Monday, March 02, 2009

Stories are our lives - thoughts on eternity

That's a bit scary. Feels like it's been so long since I posted I was a bit reluctant to come and write. Typing will help loosen me up, I'm sure. Now that I'm started...

First off, Book #1 - The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, by Edgar Allan Poe. Poe's only novel. I appreciated the backstory in the forward and the footnotes for their critical context. At times, Poe loses track in the longer form and has some disjointed elements - characters never mentioned again, that type of thing. It's rambling and typical of the style of the day. I was a little disappointed that it didn't get more into the characters mental states, but again, that might not have been the era for it. Much matter of fact on a crazy adventure that is definitely memorable and has several gem moments.

So, the other day I was reading a chapter in Aldous Huxley's Perennial Philosophy on "Time and Eternity" and was struck by the relationship Huxley draws between the temporal focus of a faith and its tendency towards violence, political powermongering, slavery, etc. (I'm going to try to quote a piece, it's a long rant)
For four hundred years, from the beginning of the sixteenth centyr to the beginning of the twentieth, most of the Christian nations of Europe have spent a good part of their time and energy in attacking, conquering, and exploiting their non-Christian neighbours in other continents. [...]The first collective protest against the slave system [...] was made in 1688 by the Quaker Meeting of Germantown. [...]Of all Christian sects in the seventeenth century, the Quakers were the least obsessed with histroy, the least addicted to the idolatry of things in time. [...] Moreover their eternity-philosophy preserved them from the materialistic apocalypticism of that progress-worship which in recent times has justified every kind of iniquity from war and revolution to sweated labour, slavery and the exploitation of savages and children - has justified them on the ground that the supreme good is in future time and that any temporal means, however intrinsically horrible, may be used to achieve that good.

Fascinating, I had never considered the tie, although one thing that interests me in other philosophies is a desire to avoid the powermongering that I know exists in certain sects.
One more quote on this to talk about the flip side - the eternal perspective:
For those whose philosophy does not compel them to take time with an excessive seriousness the ultimate good is [...] in an eternal diving now which those who sufficiently desire this good can realize as a fact of immediate experience. The mere act of dying is not in itself a passport to eternity; nor can wholesale killing do anything to bring deliverance either to the slayers or the slain or their posterity. The peace that passes all understanding is the fruit of liberation into eternity [...]

Veering away from the religious, I finished Book #2 - White Teeth by Zadie Smith. Interesting story about the lives of immigrants and those closely tied to them in London - a generational perspective on the desires to succeed, to fit in, to conquer, to fade into the background, etc. There are a few spots where it gets a bit long, but I found the twist at the end quite nice.
On the final page is this quote:
the end is simply the beginning of an even longer story

I like that. A lot. Have to make dinner now.