"The essence of Western Civilization is neurosis.”
I happened across this startling phrase reading one morning in William Barrett’s Time of Need- Forms of Imagination in the Twentieth Century.
I value this early reading time so much. It helps me navigate, or rather, circumnavigate, my own peculiar neurosis. After a night of sleep and dreams, my brain is less tangled by concerns. I’m not driving forward with the heedless velocity which builds up inside me during the day. In the A.M. I'm able to both read and think, and beyond this to send thoughts back for more consideration.
Today again, as I read William Barrett, I am brought up short by his discussion of neurosis, and I reflect on the bizarre theatrics currently on public display. Barrett says of Western man: “We know so much that we cease to know the primal things.”
Does anybody know “the primal things” anymore? If anybody does, they couldn’t possibly all be in one camp. I think a lot of them aren’t making any public noise at all.
On the television news, I watch the dramatic characters determinedly pursuing their impassioned ideas and am reminded of Victor Frankenstein, as he fixedly labored to raise his carefully re-fashioned corpse to life by an obscure combination of both scientific and arcane means. But in the end, after all the sparks had subsided, he was left unfulfilled. I quote Mary Shelley: “We are unfashioned creatures, but half made up,” Victor’s overambitious drive reflected his nagging neurosis. He was desperately seeking a sense of worth, something to complete his “half made up” existence.
Our nation’s awkward (to use the kindest word possible) situation is tragic in the classic sense.
If only we would allow our stubborn ambitions to die, if only we’d go to sleep and dream again, like children do..if only we’d cease our efforts to manically cobble things together, things we should allow to properly decompose..so as to best nurture the soil of a whole new world..maybe..maybe..perhaps..
Perhaps then we’d be able to stop, look around, and see each other, standing together on this grand, beautiful, ravaged Earth. If only we could pause to recognize the great gifts we’ve already been given. If only we’d learn to care for one another.
Frankenstein sought to galvanize the monstrosity he’d stitched together and raise it to life. If he had a change of heart, the horror might have been averted. After all, He who was dead has already been raised.
Now that my ladder’s gone,
I must lie down where all ladders start,
In the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart.
The quote is from Yeats. A profound humbling of our nation might not be a bad thing.
“There can be worse things than the experience of humiliation through which we learn humility.”
Sometimes there is great profit in defeat.
Notes on the vicissitudes of the creative life.