book, more and more he showed he really began to hope he could “solve” the question through his novels. Switching to Dirk Gently gave him an avenue to explore this. Before he died he was hoping to write a final novel that tied the Dirk Gently universe to the Hitchhiker universe and resolve all the loose ends. But this added pressure was too much for him and I think he just sort of exploded, unable to contain all those pressures.

It’s funny that we should rely on literature to teach us these things, isn’t it? You’d think it would be religion, science, or even anthropology, sociology or psychology, wouldn’t you? But to me it seems none of those sciences or theologies has even caught up with the 19th Century conflict between Transcendentalism vs. Dark Romanticism. It appears to me that storytelling is the leader in teaching us how this universe works. How ironic that you would tell fictitious stories in order to teach about nature.

There is a good reason that fiction writers might be the best option for enlightening understanding of Man’s Relationship with Nature. Good writers step aside from their premeditated biases, and allow the story to tell itself. Good writers develop interesting characters and then step aside, to let them speak for themselves. Nature is actually allowed to step in and tell the story. The muse is actually invited to move the pen. The writer is simply supplies the arms and fingers to type with, as the writer’s brain has humbly offered his body in the service of a higher Being.

The other sciences, theology and philosophy have no such method (unless you include Inspired Prophets, but in time it’s the uninspired Theologians who wreck even that). This is why, in my view, literature leads, when it comes to understanding Nature’s Relationship to Man.

Melville’s Doubt of Transcendentalist Optimism

Melville wrote in a letter, paraphrasing the Pollyanna-Optimistic philosophy of Goethe:

That is to say, your separate identity is but a wretched one,–good; but get out of yourself, spread and expand yourself, and bring to yourself the tinglings of life that are felt in the flowers and the wood, that are felt in the planets Saturn and Venus, and the Fixed Stars.

Melville’s letter immediately rejects this view of life:

What nonsense! Here is a fellow with a raging toothache. “My dear boy,” Goethe says to him, “you are sorely afflicted with that tooth; but you must live in the all, and then you will be happy!”

A person with a toothache, Melville feels certain, will gain no relief from communing with Nature. I am not so certain he is correct about this but let’s let him have it for the moment.

Another example of Melville’s Doubt is how Melville treats The Sea in Moby-Dick. The main character is standing on the ship deck on a lovely day, watching for whales, and feels a sense of oneness with the all, as many have felt looking at the sea. (I just read a science report in “The Week” that says having a view of the sea reduces stress.) At first the oneness-with-sea scene looks like transcendentalist writing. But shortly after, Melville shows how voracious the sharks are, so greedy they begin to bite each other. Melville seems to agree with the transcendentalists up to a point. Nature can be a source of wonderful commune, but it can also be a source of terrible horror, suffering and death. It appears as if he is saying, you can never know which way Nature will be toward you at any moment, so best be on your guard. Can you never know? This is an important question to me. Is it to you?

 

the “Dark Romantics,” Melville, Hawthorne and Poe, are “dark” because they are skeptical of the “light-infused” thinking of Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman. Poe and Melville do not disagree with the transcendentalists, but only disagree that nature is only pure, innocent and loving. The Darks doubt that Nature can be trusted, because you never know what hand it will deal you.

Is Nature is fickle and random? Must we be on guard against Nature that will eat us up in a second?

I personally need to know the answer to this question, to make my life have some meaning, to feel I have some influence in my own life. I don’t want to live at the mercy of random suffering, even if I randomly get happiness too. I want some understanding, even weak understanding, of a process I can trust.

Poe’s life and Melville’s did not show them success as writers. The New York publishers were rude and excluded both. Life seemed to demonstrate to them the dark pessimism, or doubt of Life’s intentions for Man, they became known for as writers. Still their pioneering paved the way for more great American writers to prosper, like Twain. It is sad that Poe and Melville did not receive the acclaim that we now see they deserved. But this is the way with pioneers. It takes time (and other factors) for the many to see the value of the innovations. Unfortunately they could not know they were paving the way for other great writers. They saw only the results from their single lifetime and from that position, life looked as if it offered no support for what they were doing. Their existences appeared to them to be proofs of Murphy’s Law—anything that can go wrong (to you) will go wrong (upon you).

How benevolent is Nature? Must we be on guard, or should we be more trusting of Nature?

Several transcendentalist notions, I think, are true. In the 1980’s a psychotherapist pen-named A. H. Almaas confirmed these points in his book, Essence:

  • Nature will demonstrate the glorious connection, “all in all,” communing with each creature as one large organism whose mind is far superior in understanding and fulfillment than any individual could be.
  • Babies do arrive already perceiving this merged state, though they do not yet perceive “normal” things.
  • it is through punishment and reward that children are trained out of this merged state, into a state of self-importance, “every man an island,” over ten or more years.

I believe the dark romantics are also correct:

  • Nature does not always reflect to man the “pure community of all in all,” but as often reflects to him competition, suffering and death, “red in tooth and claw.”

What neither group (Transcendentalists / Dark Romanticists) showed us in their literature was:

  • The way Nature interacts with Man is Lawful (Spinoza)
  • One of the “laws” must deal with how nature “reflects” experiences to man, and the law must state that the reflected experience has some dependence on what the man is bringing to the “mirror” at that moment.
  • For example, a person who has adopted a “dark romantic” view of life, seeing bright nature as fickle or random, will see dark random suffering and random communal bliss, in the mirror. A person who has an ideology of Murphyism will see that life is against me.
  • This is not the only law of nature, there must be dozens more (or is it even a finite number?)

That is not to say, a person who has adopted a bright, transcendentalist view of life, will always have positive things reflected to him or her. Bad things happen to optimistic people. Is this because Nature is random? Not necessarily. It could be because often optimism is only a smiling mask, covering deeper doubt. Nature is not fooled by the mask but resonates with all the levels and layers of the human being. Nature provides experiences that reflect layers of ourselves that we do not consciously perceive. This is often puzzling and appears random, or worse, malevolent. When bad things happen to optimistic people, this can quickly convert an optimist into a pessimist.

I think the truth is neither Transcendentalist Optimism and Dark Romantic Pessimism. I agree with Spinoza that Nature behaves according to Nature’s Laws. We simply don’t yet understand the laws of nature, when it comes to sublime experiences of all-in-all, and horrible experiences of red-in-tooth-and-claw. Our culture currently thinks what we’re given in life is random (if we are scientific) or life’s events are punishments and rewards (if we are theistic or believe in karma).

Why don’t we perceive these laws of nature?

We simply don’t perceive ANY laws of nature, at least not in the normal way of perception. The laws of motion were only codified a few hundred years ago, even though humans have perceived falling bodies for millions of years. This shows that laws of nature are not apprehended by the five senses, but by a different capacity. For two million years before Newton, humans had seen, felt, and heard the motion of objects, but had not apprehended the laws of conservation of motion. The apprehending of laws requires many steps beyond the five senses:

  • First, a willingness to seek the laws!
  • Looking in the right places for the laws.
  • Looking with the correct perspective. Or with any perspective that does not automatically slant our objectivity (like bias or wishful thinking).
  • Sharing with other observers.
  • Really listening to their different perspectives of our findings.
  • Willingness to be wrong.
  • Correlating many perspectives, etc.

When it comes to the laws of nature that govern whether Life treats us Generously, Stingily or randomly, this science has not even really begun yet. Who is studying this? Are they beginning with open minds or do they seek only what they already believe? Socrates asked the right questions, Epictetus proposed a few axioms, Spinoza more, but these approaches are still far from mainstream. We simply do not yet have a science of human depths. Maybe we are too close to it. Maybe it won’t be until we meet people from other planets, who study us, that we will gain the objectivity to really look at this.

In fact, we are currently trying to bypass this science by studying brain synapses, mapping the brain by slicing it ever thinner and stacking the images, as if this would tell us all we need to know about the human being. Brain science is good science and I endorse it (except the billions pledged could be put to better use), but it won’t help us with our current question.

Here is an example of how one’s perception of the laws of nature is bent: You can perceive a denial your friend is doing. She can perceive a denial you are doing. But no person can perceive his own denial directly, at least not using normal perception. Spinoza mentions a “type three” perception that might do the trick. but even Spinoza struggled with jealousy over a woman he loved who went with another man. My guess is that no human is beyond the blinders caused by one’s denials, avoidances and ideologies, or at least not continuously. Even Jesus had his moments of outrage, kicking over tables, yelling and namecalling. I believe we simply don’t have anything like a science of the human depths. Yet.

I believe there are laws of nature that describe what is happening in the conflict between transcendentalism and dark romanticism. We just have not yet codified these laws. Our culture is not even interested in codifying these laws, or acknowledging that our interactions with nature, whether we experience life as positive or negative, follow laws of nature. Is this a positive world or a negative world? There is no common knowledge on this point. Even religion is divided on this, with some doctrines saying nature(including human nature) is inherently evil, some saying nature is inherently good. Current science might say: neither, the world is random and this explains why some outcomes are positive and some are negative. Nature doesn’t care. Nature doesn’t have any capacity to care. Nature is not a being. We are isolated beings within a non-alive nature.

Oops, I made a mistake. I said our culture is not interested in these questions. On further thought, I think our culture is very interested in these questions. Its interest is to steer us away from these questions. Our culture is to our society like our subconscious is to our self. We told it a long time ago to deny, evade, avoid and hide certain uncomfortable truths, and since that time it has been doing a very good job keeping up those original instructions. We can recover the things we have hidden, personally and as a society, when we show our subconscious and our culture that it is really in our benefit to have more knowledge. At first we have to be tested to see if this is true and after passing a handful of tests, the subconscious, and the culture, will be totally supportive of insights, enlightenments and understanding the laws of how life works. But currently, there is a lot of resistance to understanding these laws.

Conclusion or.. Invitation

Transcendentalism says nature is inherently good. Dark romanticism questions this by asking, if nature is inherently good, why do we so often experience horrible suffering and death at the hands of nature? There is an answer to this question, it’s just that our society’s literature has not shown it to us. Yet. Or has it?

Keep reading!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a Comment so far
Leave a comment



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s



%d bloggers like this: