A modern crisis

 

 

 

We were born after a whole deal of postures and attitudes had been tried and dismissed. It seemed to me that this was the first time in human history when life was unbearable even while we have all the basic conditions for survival and a surplus of commodities. We live in the absence of a raison d’être and our very lives could actually be defined as the search for that sacred reason. We would and probably will travel around the globe and consume every possible experience in search of that elusive understanding that could justify and make sense of all the seemingly senseless gyrations between birth and death, hunting for that catharsis that would erase our feelings of inadequacy and insufficiency.   

If I am allowed to make a stand on the current emptiness that governs the modern rebel (and I must state that this rebel is even reluctant to assume this label), I could place him or her within a crisis of value. Let’s formulate this crisis. The ‘fortunate’ human being that is born in a middle-class or higher family is bestowed an excess of leisure, which is occupied with an endless parade of distractions, vague and short-lived entertainments that do not provide deep-rooted satisfaction. This repetition of material hedonism is deceiving and can engage the individual in a merry-go-round of renewable pleasures that are futile in their long-term effects. What an overwhelmingly urban and global society presents as the content and purpose of leisure is more often than not a distraction, a veiling of our impoverished consciousness. The value crisis in which we are situated stimulates thus, within the rebel, a sort of antagonisms against life in general and humanity in particular. Is this a wise human race encumbered by trivial pursuits? 

The rebel stands in an existential agnosticism. What can replace the insipid routines, what solution can one offer to resolve the dilemma of human baseness? If leisure represents the time humans can delve in their purpose, our reasoning would lead us to suppose that the average human lives for unchallenging and ready-made experiences. What about the higher fields of art, music, religion, love? Have these been explored sufficiently by the modern man? Do they offer any comfort? All questions with no ready answer, the rebel is obliged to ask without answering, merely pointing to the emptiness without offering a substitute.
 

The rebel doesn’t conclude hastily but is eager to explore any alternative. The contemporary paradigm is of a successive development from school to career, love to family, wealth to belongings, material accumulations to distractions; yet all this is seen as a deception, a reductionism of the natural potential for a human life.  The rebel is apt to adopt a cynical skepticism towards the replacement of one mode of life for another. Life becomes an experiment, a lonesome journey through the limbo of uncertainty. Could religion fill this gap, could music appease this anxiety, could art express this loneliness, could love heal this wound? The experimenter enters them all and many others with caution but will urgently surrender if any of these would deliver him from the surrounding emptiness. Yet traps abound, the guinea-pig rebel still has within the seed of conformism, soon things lose their depth and life abandons its impetus. How to keep the zest for life awake without returning to the dullness of a repetition-ridden soul? 
 

It may seem we are doomed, that any experience by force of repetition becomes insufficiently satisfying for the abyss of hunger that grows inside.  

These reflections surge from a modern crisis. A crisis from our lack of meaning, our absence of value. This, in other words, can be called a spiritual crisis. But the themes of this crisis are not god or original sin, it rather belongs to practical ontology, that is to say, a transforming of the quality of being, producing a reality that becomes not only bearable but powerful enough to sweep away the myopic awareness of normal human life. A new understanding might be wanting, a new wisdom of what we understand human life to be, what we do and what we aspire to; a journey that requires a mixture between philosophy and adventure, a compendium of revolt, daring and openness.
 
 
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Liberation

Free wanderers of the spirit, you astronauts in the lost space of indecision, all of us that have noticed and condemned the irrationality of our age, yes, you passionate survivor that in the mist of these nonsensical years battle through the current of conformity in search of a justification, a raison d’etre, a simple satisfaction that will overshadow the ever-lasting presence of frustration.
 
We are the inheritors of a struggle that has pervaded all of history. Our efforts so essential in the field of human potential must never come to an end. In these complex societies that require even more complex solutions to cure the collective madness, our perseverance must not wane. Even if most attempts to heal the wound of civilization have failed throughout history, the spirit of the rebel will live on as a child of that irrepressible force that commands human existence: an energy that will ask of us to emancipate man from his self-imposed shackles.
 
Our mistrust in human conventions, ideologies, and reforms should not stop our search for an immediate liberation, a source of enlightenment, a spring of contentment. In peeling off all boundaries we still have a chance of finding a secret treasure in nature, beauty, art, brotherhood, work, love, poetry, even in the darkness of suffering or the maniacal passion of a philosopher, somewhere within these and all inspiring things we may stumble across a beautiful sensation of peace, a harmonious agreement with what is most essential in life.
 
But what is the most essential?
 
This each wondering mind must seek but I am sure that with sufficient honesty and perseverance we can find that basic need and satisfy it sanely. Then we may watch our torments wither away and vanish as our reality elevates itself into a more exciting and promising realm.
 
Allow this vision to settle in:
 
Long, unanimous cries and shouts into the open sky, not from another fascist’s Holocaust but from an inexplicable mad ecstasy, the long-awaited contact with pure joy.

Scavenger of the Rare

 

Be careful, o’ solitary wanderer
Of what the night might do to you
-Forgotten proverb

 

(a short fictional narrative)

Under the asphalt of the night when the city streets have become a monotonous geometry of angles and straight lines, where a few strangers roam free in silence and private thought, it was then when the Scavenger of the Rare was struck by an indisputably bitter truth, a truth so bizarre and easily forgotten that none seem to notice it. As all mortal days have it, today was simply a cascade of neglected events (meaning that little or no attention had been paid to the events of another perishing day), the Weight of Time had unstoppably dissolved every single phenomenon of the decaying present into an ambiguous mist of past: the world is burning, slipping away and nobody cares! But to return to this already desultory narrative, the Scavenger of the Rare having spent the whole day seeking among the Fragments of the Impermanent for signs and symbols of a meaningful and trustworthy existence, but had by some unfortunate circumstance stumbled upon quite the opposite evidence. The truth he discovered, perhaps re-discovered for it is easily forgotten, was that…

A brief parenthesis is here peremptorily required. The “truth” that will soon be expounded is by no means easily understood. Millennia of ineffective thinking have putrefied the meaning of the word truth and therefore some elucidation on this matter is necessary. Even though in this day and age faith in the possibility of truth has nearly disappeared, there still remains the concept of truth as a statement made in language that accurately reflects the state of affairs it refers to. A more ambiguous definition is virtually impossible, but a general sense can be rescued from that definition. In other words, Truth is equated to words rightfully employed. But my long conversations with the Scavenger of the Rare and our long (frightfully long) speculations into the nature of truth have convinced me that mankind has been deceived for far too long in this matter and a serious revision is needed in the world of epistemology. However, the Scavenger of the Rare nor myself are at all interested in clarifying human existence, instead I believe we prefer to obscure it. But for the purpose of this short narrative I’ll have to explain the background of the words here employed so as to convey a wider context of meaning.

Words. They are close to being the most elusive phenomena of human existence. Words don’t have a meaning in themselves, I recall the Scavenger once saying. We impart meaning on them by constantly associating them with our perceptions. After long years of repeating words after the same objects of perception we arrive at a stable vocabulary. But when we have a novelty in our perceptions, a never-before experienced feeling or intuition, we are unable to communicate this new experience in terms of an old (and therefore inadequate) language. The truth of the experience precedes the statement of the truth. This is how Scavenger’s experience should be read, we’re reading into his state of mind rather than a statement of his mind.

So to continue… He discovered in himself a truth that made him shudder and nearly vomit in that dismal revelation. The street light was red and he waited rather impatiently for it to change its color so he could cross the street and examine an abandoned shoe on the other side (he had a peculiar pleasure in spending time with the most trivial of human objects). Two cars glided in front of him as he remained magnetized with the sight of that footwear, pondering perhaps the history of its wretched condition. But as the time came closer when the red light would fade out and in its stead a green caricature of a man would magically appear, an uncomfortable sensation sprung at the kernel of his being. In the complexity of an instant: red-light, impatient-waiting, shoe-on-the-other-side, cars-passing-by, breeze-on-the-face, twinkling-bright-stars, quiet-thinking-strangers, parallel-streets, right-angled-corners; in that jumble of sensations that occupy the minutest millisecond, a volcanic revelation took place that challenged his sturdiest notions of human reality. Oh! I wish I would have the ability to fully recall my friend’s eloquent recounting of this episode. Here I can only rescue a few scraps from the tenebrous archives of my memory.

The Scavenger of the Rare approximately said, “It was as if the entire planet had split into two and I was suspended between the two halves, lingering in a dumbfounded state, relentlessly asking myself if I were not dreaming or altogether dead! I conceived it clearly, nay, FELT it lucidly how mistaken we all are. Slowly I recovered my senses to find myself still standing at the edge of the sidewalk. The city, if city I could call it, had transformed itself into an enormous chessboard and every individual walking in their quiet monologue I saw as hollow puppets following invisible commands that the authority of routine had imparted upon them. I understood to the very marrow of my bones how gullible we all are, how we’ve demolished all potential in the human realm by reducing our lives to this civil existence, believing too firmly that we ought to live for this type of civilization, as if human life could only strive in the conditions we now find it. The question of why we find most of us walking on sidewalks, going to work every Monday and talking to ourselves endlessly is most naturally answered by our submission to the authority of tradition, an authority whose power comes from our believing in it. If we didn’t believe in it, it would cease to have control over us.”

The Scavenger uttered such words in terrific excitement. I remember his wild eyes soaring from one end of the room to the other as he practically relived the earlier portion of that significant evening. Before his sudden departure, he added,

“I had to come here and tell you all this for fear that I might forget it tomorrow and return to the sidewalks and crosswalks. I might wake tomorrow and return to the same systematical squandering of time, through barren alleys and among neglected benches under clouded skies. But since the revelation, I feel these, also, to be utterly meaningless activities even if they remain outside the stock of normality. No matter what activity I choose for my life I will make it a tradition and inevitably become a slave to it. I would care less if a lightning struck me dead right now. Yet in discovering this so-called truth there is one reason that still makes me laugh in despair and it is this: how little is solved with the discovery of our mental slavery.”

In haste he disappeared from my sight and left me in a prolonged state of silent bafflement. It has been a few weeks since I last saw my friend, the Scavenger of the Rare, yet I’ve kept a rigorous watch on the weather conditions of our locality and fortunately there have been no electrical storms since his disappearance.