i sometimes wonder if there’s any point at all in reading or writing or thinking or doing anything except:
1) Having a tediously stolid career in finance or law or IT or engineering;
2) Committing suicide.
i am not at all drawn to option 1 but since i teach so many finance/law/IT/engineering Germands, and i am not a pure sociopath, i feel contaminated by their opinions, their world. i feel they are justified, for i exist in their world and there is no other. It seems that my existence cannot be justified. At least not in the opinions of my students.
Have you ever considered any real freedoms? Freedoms from the opinions of others, even the opinions of yourself?
i wrote earlier about one of my students:
When i began teaching a group here in Munich, a dry-as-dust HR lawyer student remarked acidly that it’s stupid to study literature, or anything artistic, at university, as it won’t lead to a job. i kept my old poker face and just nodded agreement (and i half-agree with her). She continued, waving a hand generously, that of course if people want to read books they can and no one should stop them, but first you must get an education in engineering or law or finance, because it’s not sensible to think you can survive in this world by reading books.
i often think about this. i don’t have an answer to the lawyer. i can say that studying literature – whether reading intensely 8 hours a day between 19 and 21, or studying in a vaguely structured way at university – forcegrew my personality; that without it, i would have just gone insane or committed suicide, because i would have been incapable of engaging with other people, with an often vicious and relentlessly materialist world.
But the HR lawyer would sneer: “yes but is it really so significant if someone like you is alive or dead?” An excellent point. i can point to my 20 or so regular readers and say that i guess they take some pleasure from my blog. But my readers tend to be like me. Some are cardigan-wearing Commie scum; some are atheist dogs; some are Nazi filth; some are vile Feminists, or just women – but there is always some basic commonality; i could say there is a family resemblance. So it is no defence to point to this curious assortment and say, well they seem to like what i write. The HR lawyer, surveying this assembly of freaks, would laugh in her hideous, rats feet over broken glass laugh, and say: “Yes, very nice, but is it important if these people are amused or live or are dead? They are not important for the economy.”
And most of my students – most of the world – would agree.
So what is the use of my existence?
i don’t think i can arrive at a comprehensively satisfactory answer; so i will focus on moments of certainty. i feel unsure about most things but i have spotlit moments of intense surety; one is that real art is of value; that it is akin to a distant window in an otherwise electrically-lit open-plan office, through which the slave may discern some blue, a present light.
Today was shit. i travelled by s-bahn (changing once), then walked 25 minutes along a busy road to a company, to find that the student had apparently cancelled 2 days ago, but no one had told me. i won’t be paid as he cancelled. So i wasted 2 hours of my life and got up hours earlier than necessary, for nothing. Then i wasted hours researching “across-the-line marketing”; then went for this bullshit interview and was rejected in the first 5 minutes because i can’t speak German.
i felt low afterwards and played this song to cheer myself up (lyrics here):
The HR lawyer, and most of my students, and most human beings, would deride it as worthless frivolity, like devoting your life to stamp collecting. In the past one could say Christianity absorbed tremendous financial & labour resources, to create cathedrals, music, torture, persecutions, literature; so today the atheist materialist perspective is dominant and any dissenting opinion is relegated to the nuthouse; all art is suspect and no more than a nice hobby to amuse some BMW apple polisher at the weekend. To read, to listen to music, to write – this is on a par with hearing voices in your head.
At least for myself, this song gives me hope. It isn’t so bland as having a tub of ice cream and watching a romantic comedy and trying to forget that you’re worthless and should never have been born. It’s more a matter of moving beyond the materialist world, for a moment. If the general feel nothing before art, that is not my concern. At least for me, and some i know, to write well has value and can bring a sharp peace – something beyond Roger Scruton’s “consolation” – rather it is a matter of accepting an unworldly imperative, an uncanny challenge. To escape the world you must seek out otherworldly trials.
Whether holy or unholy, the essential thing is to leave this world.