On superficiality

2 10 2009


If you can’t be in the age you love, love the one you’re in

One of my favorite Nietzsche aphorisms is one I have cited many times before in my essays, and it is the following:

Oh, those Greeks! They knew about living: for this, it is necessary to stop courageously at the surface, at the drapery, at the skin, to worship appearances, to believe in forms, sounds, and words, and the entire Olympus of appearances! Those Greeks were superficial- out of profundity!

Would Nietzsche salivate at the age we live in? AG’s newest post is an extended quote from a review of various books on Andy Warhol, supposedly an icon of our age of icons, or rather, anti-icons (depending on your definition). When she told me about it on my way home from work, all of these profound metaphysical reflections began cascading into my head. The common lament of Christians of all stripes is that we live in a profoundly “anti-human” age. I remember Yannaras (or was it Zizoulas?, all a blur now) talking about how the Greek word for person, prosopon, drew its inspiration from the masks of actors in fatalist Greek tragedies. Man is merely playing a part, an interchangeable lump of decaying moving clay in the midst of a universe falling apart. The Christians (so the new metanarrative goes) had to devise a nifty new way of conceiving of the person in the form of a “hypostasis”, an independent, stable being in a historically determined universe.

A recent article posted here on the late Fr. Stanley Jaki I found posted here seems to make the claim that the reason that we have this shiny new technologically-advanced world of ours in the first place is because man finally broke out of the metaphysical mire that plagued the fatalistic Greeks, Indians, and other ancient civilizations, and that was the vicious cycle of the eternal return, linked to the idea that the world is maya, or pure illusion. This infected the West in that most noxious inventions of human thought, Platonism, and it was Mircea Eliade who said that the Platonic project was merely a codification of a primitive ontology that had existed since the beginning of the world. The cave of the Republic had been around for a long time indeed, as had the aetherial realm of Ideas of which all that we see around us is mere shadow. Modernity began, according to this author, when this intutition was smashed once and for all, and the world became one immense machine subjegated to the Christian God and His stewards on earth.

The common lament, even echoed by yours truly at times, is that such a vision is making a comeback, to the detriment of the masculine, robust Christendom of yesteryear. Indeed, it was Nietzsche himself, a classical philologist by training, who wanted to bring back the idea of the eternal return explicitly by name. Ideas no longer have consequences, man has no morals, and the gods, reflections of the barbaric forces of re-birth and destruction, threaten to loom again in modern form.

…. Yawn. It’s looks nice on paper, but to tell the whole truth, I have a hard time swallowing all of it. I mean, yeah, it makes a lot of sense, and I admit, I don’t have an alternative that would meet all of my readers’ insatiable standards of orthodoxy. Maybe I have just imbibed too much Platonism, or maybe I am just a heathen who likes going to church. Maybe a priest needs to sit me down and give me a good talking to. But I don’t see the various articles of the Catholic Faith obligating me to swallow this metaphysical chaser. Maybe I am just being childish like that. Not that I believe in the transmigration of souls or think Plotinian metaphysics is the way to go. I just don’t think that God works that easily, or that the universe is obligated to follow the rules we set out for it. And my various studies keep finding that things are way more complex than these ideas anyway.

That all being said (yes, I know this is rambling), I have to say that in spite of all the morally problematic stuff that goes on in this society, I rather like living in it, in spite of how “superficial” it is. In some ways, I am a pop culture junky. I just don’t wish to inflict it on all of you, nor do I wish to be a child of another age than this one. And most of all, I am impressed by the vastness of it all, the vastness of time and space, of the world within and without. Perhaps I am only a mask, and maybe I will be more one day. But the world is full of too many superficial people who inspire to be “deep”. As Octavio Paz once wrote: “I too am written /And in this same instant / Someone spells me out.” Whether it be the cosmos, God, this society, or anyone else, I realize that what I say and write has been written before, will be written again, and will echo in the mind of God and the universe for all eternity. We best not take ourselves too seriously, then.



4 responses

3 10 2009

The veil of maya pertained to the Apollonian aspect of Greek culture, not the Dionysian.

2 10 2009
Robert Thomas Llizo

Ah, yes. I am all too frequently afflicted by that “anywhere but here” demon, trying to escape what I see as prosaic banality and crassness of manners, and into the supposed “golden age” of past civility and “true religion.” But then a good rereading of Chaucer disabuses me of such delusions.

Still, I don my fedora (or donegal) with my coat and tie and tip my hat at friend, stanger and foe.

2 10 2009
Andrea Elizabeth

I enjoyed a Seinfeld rerun last night. It was the Tanya Harding satire with Bette Midler. The main criticique was that the TH girl was devastated by small annoyances that happened to her, but had no empathy for anyone else. Even so, Jerry was more intrigued by her than judgmental. And then Kramer showed such a profound and sophisticated depth of love and empathy for Bette Midler that it made me more thankful for how my husband loves me.

I don’t agree with most about how some things are characterized as being shallow, even Marilyn Monroe. She’s a picture of what can happen to unwanted children. I wonder what Andy Warhol’s childhood was like.

According to wikipedia,
In third grade, Warhol had St. Vitus’ dance, a nervous system disease that causes involuntary movements of the extremities, which is believed to be a complication of scarlet fever and causes skin pigmentation blotchiness.[3] He became a hypochondriac, developing a fear of hospitals and doctors. Often bed-ridden as a child, he became an outcast among his school-mates and bonded strongly with his mother.[4] When in bed he drew, listened to the radio and collected pictures of movie stars around his bed. Warhol later described this period as very important in the development of his personality, skill-set and preferences.

2 10 2009
Steven H

The problem with today’s culture is is not so much its superficiality, but its complete fatuousness. The Greeks may have stopped at appearances, but at least they were watching Antigone, not reruns of Seinfeld.

I think people, metaphysically schooled or not, have a craving for some substance in their lives, some connection to deeper things. Today’s highly ironic culture does not how to deal with real joy or real tragedy, both of which are the basis of the profound. Even people who have an affinity for the “deep” struggle in this culture.

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