A few months back I completed a graduate course examining 19th-Century thinkers and writers. As part of the course work I wrote a research paper and presented a brief presentation on corresponding to the topic of that research project. In other words, this was a wonderful opportunity to continue my ever-present exploration into the work of Nietzsche. Here, I focused primarily upon his concept of the Death of God, attempting to ground the idea contextually and attempting to explore the idea’s implications by offering a kind of close reading of Nietzsche’s parable of the madmen. I hope you enjoy it! Feel free to leave a comment. Please ‘like’ the video on YouTube if you’d like to see more of these.
I kiss my suffering mouth to mouth
Lips wet with saliva and tears
sweat and strain
Do not let my stutter depart from me
I limp because I have wrestled
I have striven with “God” and men and have prevailed
Disjointed and crippled, I am whole
I am laughing sweetly with my anguish
Ever tasting this supple sorrow
I do not seek to numb the pain
I waltz with my sadness
never knowing who leads yet still we sway
I have made love to my wretchedness, never knowing who recedes yet here we lay
Shrouded in the darkness of a melancholy joy
May I rise, take up this bed and walk away
But, in my lameness may I remain
In his book, T.A.Z., Hakim Bey describes the functionality of the strategic socio-political creation of temporary zones or spaces which defy all formalized and authoritative structuring. Bey calls these spaces, “Temporary Autonomous Zones,” or T.A.Z. for short. Here he suggests that the most effective way to create social relationships free from the influence of hierarchal systems is to concentrate on both the present moment and the relinquishment of one’s mind from the impositions of mechanized control.
I think this is precisely what we see in the Occupy Wall Street protest, and there may be no better place to create such a space. The critics of this protest have critiqued the event based upon the protestor’s lack of focus i.e. there is no set of standardized, unified, or identifiable demands being presented by those protesting. Yet, in many ways that is exactly the point and is the principle of its power. Its lack of definition is possibly its greatest strength in that it is the opposition of the facelessness of a systemic and systematic rigidity. The protestors are united by desire rather than demand. Peter Rollins said that “the point is not that you know what to do, the point is that you should do something.” This is what is being played out. It is the enactment of creative potentiality that is truly empowering.
In the same manner, Cornel West spoke of the Occupy Wall Street protest, “It’s impossible to translate the issue of the greed of Wall Street into one demand, or two demands. We’re talking about a democratic awakening.” I think he’s absolutely right. This is not only the democratization of the philanthropic but also, in some ways, the democratization of the prophetic tradition. Not ‘prophetic’ in the Pentecostalist capacity but, in the Judeo lineage of social criticism i.e. the Hebrew prophets who were unafraid to speak against priest and king. This is the tradition that Jesus himself was firmly rooted within. In this present form it is being transformed into a communal event. The sound resonating from the side walk is a harmonious ensemble desiring mercy and not sacrifice, longing for sentient sensitivity over systemization. The purpose is to create tension rather than resolution, to present questions rather than answers, to give criticism and critique rather than offer arbitrary solutions, and to call for return.
Aristotle asserted that human species is, in essence, homo politicus, that essentially a political being. Marx made a similar summation, suggesting that mankind is homo econmicus, an economic being. Wall Street is certainly a monument to both these proposed facets of human identity. Yet, what is being performed in the face of the brick and mortar edifice of the political/economic institution is far more organic, agrarian, and egalitarian. Perhaps, we should realize that first, foremost, and primarily homo ecologicus, that is, ultimately, an ecological being, created from the dust of the earth. There is a median in the center of the road at the traffic light where Robert J. Conlan meets US1. I pass it every morning on my way to work and I am enamored by it. It demonstrates the persistence and perseverance of nature finding a way when there seems to be no way, even when the way is blocked because there we find grass and wild flowers growing through the cracks and crannies of the pavement, breaching the barriers, protruding defiantly, reaching for daylight, and taking over the surface of the curb, ever surviving. This is what we see happening in the Occupy Wall Street protest, man rising; pushing through every crevice of Wall Street’s concretizations, refusing to be inhibited, claustrophobic from the steel girders of an unforgiving frame. The message is then the reiteration, “man shall not live by bread alone.” Humankind cannot ultimately be sustained by the unholy union of natural provisions and mechanized production, scorched by the fires of industry. Instead we shall live by “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” that is the divine logos, the numinous lurking throughout every aspect of the created order that has been since the beginning, the logos that was with God and the logos that was God, the divine energy of the universe. This is the word that spoke life and creation into being, the word that created in the image of the numinous, and the word that breathed into the nostrils of mankind, filling both lungs and imagination.
Perhaps this is what it looks like and what it sounds like when the rocks cry out, when the mountains tremble, when the hills break into song, and when the trees clap their hands. Mark Twain wrote that “Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it. I think this relates quite well to what is taking place upon the streets of the protest. This is not the sign of vengeance or retribution, but nor is it passivity. These are the lilies and violets of the field tread upon, broken under the weight of our own structures, perfuming the cold sterility of an arid landscape with the call for justice.
In her poem, “KitchenetteBuilding,” Gwendolyn Brooks asks to poignant and pertinent questions. “Could a dream rise up through onion fumes and yesterday’s garbage ripening in the halls?” And more importantly, “would we let it in?”
A great philosopher of incredible wisdom astutely surmised “life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get”. It never ceases to amaze me how the universe manages to reach into what seems to be a grab bag of the infinitesimal and align everything in just such a way as to get your attention. That being said it probably stands to reason that there is little substantiation for coincidences at least as we have come to understand them. God it seems has a way of returning us to a particular crossroads until we come to the intended understanding. It’s like “do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars”, you’re not going anywhere until you get it so get comfortable and pay attention.
Recently on one of my many meanderings into cyberspace I happened across a rabbinical parable as told by an author named Peter Rollins. In typical rabbinic fashion it offered insight into a world colored by sacred questioning, a perspective in which I am especially fond of. It seemed innocent enough yet in just a few short days I stumbled upon this same parable this time told by Moishe Rosen. Perhaps there was something that got lost in translation the first go around? So there I was looking into the face of a mystery and being handed a choice. I could take the blue pill and stay in the dream, remaining asleep to the realities I was being offered or I could take the red pill and see just how deep the rabbit hole goes. Too bad they don’t make that red pill chewable, at the risk of sounding cliché it really is a hard pill to swallow. I gulped deep and dove in.
The parable tells of a certain rabbi posing a series of questions to an inquiring gentile. I guess even in a parable inquiring minds still want to know. Hoping to enlighten the gentile into new ways of thinking the rabbi begins , “Two men fall down a chimney when they reach the bottom one is completely clean and the other is utterly filthy, which one washed?” Without hesitation the gentile quickly replied “The dirty one”. “You’re absolutely wrong!” the rabbi responded defiantly. “When the dirty man saw the clean man he presumed that he himself was also clean and thought how astounding it was that they had both fallen down a chimney yet neither were dirty. However when the clean man saw the state of the dirty man he presumed that he was also dirty and immediately went and washed. ” The gentile feeling as if he now understood said “ask me another”, the rabbi began with his next question “Two men fall down a chimney, one was completely clean and the other was utterly filthy, which one went and washed?” Now puzzled as to what the answer was the gentile thought for a moment and answered “the clean one?”. “You have answered incorrectly yet again” the rabbi said. “When the dirty man saw the clean man he thought is was incredible that that man had fallen down a chimney and remained clean, yet upon examining his own hands he realized the severity of how undeniably soiled he was. He could feel the grime on his face and he could taste the soot in his mouth and he immediately went and washed.” Now being more perplexed then he had been by the first question the gentile collected himself and then said “give me one more question”. Without any delay the rabbi readily agreed , “ I will ask you one final question. Two men fall down a chimney, one was clean and the other dirty, which one washed?” The gentile in a state of bewildered desperation blurted out “I don’t know which one to say it was that washed!” The rabbi excitedly exclaimed “Neither! The question itself is absolutely absurd! How can two men simultaneously fall down a chimney and one of them come out clean?”
It’s clever, it’s eye opening in many ways, and it does indeed illustrate a different field of thought but…WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN! How do we take it to heart? How do we adopt this type of thinking? Needless to say for quite some time this parable and more importantly it’s implications have laid claim to the corner lot of my mental real estate. I should however preface all that follows by saying that I do not by any means claim to have come to the most conclusive conclusions there are many in whom I’m sure could shed a more scholarly and enlightening commentary but here’s my two cents anyway.
When caught in the wrath of a tumultuous storm even an experienced and dedicated crew of sailors will abandon all that is unnecessary casting their cargo(though valuable) overboard in favor of staying a float. It seems reasonable to conclude that we should be no different when coming to grips with grasping for further understanding. There comes a point that if one does indeed wish to obtain a new way thinking, seeing, and being especially one that encapsulates a deeper harmony with the divine then this will more often than not entail expediently and sometimes desperately discarding the dead weight of one’s current perspective and former thinking in the hope of broader horizons and brighter shores. There are times when there is far more to gain by lessening the load, to put it simply if it’s getting in the way, and getting you down then get it the hell out! I personally feel that there are many misconceptions in this journey of faith that we would greatly benefit from losing and it is on few of these needless notions that I would like to address further in the coming blogs. Stay tuned. Talk to you soon.