A sense of isolation, preferably cultivated from preschool. (Threadbare, ill-fitting clothes help. So does that awareness of being different in kind that only a narrow religion can provide. If all your schoolmates are going to burn in hell, and you alone aren’t, how can you be on the same footing? How can you let yourself like them, knowing their fate?) Paranoia, that feeling of always being watched, always being judged, is a must. (Threadbare, ill-fitting clothes help. So does a narrow religion, one that teaches — what are those words? — “There’s an all-seing eye that watches you, everything you say, everything you do.” OK, I lied when I said, “what are those words?” I’ve never been able to forget them. Forgive me, Lord.) And now you don’t believe. Now, judged by your childhood self, your prim adolescence, your father’s ghost, you are a monster.
(Angsty, ain’t it? I haven’t had my coffee yet.)
I admire Thomas Paine greatly; he’s rather high up in my pantheon of saints. He was a brilliant polemicist, and he sacrificed everything to fight for human liberty. But he was not a subtle philosopher.
One error he falls into, and he’s certainly not alone in this, is the general statement of the form The purpose of X is Y, rather than A purpose of some X is Y. Examples of this fallacy are “The purpose of government is to protect our rights,” and “The purpose of art is to delight and instruct.” As if every thing of class X must have the same purpose, at all times and places, for everybody!
My own belief — and this is a prejudice, not a reasoned position — is that the purpose of each thing is to be what it is. The purpose of the Rembrandt’s The Night Watch is to be The Night Watch. The purpose of Rembrandt was to be — not an artist — but Rembrandt.
Admittedly, this makes the question of purpose somewhat tautological (how can anything not be what it is?) — but perhaps I don’t really believe in “purposes of.” (See how prejudices fall apart when you start thinking?) To explore this topic properly, we should define what we mean by purpose, and how a thing’s purpose differs (if it does) from its use.
Some other shortcomings in Paine:
- He traces human rights back to a mythical state of nature, without explaining why that time (even if it existed) should have a special authority today.
- He believes, against all evidence, that people will act rationally, and in their own interests. (Greenspan is in good company.)
I’ve decided to postpone my NaNoFiWriMo (National NonFiction Writing Month) — also to call it IdNoFiWriMo (Idiosyncratic NonFiction etc.). October has turned out to be a very busy month, and two books in two months is — well, my usual overreaching. I’ll make it July or August of next year.
April, by the way, will be both National Poetry Month — when I write at least one poem a day — and ScriptFrenzy, when my wife and I will write a film screenplay in a month.
Of course, two books, thirty poems, and a full-length screenplay, all in one year, is not overreaching in the least.
Recently started and finished:
- Hard Times, by Charles Dickens
I won’t be doing much reading for the next couple of months. In October, I’m observing my own private NaNoFiWriMo (National NonFiction Writing Month). In November, I’m signed up for the 2009 NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month.) I’m also in a fiction group, and need to have something for the next meeting, as well as something for my poetry groups (yes, plural).
Not to mention my 63 Things project. I still have two song lyrics to write before I can cross that item off.
Oh, and a long, chaotic (for now), philosophical poem I’ve been working on for months.
“Sleep is just an inadequate substitute for caffeine.”