Sunday, December 15, 2013

124. Art, love and God

If you have the urge to aspire to perfection, and to feel special, significant, essential in life, does that make you a narcissist, or only if you need to be admired, celebrated for it? However that may be, how does one satisfy that urge?

Patricia de Martelaere saw three ways: art, love and God. The problem with God is that he does not answer or speak, and you cannot be sure he really exists and loves you. The problem with romantic love (eros) is that the loved one may cease to love you or may desert you. Art has the advantage that it is under your own control, if you have the talent for it. Unfortunately, the price you pay is that it is dead, not alive by itself. Yet for control freaks, seeking to achieve an essential life without risk, that may be the way. Perhaps that is why often artists (and philosophers) wind up alone, avoiding the risks of love.

Foucault, at he end of his struggle with pervasive and all-invasive powers of social structures, sought a way out in turning one’s life into a work of art. How could that go?

De Martelaere said that death does not fulfil life but interrupts it, prevents one from rounding it off as a finished product, and that to foil death an artist (and, I would add,  also an intellectual, scientist or entrepreneur) seeks to achieve a finished work, after which one can say: I achieved that before death could snatch it away.

How could this be related to the imperfection on the move that I advocate in this blog, and the idea that the only life after death is the life of others that one leaves behind? 

For the artist (or intellectual, scientist, entrepreneur), after finishing a project there is always the next one to engage upon, which may not get finished and in any case is only a step in an ongoing series that will certainly never be finished.

Suppose one sees one’s life not as a series of projects for oneself but as a contribution to an ongoing stream of life, where one’s projects contribute to those of others to come. Then, may not the urge to feel essential in life be satisfied by making essential contributions to what may come, to the potential after life? But how does one know whether one’s contribution is essential? That also is up to posterity to decide. All one can do is to strive for it to the best of one’s capability and insight.

That is also what parents, especially mothers perhaps, do, in bringing up children as a project without end, contributing to the potential of posterity. And how about workers in health care, say? In their way they can feel essential in life.

In both Western and Eastern philosophy there is a tendency to reserve enlightenment for an elite of the initiated, the illuminated, the trained, the ascetic, in gaining access to a transcendent, elevated, absolute, supreme being (God, Brahman) or condition (Nirvana). If one renounces absolutes and embraces imperfection on the move, one can achieve freedom from self-obsession in ordinary life, in transcendence that is horizontal, in others, and immanent, during life.  

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