Friday, January 20, 2006

Gnostics, the ultimate pessimist 1. I had picked ...

By all evidence, we are in the world to do nothing

1. I had picked up LaCarriere's book on the Gnostics based on a brief glance inside. Expecting a historical treatment, I was suprised to find that Lacarriere was more interested in exploring the feelings of Gnosis, of a deeper worldview (still relevant) about approaches to the world as puzzle. Much different than say, the treatments from scholars such as Elaine Pagels.

2. I had started reading Pagels because she was the wife of the physicist Heinz Pagels whose book The Cosmic Code presented an elegant, informed, deeply poetic view of the quantum universe. Heinz Pagels died in a hiking accident and, afterwards, Elaine Pagels' Gnostic treatments became more spiritual, more comtemplative - she became closer to what she was writing. But, I digress

3. I also picked up Lacarriere because it contained a Foreword by Lawrence Durrell. Careful readers of this oft-neglected weblog will know the significance of that. If not, I offer this:

"She turned her sullen mouth now to the discussion of meaningless matters with Count Banubula, who bowed and swung as gallantly as Scobie's green parrot ducking on its perch."
- from Balthazar by Lawrence Durell

Balthazar, the title character of this particular volume, is a Gnostic teacher living in Alexandria. Durell often describes him as goat-like. Hints of the teachings of Balthazar can be found throughout the Durell novels. Justine, one of his disciples, attempts to wield the aphorisms she has heard, like a shaky sword, in an attempt to unravel the tangles of her romantic life and of her own self-inflicted pain.

4. In the foreword, Durell, surprisingly, dismisses LaCarriere:

"All that we need to know about the author is that he is a wanderer and a poet; he is neither a scholar nor a journalist."

and a passage from LaCarriere will provide a better flavor for this book and reveal Durell's opinion as justified:

"To know our true condition, to realize that we are condemned to live under a fantastic mass of darkness, beneath oceans and successive circles; to know that man atrophied and infirm, vegetates in submarine lairs like the proteus, that blind eel-like creature that lives in subterranean waters, naked and white (or rather albino, since white is still a color after all)... to know this is the first step in Gnostic thought"

5. With phrases such as "To look at the human eye is to grasp the patterns of the entire Universe" perhaps LaCarriere missed a career as an aphorist. His book is populated, though, with quotes from two other authors he clearly admires: Marguerite Yourcenar and Emile Cioran

Cioran is what I call the pessimist's pessimist or the ultimate pessimist. In his worldview we are like writhing worms, with no purpose cast into a struggle which is ultimately meaningless. The only reason not to kill oneself is the mild curiosity about what happens next. I would classify him as nihilist except that I think he does indeed care - at the bottom of that deep well of negativity is a sparkle of hope.

Better to be an animal than a man, an insect than an animal, a plant than an insect, and so on. Salvation? Whatever diminishes the kingdom of consciousness and compromises its supremacy.

Each of us must pay for the slightest damage he inflicts upon a universe created for indifference and stagnation, sooner or later, he will regret not having left it intact.


I'm simply an accident. Why take it all so seriously?

By all evidence we are in the world to do nothing.

6. What would the nihilists say if I told them that I am cheered by reading their writings. That this frantic banging against the universe is perhaps the most human of activities.

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