As a rebuke to those who might accuse us of not seeing the forest for the trees.
We Lichtenbergians are in the midst of our most reflective season. We’ve pitched our camp at the foot of the final peak, lit our cooking fires, fed the pack mules and llamas, gathered and voiced a hearty hurrah for our president as he undertakes the final ascent to the ultimate transpersonal apex of revelation, fulfilling his ultimate mandated task as our society’s designated head. He vanishes into the blinding white. We wave. It’s how we do things.
And while we wait, anxiously fidgeting about our campsite, we reflect. We look forward and back. And I’ve decided it is the task of the aphorist during this period to help provide diversion. To facilitate meditation upon all things Lichtenbergian. Over the next few days I will try and add to this post new perspectives and discoveries as time permits.
Today, however, time is not my friend. Time has brought me housecleaning and preliminary conversations with tradesmen. Today I will only note briefly that my recent dip into Peter Gay’s The Enlightenment: an interpretation has led to some surprises for me and the way I perceive Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, the way I weigh his influence on our group and our activities. Though our official focus is on the vicissitudes of the creative impulse, we are, I think, inevitably led to see ourselves also as supporters of something akin to the Enlightenment. To poorly and vaguely define that (and realizing, of course, that the actual Enlightenment took place close to three hundred years ago) in one crisp sentence is my only goal for today. And I’m going to say that it means to be caught up in certain tensions: between reason and superstition, between science and mysticism, between privilege and egalitarianism, between the parochial and the cosmopolitan. Well, okay, shucks, just one more sentence: we strive once and forever to throw off all vestiges of barbarism.
Added on Dec. 9, ’11: Must keep my promise. Maybe if I go back to the moment when I first felt the need to post this “aphorist” entry, I can find further material to share. It was during my Saturday morning pre-dawn reading ritual. I am programmed to wake up between 5 and 6 am, so even on Saturday morning that’s what I do. I get a cup of coffee, prop up on pillows in bed, clip a little LED onto a book–Gay’s The Enlightenment at present–and sink into cosy bliss. First thing I note: it must be non-fiction. What’s with that? It allows me to include in my reading an ongoing inner conversation. I think this is where I do the conversing about thoughts and ideas that I should do when I sit “about the fire.” So, be assured, I do enjoy Lichtenbergian conversation; I just do it at the wrong time and only when I am actually alone. Not virtually alone, however. My inner conversation is always peopled with my ash-bound brethren. I also tend to add female locutors (Freudian alert: originally typed “locators”), but that’s just me adding extra spice to my meal.
At any rate, I read and exercise a need to relate what I read to others as I’m reading. So there I was with the Peter Gay book. The subtitle, I might add, is The Rise of Modern Paganism. Not as overt an embrace of Dionysis as one might wish to infer. “Paganism” in this book is more a way to characterize the tendency of the philosophes to appeal to personages of the Classical era to underwrite and embolden their Deist, or in some cases more wholly atheist, anti-clericalism. Not so much our pagan-like countenancing of the power of chaos (unless your fears of humanism tend to run that way and so you reflexively bring that to the table with any mention “enlightenment” themes: such thinking invites darkness, chaos, etc).
So I was prompted to offer my first bit of posting. But now what? See, that’s my problem. I am at a crossroads, perpetually, as to what I am about when I gather to discuss or when I deliberately sit to write a prompt for discussion. And the result is a wiping of the board. It all goes away. Willful repression? Sometimes I go dangerously psychotic and want to heal the world with our discussions, but that neglects the idea that we are playing with questions of creativity rather than politics and philosophy. Notions of spirituality get tangled up with my perceptions of the everyday. The healthy diversity of views among the brethren also adds to the dizzying blur, and that reminds me that everything is up for grabs (and sometimes leads me to fear stepping on toes–mostly my own). And I come back to the inspiration of Lichtenberg himself and the question of how ambition can misguide or confuse or paralyze talent. Or how creative desire might possibly conjure in the absence of talent, if it can. Maybe we should forever return to that.
Tomorrow is Saturday. I’m going to strive to bring some of my (though it’s really “your”–which is somewhat presumptuous, implying I can think successful impersonations of everyone) lively reading conversation to this space. Stay tuned…
(For those tiring of my one or two-word responses, my class has now reached its conclusion with finals today, so I promise to do better over the holidays. That is all.)