Saturday, August 25, 2012

happily suffering for a Brave New World

I've been bouncing between three books, of late, and it's interesting to see the way they interact. The first is Dr. Richard Beck's THE AUTHENTICITY OF FAITH, the second is Aristotle's POETICS, and the third is BRAVE NEW WORLD, by Aldous Huxley.

In THE AUTHENTICITY OF FAITH (which I'll be dissecting on here in greater detail once I've finished with it), Beck argues that not everyone uses religion as a sort of crutch for existential death-anxiety -- but that there is a second sort of Christian (whom he describes with William James' category of "sick souls," and whom in his own research he has referred to as a "Winter Christian") for whom doubt, pain and existential angst are actually an intrinsic part of their faith.

Aristotle's POETICS, in an obliquely-related manner, is primarily concerned with the way tragedy (which Aristotle deems the highest form of art) combines fear and pity for an experience of katharsis that is ultimately pleasurable and hopeful.

And then there is BRAVE NEW WORLD, which uses Shakespearean tragedy as it circles thematically around the contrast between a mindless, drug-and-consumption-induced happiness, and the more painfully, dramatic demands of a pursuit of Truth and Beauty.

As Huxley's World Controller Mustapha Mond says,

"Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the over-compensations for misery. And, of course, stability isn't nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle against temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand... Whenever the masses seized political power, then it was happiness rather than truth and beauty that mattered."

This says two things to me:

First, that as Mr. Clive Staples Lewis once remarked, you should "keep your eyes open and your mouth shut, and everything will lead to everything else." And second, that the inner pain I suffer by my unwillingness (or incapacity) to just shut up and be happy is not particularly uncommon, and has its own rewards.

I would argue, along with Mustapha Mond, that for any grand creative human endeavor to reach fruition, it must be planted in the soil of human pain. Not, I think, because there is anything particularly virtuous about pain, but because Beauty must accept and explore every aspect of human experience -- even the less pleasant ones -- if it's going to have a prayer of approaching the Truth.

It sucks, sometimes, to spend a day crying tears of sorrow as I make something that'll hopefully bring someone else tears of release. But would I trade it all for a little soma and a blissful release?

Never. Absolutely. Possibly. Sometimes. Probably not. 

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