"A Smear of Ash Upon a Page"
I have been thinking about death lately. Or, rather, about life. All of those questions the collective attempts of centuries have still failed to answer about what in the world it is all for. A friend of mine is in the midst of dying. He wrote a sort of goodbye message to us, wondering whether the experience was teaching him anything about facing the inevitable, wondering if an individual life was something more than a "smear of ash upon a page." He concluded that it is more than that, if only because he is loved and loves. I will add, because we love the world, its beauties and its terrors. Its wonders. For it is filled with wonders, amazing "tricks" of nature and feats of culture that seem to imitate or reiterate nature's architecture. Leaf skeletons and cathedrals. The messages sent by the changing colors of an octopus' skin and psychedelic animation. Bird song and sonnets.
Somewhere George Steiner explicates a passage in Nietzsche's notebook, where N writes: God affirms! Job affirms! by saying that God shows Job his creations, shows him the miraculous Leviathan, as justification for his greatness, despite the pain he causes his mortal creations, as if to say, Look at what a great artist I am! Look at what beauty I am capable of giving the world! An illustration of N's world justified as aesthetic experience.
This morning I am thinking that this justification is not at all heartless, not a disregard of human suffering, but a matter of love. Loving the world. N's amor fati. Love of fate. This love is the reason we suffer, to be sure. But it is also the reason we pleasure.
As I grow older and the justification of the world by romantic passion is less consuming, I channel my energies thus into creative passions; but this love affair with the work of art is more difficult than with another person (though human romance has its challenges!), in that the transmission of self does not usually result in an immediate response; one has to keep the passion alight on one's own, without smiles, touch, sparkling lovers' eyes and words of encouragement. One has to believe that what one is doing may be of some value to someone, somewhere. N only had 3 readers, he said. One writes, as Emily Dickinson had it, one's letter to the world. A light in a window in a dark forest. One hopes it is worth doing. But, really, what else can one do but this? What else is there to do but to be oneself and try to communicate across time and space and separateness from one mortal self to another?
Maybe that amounts to a smear of ash upon a page, but if that ash is a symbol, an image, or perhaps a word, it may mean something to someone else, be a sign of life and of love, amid pervasive indifference. Let us continue, while we can, to articulate such fellow feeling.