Saturday, May 17, 2014
Existentialism and Noise: Strange Platypus(es)
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence
-T.S. Eliot, Ash Wednesday
We are afraid of interior space. Our lives are filled with movement and noise. We hate them, we love them, and we cannot live without them. Why? Movement and noise fill. Inner silence is empty. Emptiness hurts. The empty stomach pains us. An empty life grieves and depresses us. In a world of constant stimulus, quiet unnerves and threatens because it alerts us to our lack -and we're not used to that. Late Modernity offers so many solutions, such possibility for satiety, that we have little experience of "going without" and when we do experience genuine lack we expect there to be an immediate "fix." When there is none, we panic, we fell guilty, we become angry. Yet the things that are truly worth having can't come to us until we are willing to live with the lack. That might give us pause except that in a broken world the truly good things don't always come. And so we hide in noise and movement. They become our retreat and our armor. We know that we won't experience the heights, but at least we can avoid the valleys by filling them in. It seems like a safe bet since modern philosophy and modern science tell us that there is no Ultimate Answer for human fulfillment out there -meaning is something that humans and human communities create. The Ancients believed this and put their money on the community. We Moderns have seen the horrors that communities can commit and so have placed our bet on the individual. It's a real conundrum: human communities always seem to crush the individual in the end but individuals lack the strength to sustain meaning on their own apart from the community. We've tried cliques and sub-cultures, but voluntary community can be just as oppressive -sometime more- than cities and states. Which brings us back to noise and movement. As long as the noise and movement keep coming we don't have to think about the conundrum. The great abyss can be safely ignored.
But at what cost? Seeing and listening take time, stillness, and attention. A culture that is always immersed and surrounded in noise is a culture that is largely blind and deaf. This doesn't matter if there isn't really anything to see or hear -but what if there is? I want to hear the River singing, full of memory. I want to see the Old Railway Bridge, and the Tree, and the sides of the Valley slopping up to meet the sky, and beyond them...
*Photo shows the Connecticut River, Essex CT, and was taken by the author of this post.