Saturday, August 17, 2002

"[...] I feel obliged to speak the truth to my
contemporaries and I feel ashamed if they take me to
be someone whom I am not. In their opinion, a person
who "had faith" is fortunate. They assume that as a
result of certain inner experiences he was able to
find an answer, while they know only questions. So how
can I make a profession of faith in the presence of my
fellow human beings? After all, I am one of them,
seeking, as they do, the laws of inheritance, and I am
just as confused. [...] But what of death? I would say
that it has made an especially spectacular appearance
in my century and that it is the real heroine of the
literature and art which is contemporary with my
lifetime. Death has always accompanied us, and word,
line, color, sound drew their raison d'Ítre from
opposition to it; it did not, however, always behave
with the same majesty. The danse macabre that appears
in late medieval painting signified the desire to
domesticate death or to become familiar with it
through its ubiquitous presence, a friendly
partnership, as it were. Death was familiar, well
known, took part in feasts, had the right to
citizenship in the citÈ. Scientific-technological
civilization has no place for death, which is such an
embarrassment that it spoils all our calculations, but
it turns out that this is not for the best. For death
intrudes itself into our thoughts the less we wish to
think about it. And so literature and art start
referring to it incessantly, transforming themselves
into an areligious meditation on death and conducting
"pre-casket somatism," to borrow a phrase from
contemporary Polish poetry.

Here, perhaps, is where I part ways with many people
with whom I would like to be in solidarity but cannot
be. To put it very simply and bluntly, I must ask if I
believe that the four Gospels tell the truth. My
answer to this is: "Yes." So I believe in an
absurdity, that Jesus rose from the dead? Just answer
without any of those evasions and artful tricks
employed by theologians: "Yes or no?" I answer: "Yes,"
and by that response I nullify death's omnipotence. If
I am mistaken in my faith, I offer it as a challenge
to the Spirit of the Earth. He is a powerful enemy;
his field is the world as mathematical necessity, and
in the face of earthly powers how weak an act of faith
in the incarnate God seems†to†be.

I must add immediately that when thinking about my own
death or participating with my contemporaries in a
funeral ceremony, I am no different from them and my
imagination is rendered powerless just as theirs is:
it comes up against a blank wall. It is simply
impossible for me to form a spatial conception of
Heaven and Hell, and the images suggested by the world
of art or the poetry of Dante and Milton are of little
help. But the imagination can function only spatially;
without space the imagination is like a child who
wants to build a palace and has no blocks. So what
remains is the covenant, the Word, in which man
trusts. [...]

The child who dwells inside us trusts that there are
wise men somewhere who know the truth. That is the
source of the beauty and passion of intellectual
pursuits -- in philosophical and theological books, in
lecture halls. Various "initiations into mystery" were
also said to satisfy that need, be it through the
alchemist's workshop or acceptance into a lodge (let
us recall Mozart's Magic Flute). As we move from
youthful enthusiasms to the bitterness of maturity, it
becomes ever more difficult to anticipate that we will
discover the center of true wisdom, and then one day,
suddenly, we realize that others expect to hear
dazzling truths from us (literal or figurative)
graybeards. [...] "

If Only This Could Be Said by Czeslaw Milosz

At night down here, very often lately, Enzian will wake for no reason.
Was it really Him, pierced Jesus, who came to lean over you? The white
faggot's-dream body, the slender legs and soft gold European eyes . . .
did you catch a glimpse of olive cock under the ragged loincloth, did you
want to reach to lick at the sweat of his rough, his wooden bondage? Where
is he, what part of our Zone tonight, damn him to the knob of that nervous
imperial staff. . . .
Gravity's Rainbow p. 324