Have I already complained about birdsong here in this weblog? Well pardon me once again: I lead an uneventful life (by choice), so, when I record my daily reactions to the world, they tend to be repetitious. Today I want to criticize the chirping of the birds—it’s sweet, yes; but, when enough of them get going, it’s a little too sweet. A chef should not douse every course with sugar. This brings to mind the ending of La Belle et la Bête (1946), which I’ve heard Jean Cocteau explain that he made intentionally saccharine. For the record, I love that ending: with a knowing, winking, smilingly ironic love.
I used to be afraid of ghosts. Assuming they were “real,” I thought that they might visit me and hurt me. The fact that such visitations are rare made no difference to my anxiety, for I have always believed I am special. With a surety that passeth understanding, I somehow know that whenever I get on a ride at an amusement park, THIS will be the time the thing malfunctions. That’s why I do not like to have fun, and why I stay home and close the blinds on fresh summer days.
To put up with people, to keep open house with one’s heart—that is liberal, but that is merely liberal. One recognizes those hearts which are capable of noble hospitality by the many draped windows and closed shutters: they keep their best rooms empty. Why? Because they expect guests with whom one does not “put up.”
—from Twilight of the Idols (“Skirmishes of an Untimely Man,” §25), by Friedrich Nietzsche, in Walter Kaufmann’s translation
I’m making myself sound too reclusive here, also paranoid. Neither is true; I’m actually very friendly and extroverted, but I deny my better nature in order to…
Now I can’t remember why I do this… Maybe it’s time to stop and change my outlook.
But I was talking about ghosts before I derailed my train of thought. I stopped fearing ghosts after becoming convinced that they are the product of the mind’s dance with its own perceptions: an evidence of compulsive creativity, like what results when you follow Max Ernst’s “frottage” technique in the realm of art. The only product of my own mind that I fear is fear itself. And I don’t even fear that anymore, because I’ve mastered the cycle (fear is but another “satanic mill”—to steal Blake’s phrase—like many of the superego’s devices). Plus, if you notice, all ghosts can do is bump bookshelves and occasionally make a volume fall. So just open and read it—no harm done: quite the contrary! Ghosts can barely even get themselves photographed. If you wanted ghosts to harm you, you could waste as much time as you please trying to coax them into action, but they’d always remain shyly in the shadows.
And yet it’s interesting to question WHY the devil shows up in your bedroom, even if he is obviously just a figment of your imagination. Why does he look more like a merchant than a physician? Is it ONLY because you color him with your biases? What if the devil really IS a merchant? What is he selling? For I have a soul I’m willing to swap.
Resale value on a soul should be like gems or gold ingots; it’s my understanding that those things are sure to appreciate, or at least they don’t deflate as fast as banknotes.
Yet, could it be that fear is the original Perpetual Motion Machine, leftover from vanished generations? What would life be without fear? Ask an asteroid. You think an asteroid feels fear as it races toward Jupiter? No: space debris acts only out of passion for heat. Heat is like sex for rocks; it permits them to let loose and join in on the festivities. For the world is a party, blissfully out of control. And every star is a vast orgy of elements.
Roy G. Biv—that’s an acronym for the part of the spectrum that I can see: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet. How pretty is a rainbow? And there are waves beyond both ends of the scale which are invisible to my eye. Past violet is ultraviolet. Past red is infrared. Ultra and Infra. I like those words. They remind me of Urim and Thummim. Imagine if you could translate these secretive rays into ocular perceptions: The invisible aspects of our world might appear as an all-pervading ocean of super-colors.
If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.
For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.
—from William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
So the atmosphere in which we live and breathe is more resplendent than a mega-rainbow, only we keep forgetting this (or worse: ignoring it), because it doesn’t force its strangeness and beauties upon us. It requires us to infer its majesty.
Know thyself. Use thine intuition.
It is rumored about dragons that they’re equally afraid of knights as knights are of them. Maybe we mortal humans are the ghosts of the ghosts. Maybe the ghosts’ highest achievement was to have feared us into existence.
We want demons and devils to entertain us, at rather a safe distance, and angels to comfort or look after us, again at a safe remove. But fallen angels can be uncomfortably close, since they are ourselves, in whole and in part.
Those sentences begin page 61 of my copy of Harold Bloom’s short book titled Fallen Angels. And I wanted also to give a passage from Franz Kafka, where he talks about ghosts, even though his tone and aim (as I take them) are different from much of the above; but, in accordance with the now-defining trait of my shoddy scholarship, I misplaced that citation while stumbling upon another that broaches the same Delphic maxim I myself broached a few paragraphs back, and this seemed better to share—so here it is (from the 3rd of the “Blue Octavo Notebooks,” translated by Ernst Kaiser and Eithne Wilkins):
“Know thyself” [Erkenne dich selbst] does not mean “Observe thyself.” “Observe thysef” is what the Serpent says. It means: “Make yourself master of your actions.” But you are so already, you are the master of your actions. So that saying means: “Misjudge yourself! [Verkenne dich] Destroy yourself!” which is something evil — and only if one bends down very far indeed does one also hear the good in it, which is: “In order to make of yourself what you are.”
Now I’m tired and hungry; I want to escape from this brainstorm, so I’ll use Kafka’s mentioning of the serpent as an excuse to quote that one last relevant passage (3:1) from Genesis. Then, no more words.
Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made.
I love that thought: the serpent is a beast of the field, and the LORD God created him. Presumably that word “made” refers to the beast’s physical frame, its body; but now I wonder: Did the LORD also intend his serpent to be so “subtil”—is God responsible as well for crafting its acumen? I’m not trying to start a war by bringing this up; least of all do I wish to jumpstart any theological hairsplitting; I’m simply marveling at this paradise’s potential for juicy intrigue.