Flotsam 2

Posted by on September 16th, 2010 at 12:01 AM



Karma — to some a burden as unfelt as the weight of the column of atmosphere over their head and shoulders, and to others (Sophocles’ Oedipus for example) a crushing boulder of ruinous self-necessitation — is quite oppressive if one can relate to it only mechanically and intellectually, as something one “knows” to be true about oneself and must connive to suppress. The burden of ineffable and incurable self is at least easier to tote around heart-level, or lower, in one’s most visceral feelings where one’s life has its center of gravity, of inertia and momentum.


Germs and Brainwashing All In One

Schiller may have realized it earliest: Modern “culture” has more in common with communicable diseases than it does with what have been called cultures in past civilizations.



We love our sensitivity, our own flow of exquisite but sometimes painful feelings. In extreme or limit-situations we become aware of an immediate or looming violation to this delicate “flesh” of our psyche. Patients in their terminal suffering most often cannot wrap their minds, their limited resources of psyche, around the great vise of invasive misery that has them in its power. An ominous dark storm cloud settles over their pinioned self, an unfathomable wrongness, a somatic and a soulish injustice, an inexorable crucifixion.

In extremis they search frantically then for some switch, some position or attitude that will enable their consciously acting self to turn off this torturous and insulting rape of their free will and their inward life; and in the midst of their trauma they find such a killswitch that releases them from the world, their body, their memory, their practical concerns about their future, their whole dementing sense of being enslaved by some nebulous force majeure. Their own neuro-organism floods them with an antidote of detachment against this overload of agonies and unnaturalness; for they lapse into unseeing and uncaring shock. It is the anteroom to death, their tentative foot upon Charon’s little craft ferrying them to the darker side of the Styx. I have seen the terrible, chthonic self-mercy of shock once, suffusing across the slackening face of someone I loved more than life itself; and I knew I was looking then at my own futility, at an irreversible fatality that would change my life and my world forever.

I had no such anesthetic for myself; there was no nostrum for the wrenching agony I was suddenly pregnant with. I knew my own character, I knew I could not let myself forget and let that pain decay into dullness.

To see and feel someone lost, unreachable, lapsing into the blackest of sleeps, is a horror I have observed many times but only once did it involve literal and actual death. Most often it was the horrific expression of a friend or student confiding by an attitude how profoundly they had given up on their own life of spirit or soul, their drive for clear and free self-understanding and self-rule: it was a tacit and nearly obscure declaration of default, a manifesto of self-defeat that announced itself by a stark sense of numbness, of frostbite of the spirit, a feeling of having been seized as a prisoner of war by society’s abstract and inhuman occupying forces.

Those friends and students and I alike understood what their loss of autonomy and momentum signified: it was the wretched hypocrisy of what our so-called “educational system” was really about, self-sacrifice to Mammon, to mechanism. Everything in their life and personality was conspiring to insert them into the world of the Ordinary and Obedient: Most people have no clue that this regularizing path will cost them, or what it will cost them, but some do sense that they are volunteering for a prison-term of life, for a military service contrary to what they believe or know that they most vitally need and want. For in modernity, no one subsists on pittances or on infrequent dollops of income: “Money” means transfusions, above all else regular transfusions of a sort of blood more essential than blood itself.

Something in the innermost feelings of self, the aspirations and naïveté of how one hoped that life would go, is giving up in this way, letting itself asphyxiate in the horizon-to-horizon necropolis. “What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and yet lose his soul?” What pains and eventually pollutes the psyche of a conscientious teacher in philosophy — in the most essential humanity of the humanities — is this vicarious suffering of the dying of the light, the juggernaut of worldliness rendering tentative young lives into roadkill over and over. —Mothers know this world-weariness and despair in regimes where they are foredoomed only to birth and raise soldiers for the state.


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One Response to “Flotsam 2”

  1. Jack says:

    I think I might get a lot out of Kenneth Smith’s writing if he’d just provide some specifics. “A lot of my students eventually committed spiritual suicide” just seems like a cliche unless you go into detail.