Looking up at the main nave of Notre-Dame Cathedral, listening to a Gregorian mass during Sunday morning, I felt more spirits around me than most of the Christians there. But those spirits were not God’s angels coming dow to greet me. If there is a God, I have no doubt he lingers there from time to time, sitting by the people just so He can look up. But it is the spirit of man you wiIl find from top to bottom, the spirit of emperors and conquerors and stone masons and simple men like me all there feeling they have reached the center of the world. Because that is not a place to revere God; it is a place to revere the grandest achievement of man. Every stone and window and arch commands you to do so, to try to reach the heavens with your flabbergasted gaze. I don’t think neither men nor gods could avoid that. When you look up, the only word that can fill your mind is the same that fills my mind now when I remember that day: awe. It is awe not for the Gods, for it was not Him who built her — it it awe for man, and before man I knelt that day. Before man, I wish I could kneel today.
It was a day like any other, but I was abnormally happy. I was around ten years old at the time, and my mom had agreed to buy me a set of ping-pong racquets and ball. I wasn’t so sure who I’d play with, because I’ve never had many friends and the ones I had didn’t have a table for playing it. But I was indeed happy.
Today I am racing with my (very delayed) study for a test the day after tomorrow on Contemporary Philosophy, hence my previous post and, hopefully, my next few. So I was looking for a single book from which I could extract, in my typical “borderline plagiaristic way”, material enough for quick summary posts and a decent understanding. I was lucky to mention that to a colleague who had just bought a book that seemed to be exactly what I needed: “German Philosophy 1760-1860: The Legacy of Idealism“, by Terry Pinkard. I gave him a ride home, borrowed the book (a real physical one!) and came home, not eager to read it, I must admit, but enjoying the fact that I had a mission that could now be accomplished. Like I said, I am late, so I am doing this sort of speed reading, highlighting just the minimum and not even taking notes when I simply had to stop and write this post. The reason is: I saw evil. I saw evil on page 44.
I never got a chance to tell you this, but I do it now because I think you should listen. I’ve thought about it because of my mother, who is dying in a hospital. I’ve thought about it because of my daughter, who is starting her life. And I write to you because of your wife and your son — because of you. I write to you because of your family.
Any “first time” after forty is something to be celebrated or lamented. There is no middle term. Today, it was the first time I have ever been humiliated. And, you know, it is impossible for someone to humiliate you unilaterally. I mean, to be humiliated is not under someone else’s control. The only thing others need to do is to catch you in some wrongdoing. The rest is up to you. All it takes then, is that you realize how wrong you are. And if you do so, all is left is lamentation.
I am committing a crime. Right now.
If there is any solace and forgiveness in confession, that is what I hope for while I write these words. But I know there isn’t; my conscience is relentless. My only resource is to do what everybody does, what man seems to have been carved to do since its conception as a species: evade. All I wish is that my brother won’t read this post.
The vast majority of people I know believe in some kind of afterlife. They do not necessarily think that they are going to a paradise with angels on the clouds, or to a Dantean hell where they will find all sinners, much less to an eternal recurrence of battles and banquets as in the Valhalla of the Vikings. They just can not accept that everything will simply end. Today, on another anniversary of my father’s death, I envy them.
I watch my mother lying in the hospital bed and I curse Epictetus. He says we have to be indifferent to indifferent things. He says indifferent things are pain, disease, death, and all that are beyond our control, all that don’t stem from our own actions and deeds. It is useless to fight God’s designs, so all we should do is behave and go with the flow, setting down into a serene resignation toward life’s hardships. We are supposed to think objectively about all that happen in our lives, striving to be just in our actions, performing our duties as rational men, fulfilling our role as divine creatures. In sum, he wants me to not give a fuck about my own mother’s approaching death — and that enrages me.
I once played with the idea that I would not only read the Great Books of the Western World, but memorize them all. Of course, I was indulging myself in impossible dreams, but that has led me to a whole universe of thought (literally) that I had never dreamed existed: the Art of Memory.
I have always heard about Aristotle, Plato, Dante, Spinoza and Kant, but I had never thought that “normal” people should read them. They lay in History, and whatever they had contributed to society was already embedded in our everyday lives, having already influenced whoever did whatever had to be done to create the technological era we live in and the chaotic pseudo-civilised society we live in. As far as I was concerned, I didn’t have to study Pythagoras — all I needed to know was how to calculate the hypotenuse. In fact, all we need now is to press the correct button in a calculator or to use the right command in any commonplace programming language. I have always been a practical man. I do stuff. I don’t sit at home engrossed in armchair thinking. Why should I read such complex arcane books? Moreover, I knew I wouldn’t understand much even if I tried.