I’ve been on the road for most of this weekend, so I haven’t had a chance to update the blog. I apologize. In the meantime, here’s a video. It’s a two-part video on Kierkegaard from a BBC documentary called Sea of Faith that covers a number of modern philosophers, including Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein, and how they approached faith in the modern era.
In 1841 a little-known English poet escaped an asylum and wandered back to his childhood home in the farmland of Northamtonshire, convinced that he was married to a woman who had died three years earlier.
The poet, John Clare, said that separation from his childhood home–its fields, cottages, and the small taverns where he worked–had made him increasingly alienated from his own self. His later poems reflect his fixation. In one he claims that he was once Shelly and Lord Byron. In his most famous one, “I Am,” he reflects on his isolation:
I am—yet what I am none cares or knows;
My friends forsake me like a memory lost:
I am the self-consumer of my woes—
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shadows in love’s frenzied stifled throes
And yet I am, and live—like vapours tossed.
Isolated and unknown, Clare clings to the few activities, memories, and passions that adhere to his fragmented self. This raises an important question: Who is this “I Am” Clare speaks of, separated from his roots? Who is an I? What is a self?
My dad closed the door and flicked off the lights, pitching the room into a clean black. “Goodnight,” he said as he walked way. He footsteps receded as he walked downstairs to rejoin my mom. My brother sat up beside the bed.
“Ready?” he asked.
We piled my stuffed animals and realigned my pillows, burying the human-like decoy in a thick comforter. From the doorway, it looked like a body curled up in deep sleep. Perfect.
My brother and I snuck downstairs, our soft footfalls swallowed by explosions and gunshots from an action movie. We opened the basement door and slipped downstairs to my brother’s room, where we watched kung-fu and R-rated movies, eating chips and dip, until dawn.
I could have asked my parents to sleep downstairs. They would have probably said yes—it was a Friday and I was almost nine. But the thrill of subterfuge tinged my flight. Breaking rules was liberating, saying “no” was exciting. Doing the “wrong” thing was a thrill.
In his Confessions, Augustine of Hippo tells a similar story. One night, he and his friends sneak into a garden and steal pears. They don’t eat the fruit but still enjoy the theft for its sinful pleasure. As he writes, “The malice of the act was base and I loved it—that is to say, I loved my own undoing, I loved the evil in me” (Augustine and F.J. Sheed, trans., 44).
In my forbidden flight and Augustine’s theft, we broke rules. Using Augustine’s theological language, we “sinned,” turning away from God toward ourselves. In Augustine’s case, he picked a forbidden fruit. In my case, I disobeyed my parents. This “turning away” forms an essential crux in Augustine’s argument defending God against the charge of evil. But to understand his argument one must first understand his notion of being and non-being–gleaned from the Greek tradition.
I’ve been adjusting this past week to life back at school as I get my masters in English. That said, I’ve been a bit too disoriented to write a solid post. Although I’ve had some ideas and halting drafts, nothing coalesced.
I’ll try my best to post something this coming Sunday. In the meantime, here’s a compilation of the Sagan series, nine well-crafted videos using audio from the cosmologist Carl Sagan who died in ’96. The creators wanted to inspire science literacy, a lifelong crusade for Sagan.
You may not agree with everything Sagan says, but the videos offer a pointed perspective. One of the top-rated comments puts it well, I think: “Just like any teenager I love sleep but recently I have begun waking up half an hour earlier everyday to watch this video. It keeps my dreams alive for just a little longer before going about my day. . .”