30 November 2016

Chaos, Cloud, Abyss


It's good to live in anxiety, 
good to hear one's teeth chatter in fear,
good to push life to the brink of ruin 
and start afresh next morning. 
                                              –Bohumil Hrabal



Of course, we would rather have it easy. Everything is clean and foreseen, everything planned, thus everything is “as expected." There’s a feeling that you are in control: what you expect and even demand, is what you get--as if by right and by privilege. We see this especially in those who age. Finding out that one has to at some point be responsible for one’s own life, we gather ourselves and summon all our strength in pursuing goals, goals we set out for ourselves, but really they are the goals of other people, thinking these ends will make us happy--because their accomplishment, we again think, shall give us solid ground to stand on, to build on ever anew. 

There is some truth to this. Getting what you want is always rewarding. But there are no surprises here. Whether you fail or not in graduating, getting that promotion, saving enough money, starting a family so as to “settle down”--there will never be anything new. Life becomes a game where the rules and standards of its results had already been pre-established. It’s a matter of struggling, which many have already accepted as the true nature of living.

But there are those who do not want to participate in this game (Who made these rules? Why make rules to begin with?). There are those for whom everyday is a surprise. And everyday is a surprise because there were no expectations made, no goals established, no desires to be fulfilled. The most dangerous man is him who wants nothing. Dangerous in its more interesting sense that no one knows how things will turn out after surviving these crises. 

Destruction, they tell us, is to be avoided at all costs. Now you have to build again, pick up the pieces and start all over. But what is there to destroy if nothing was ever built? Chaos, too, has its own blessings--and beauty. Beauty after all is what is extraordinary, what is striking, and it is striking because it is unlike the many--the singular. The singular man, the single life, he who parts from the crowd, the individual who stands out--stands out of everyday destruction amidst all those who build towers and skyscrapers and lives.

To live in anxiety means to be ever conscious that the primal elements of the world are always changing, that one never has a ‘grip' on things, precisely because things withdraw from us by themselves. And the withdrawal of things can only torment those who have always wanted to seize them. None better than Heidegger describes this anxiety: "The receding of beings as a whole that closes in on us in anxiety oppresses us. We can get no hold on things.” If anxiety nowadays is reduced to the phenomenon of a "general unease,” even watered down to a pallid nervousness, or lack of confidence in one’s self (because unable to exert one’s power over things)--these are merely surface symptoms displayed by those who have essentially seen the face of the world as the face which cannot be described, thrust into our concepts, regulated by our expectations of what things are, finally neutralized and reduced to what we control. 

But anxiety stares into the abyss as abyss--that bottomless free fall into the unknown, or that flight into the cloud of unknowing, that wondrous experience of not-being-able-to-see, most of all the inability to fore-see. Everything withdraws from us and in their withdrawing they approach us, suffocate us. He who is anxious thus cannot breathe.

But to live again amidst things as they are! Blessed are those who do not see, who do not want to build, who do not want what is easy and everyday. 

I was once there. And the abyss always invites still. But I choose to breathe.  




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Maira Gall