Verge and Brink   (21.9.09)

He stands twixt verge and brink,
Stood rigid, head inclined;
A homely place, a native breeze
is this: a warm, nostalgic fear.

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Beauty and the Face   (10.9.09)

How is it that someone can look so different from one moment to the next? The face is not a static thing, not a premeditated expression worn for the day like a piece of clothing. This would not be an expression at all: clothing serves to conceal, while the face, in all its nudity, is a site of revelation.

So the face makes us known to others in a way that is beyond volition (which we might also call rationality). But the face, this origin of knowledge, makes us desirable at the same time as sealing our fate — a fate we would not have to face if we were absolutely, primordially, alone. This is the great burden of beauty: a permanent fear, a heavy awareness of the passing of time.

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Freedom and Suicide   (10.9.09)

Life is disappearing before our eyes and we are all draining away together. Yet the way we behave, an alien would imagine that the existence we share is permanent — not mortal. The final humiliation of liberalism is death, non-existence, ultimate passivity, unfreedom. Action resists death as a recurrent and deluded protest. Even the contemplation of suicide is a resistance against death, an attempt to control our end, to bring the passivity of passivities into a domain, a sphere of influence.

And yet, when we become sick, we are filled with fear and, to our great surprise, we want to LIVE. To paraphrase Franz Rosenzweig: on that dark night of terror, when it comes to it, man does not by nature fall towards the darkness but turns towards light, by instinct he grasps for survival at all costs — at the expense even of misery.

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E.T.   (8.9.09)

EDUCATION breaks and enters where TEACHING would knock.

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Radical Friendship   (7.9.09)

O, my friends, there is no friend.

— Aristotle

What is friendship in a world governed, according to the philosophers, by enmity? We are told that the State of Nature is War and civilization nothing but War by Other Means. So friendship in an antagonistic world would be nothing more than the suspension of hostilities, a temporary state of affairs made possible by constant threat of fresh violence; a ceasefire whose terms and activities would obtain meaning only from my permanent option to take up arms. Is this a true account of friendship? Perhaps it is true as far as it goes: necessary, but insufficient. There can be no doubt that our subjection to each other is always a subjection to the risk of violence. Our friends can do us more harm than a stranger because our very closeness heightens our vulnerability.

Yet perhaps we can look at things another way. We need not reject Hobbes to concede his limitations: because for certain, friendship occurs in a violent world and this can never be otherwise. But is not friendship, rather than a convenient by-product of war's absence, really its radical alternative? Is not true friendship — resistance? In this radical friendship we do not simply affirm each other in our established positions in the way that tyrants appease each other in diplomacy. Rather, radical friendship takes the form of judgement: friendship is the duty to challenge violence, not to repeat it by absorbing it as the enabling principle of our relationships. The translators of Matthew 7 implore us: "Judge not, that ye be not judged." But this will not do. Radical friendship is not a relativistic free-for-all — and yet, unlike the judgement of violence, the judgement of a radical friend does not atrophy into condemnation. Could Matthew really mean, "Condemn not, that ye be not condemned"?

O, my friends, there is no enemy.

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Presence and Separation   (7.9.09)

Are we ever sure about love? Is love anything but grieving in advance? Is love anything but fear? In the words of C.S. Lewis, "it gives life a permanently provisional feeling [...] I can't settle down, I yawn, I fidget, I smoke too much..."

Old friends are often close friends, even though they may also be distant ones. It is a connection created by sharing the passage of time, being quietly aware of the other's existence as you watch the clock tick. Memories of friends are always a form of presence. But in love, memories become absence and proximity a source of separation. Love tries to capture, stop, or waste time — we are forever beyond each other's reach, insufficient, untouchable, and it seems to be Time's fault.

Is there someone you loved so long ago, someone you have loved continuously, if tacitly, passively, since then? You see his muscles and his skin, yes, older than when you first loved him, but as lovely as ever, because they are him: and you know you really love someone when you can see them in any condition, at any age, and see what you saw when you first fell in love, you can see beauty even where others wouldn't when you see that same muscle working under the skin, and you know it is love, the same body, the same mind, the same eyes, conspiring against you, conspiring not to love you.

Is the separation of love something to mourn? Love makes us teeter on the edge of death, unfree, poised to make the involuntary jump into darkness that obsession demands. And yet, even though love — that true, immediate obsession — may make us suicidal, the moments when we feel it are also the moments when know ourselves to be most truly, sincerely, directly alive.

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Fleshy   (4.9.09)

He is a fleshy being, and it scares you. You came here in search of flesh. But a search for flesh is quest for death. We are ephemeral, gone in the blink of an eye; before the universe has taken half a breath our bodies are buried, rotten, returned to the ground like we never were. We stare at our navels and watch ourselves age — and we are passive. Time, ageing, is a passivity no freedom or action can restrain or overcome.

If he ever has someone next to him on that sofa, will he dare to touch them? The warmth he would feel would be a communion with the imminence of death. Leaving one flesh for another made him desperate: the old life is already so far away, so irretrievably damaged, irrevocably changed, that he is afraid he will never know the same happiness again.

But for this, humans have the word FAITH. Faith is the writing of a diary with your back to the night; blind trust in the safety of darkness and its patient anticipation of day.

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