Yet some more time off

My parents are visiting for the next 10 days, and I probably won't be blogging.  Just so y'all know.

jj 

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philosophers, death, Tim McGraw and Rodney King

Being preoccupied with something always sends me to the books, if you know what I mean. And my recent preoccupation with death reminded me of something Allan Bloom wrote in The Closing of the American Mind, so I went back and read it.

He says, essentially, that the most significant difference between the philosopher and other men is how the philosopher faces death. Other men have their crutches to lean on concerning death: they believe in heaven, or reincarnation, or at least in glory and rememberance, or the piety of the bereaved, or something which gives their death meaning. The philosopher, on the other hand, knows that we don’t know shit about what exists after death—if anything at all—and thus he knows that how he lives is the only thing that matters.

An interesting analysis, and one which I have sympathy for. But it is also quite interesting that in Saul Bellow’s Ravenstein, the character who represents the real-life Bloom becomes—as death approaches—significantly more interested in his Jewishness and the meaning of the Holocaust. Taking the not-so-great leap in thinking that Bellow’s Ravenstein is a rather accurate picture of the dying Bloom, this would mean that Bloom did not really face death like a philosopher: instead, Bloom faced death like ordinary men, grasping for some kind of meaning which philosophy cannot provide.

Bloom had a gigantic mind, and I am indebted to him. But in his death (and again, I must qualify this by saying that I am taking Bellow’s account to be fairly accurate), he demonstrated the limits of the philosophic life.

A philosopher cannot face death any better than anyone else.

The philosopher knows only that he does not know what might come after death. The philosopher suspects, given an absence of evidence, that there is nothing (yet Socrates—and many other philosophers after him—argued for the immortality of the soul, proving the disingenuity of philosophy and thus evidence for the Straussian approach to reading philosophers). But suspicion alone cannot suffice to mitigate the fear we have in facing death. Philosophers remain as uncertain as anyone. Only the religious fanatic, totally convinced of heaven and his place in it, can face death with a lesser fear. But as a human being, even the fanatic must have some fear.

I find this fascinating—Bloom as a philosopher in Closing of the American Mind, and Bloom as described by Bellow in Ravenstein. But my fascination is irrelevant to the need to sort things out in my own mind. I suspect there is nothing after death. And that makes me afraid that my life might end before I have experienced what I should. But this is irrational. I will experience what I experience: there is no should. Philosophy—for all the years I have given to it, and it has given to me—has not made me understand how to approach death.

Did you ever hear Tim McGraw’s Live Like You Were Dying? I could write a 50 page paper on the song, if I were in college. Mostly, I would write about the “anthem” style of country music (hey, maybe I’ll blog about this some time) which is kitschy but cool; but I would have to say something about the whole message of the song. For the most part, it’s embarrassingly sentimental (“going fishin’ wasn’t such an imposition, and I went three times that year I lost my dad”). But the whole idea of living “better” as if you knew that death is near I find to be profound. Death is always near. We should always live as best as we can.

There is one line that gets to me:

“And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying”…

I may not be religious any more, but if there is one thing I believe—not as a philosopher, but as a man—it is that we should have a much greater appreciation of our family, friends, and fellow human beings, and that we should love and cherish each other, and give forgiveness always, and demonstrate all of these things daily, as if we might not have another chance. That’s how to approach death, I think: to say I hold no grudges, no one holds grudges against me, I have told my friends that I love them, and they have told me they love me. I have no enemies. I am no one’s enemy. I did not keep my love hidden.

I remain afraid of dying, and always will, I suppose. But for me, philosophy has given me no better preparation to die than the basic belief in human kindness. And that basic belief I gained from neither philosophy nor religion, but from life experience.

To this day, Rodney King’s plea, “Why can’t we all just get along?” is remembered above all as sounding ridiculously naive. In fact, it was pure wisdom. We should get along. That’s it. And when approaching death, we should be able to say, “I got along.”

Tell someone you love them today.

And tell them I sent you.

jj

The Green Mile

My wife brought me The Green Mile from the city library.  I watched it.  I liked it very much.  But once again, what a strange movie!

Like American History X, there is a kind of contradiction in tone.  But maybe that's typical Stephen King stuff.  There is a certain light-heartedness which doesn't doesn't fit the seriousness of the story.

Oh Jeff, you say, that's what makes the movie so good!  Oh, I say in return, it is indeed a good movie.  But think how much more powerful it would be as straight drama.  The light-hearted element detracts from the film.

What is brilliantly done is the mystical element:  there's just a pinch of it, elevating straight drama to something which might be profound.  Well, it could be profound without the comedic relief.

Again, maybe that's just Stephen King.  I have never read a single Stephen King book.  Or I seem to recall reading Carrie, but I can't really remember.  If I did, I was 12 or 13 at the time, and it obviously did not make a profound enough impact on me to make me certain that I have read it.

Strange, nicht war?

Oui, oui….

jj