Sunday, December 25, 2011

Videntes stellam

Bach won't save you, eating organic won't save you. Voting Democrat won't save you, reading David Foster Wallace won't save you. Go running around the two-lane county roads down in the valley and see if people even know who David Foster Wallace was. The Talmud, the Tao Te Ching, the Koran, the Gospel of John -- none of 'em is gonna do the trick. Let Lennon's rant against religion and Dylan's commonplace that you've gotta serve somebody roll off your back like water off a duck's arse. Every day you've been living this life without any philosophical underpinnings except the biological will to survive. Hydrotherapy won't save you, oral sex won't save you either. Superior technique won't save you, but without it you won't score a touchdown. Needless to say, football won't save you.

It's a clear night. Look at the stars. You think they're gonna guide you somewhere? Hell, you're just as dumb as Hardy's oxen, if not as reverent.

Jobs dead at fifty-six, Hitchens at sixty-two, and you thinking that longevity was something greatly to be desired. At least those guys lived. Christ cut down at thirty-three and people still quoting him. Convicted killers on death row've been sitting in their cells longer than that. Hard to shake the Christ question, isn't it? Sometimes you think that fighting against the faith is little more than adolescent rebellion, the child trying to assert himself in the face of the parents, carried on into middle age. Call it what you will -- reason, enlightenment, facing reality -- no matter how you paint your rationalizations, there's something a little embarrassing about arguing against the Holy Ghost. Like shaking your fist at a cloud of dust. The dust to which you will return.

Idly reading Borges on knife-fighting you come across the sentence: "Things last longer than men." Galling, isn't it? Those weapons now safely bedded in museum vitrines for your viewing pleasure -- hundreds, maybe thousands, of years old -- they were used to tear open the flesh of humans and animals. To kill and to feed their perishable wielders. And you down on your knees, still worshipping Mammon, still worshipping Baal.

Quist used to say, "If you're going to build something, build it to last. Build it so they remember the builder." These things -- pyramids, cathedrals, books, creeds, formulae -- won't save you. Craftsmanship won't save you, though it might lessen your need for salvation. The nails that fixed flesh to wood, the clay pots that held the anointing oil -- the hymnody, the signifying objects. All available to us, bereft only of the meaning we are meant to supply. We're played out.

Toward the end of his life, Quist would come out of his fog and talk about the future. "There's one good thing about living at the end of an era. It means you're also living at the beginning of a new one." This is how you go on believing. "You just hope the new one is better than the old. Isn't always the case, you know."

It's quiet, cold, and dark. Above the lake innumerable stars. Go ahead, pick one and follow it. Your choice.


  1. Paul,
    This is a moving post. "The nails that fixed flesh to wood, the clay pots that held the anointing oil -- the hymnody, the signifying objects. All available to us, bereft only of the meaning we are meant to supply." gives me enough to think about for days.
    By the way, I'm hoping Larkin's The Mower will save me. . . from myself.

  2. Thank you for your kind words, David.
    I too read Larkin. How many others could set my teeth on edge by making a simple vowel rhyme? "Kind" with "time", for example...
    Hitchens wrote perceptively and sympathetically about Larkin, and somehow the two of them are linked in my mind.
    Have a fine holiday.