Sunday, June 24, 2012

An Old Chaos of the Sun

We live in that old chaos, said Wallace Stevens in his poem Sunday Morning.  Is that enough for us?  That seems to be the question debated somewhat leisurely in that work, but profoundly enough, even with coffee and oranges.

There's nothing complacent about that debate.  That it even takes place in the manner it does establishes that the poem is of the 20th century.  The rather disturbingly dramatic pathos displayed by certain artists and thinkers of the 19th century in the face of the realization that we humans may not be the special favorites of the divine isn't evident.  I think of the histrionics of the characters of Dostoevsky and the yapping of Nietzsche and can't help but feel embarrassed.  Despair and defiance seem childish responses to the vastness of the universe and our tiny place in it.  In Stevens' poem we have cool appraisal of our "predicament."  We are, at least, adults in the universe, if only temporarily.

Do we need paradise?  Is this world enough for us, or are we fated to long for something more, something not just better but best?   Some of us at least seem to need the best; perhaps even some of us expect it as our due.  So we look for it or forward to it.  Heaven or higher knowledge, good or beauty, beyond that available to us in this world which we refuse to accept despite the fact that we are so completely a part of it, one kind of organism among many.  We're much more sophisticated than the others we know of so far, it's true; we may find we are much less sophisticated than others we become aware of in the future.  Will they be more privileged than we humans as a result and have a greater claim to God's favor?

Our belief we're exceptional has rendered us monotonous.  Although we should know better now as we understand we are not the center of the universe and that it does not revolve around us for our delight we make the same assumptions and ask the same questions we did when we thought that way from ignorance.  To a great extent, we come to the same answers, or no answers at all.

I think Stevens in his poem comes to the conclusion that the world is indeed enough, or should be.  Perhaps that's what he and Hemingway fought about that drunken evening in Key West.  In any case, that seems to be the adult response.  Neither despair nor defiance is reasonable.  If there is more than this, it's likely it will be another version or aspect of this (the universe).  If there is something that is not a part of the universe, to which we will have access, it is necessarily unknown to us now.  We can only know that which we can know and we can only know what we have experienced or others have and told us about.  We may feel what we call transcendence, but feeling it we feel whatever it is as parts of the universe and thus it is part of the universe as well.

The universe is remarkable indeed; we may never be done exploring it.  Understanding it and our part in it is a monumental task, but it is a task we can engage in and we can progress in that task in a manner which is measurable.  Paradise is something we can't attain in this life, but we can obtain and accomplish some things, and should do so.

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