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Self-criticism

Whenever I think I’m taking the moral high ground, I realize there’s no such thing, and that I do exactly what I criticize others of doing. Not to the same degree, usually, but just to the point at which I realize I am defenseless against my own criticisms. There is here a strange alchemy of self-righteousness, tinged by my own sense of justice, and a bewilderment that I could be so blind to myself.

I also think there is here a better way of understanding “sin,” not as a metaphysical miasma or virus, but according to its “width” and “depth.” In the real world of accidents and unforeseen outcomes, a suspicion of “the good” is also necessary to move forward. I think one true thing that Christianity has been right all along is that we all live in this, this “sin.” I recall a famous Buddhist story about why the dead do not come back to the living; it is because the world is shit; who would want to jump into a sewer? Because our good intentions are silent and our good actions echo into the dark hallways of the future, there must be some way to move forward.

This is where Nietzsche may actually be, wonder of wonders, employed by Christians. The myth of striving forward into a dark, iron world, that myth of the iron will, the noble heart, except our weapon is not some fantasy of superiority (only a fool believes in that), but love and goodwill. We should be militantly good, militantly loving, tempered and sharpened by the “shit” of it all, rather than cowed by it. The will to power transformed into will to life abounding. 

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I went to my third funeral today. On the day I left Philly, my dad told me to pack a suit. She had died only a week before Christmas. I had met her perhaps only four times in my life; she was my step-great-aunt, but I did not even know her name until today. That’s the way it is with Korean culture; names of your elders are taboo. Throughout the funeral, I realized again that it’s not the dead who suffer, but the living. Men age a decade in a week when their beloved lies dead. 

She sounded like a fascinating person. She had been born in China, to a Korean partisan family fleeing the Japanese occupation. She moved to the States to marry the man of her dreams (if only romance still wove its charm like so) and attended Berkeley in the 60’s, at the height of the hippie era. One of her Berkeley peers spoke today, and chastised her for dying before her. The dead remain ready to hear, and answer, it seems. She spoke of their pretending to be pseudo-hippies and intellectuals in the international house. Her pictures flashed on the screen, and her face shown of a hearty exuberance. It was hard to see her as a hippie. She seemed so Korean. 

There is something about the orderliness of the funeral service that acts as a formal constraint to the outburst of overflowing emotions. One is permitted to weep, but not too much. To chastise and berate, but not any more than you would normally. There are no questions of meaning; they would only cheapen the ceremony. A great deal of not-asking happens at a funeral. 

I was reminded at the funeral how much for Korean churches, corporate prayer serves as stamps, seals of proof, that we have attended this funeral, that we have paid homage to the deceased and to her kin. The creed is not just an expression of faith; it preserves a deeper instinct, to remind her of her own death, and that this world is no longer fit for her. We affirm our lives and her death through the act of praying, and not the prayer itself.

I should visit my mom before leaving for Philly again. 

On Intelligence

The intelligent man who is proud of his intelligence is like the condemned man who is proud of his large cell. – Weil

In this way, there is no such thing as deep knowledge; all knowledge, once it is caught and stored, also perishes in its transformation into a thing to be manipulated and exploited in the service of more knowledge. The momentum that drives this is interest, which too is empty. What is intelligence then but the efficiency and clarity in which discrete datum can be employed to construct a larger, more ornate, and depending on the person, a more elegant solution? But, there is sometimes nothing more cogent than the talk of a madman. There must be a mapping onto reality the things that one fancies in his head, a verification that what one says is indeed true. 

It seems that I did not know what I was talking about, O Socrates.

And yet you spoke so beautifully, Agathon.

Words for wordless things

Words wreak havoc when they find a name for what had up to then been lived namelessly. -Sartre

Thanksgiving

I spent my Thanksgiving with C’s family in southern Jersey. There, I was struck by how much stuff there was in his house, mostly memorabilia from C’s and his brothers’ younger days. On the walls of their rooms, hung proudly medals of past glories and tokens of their family’s genius. Posters of old bands, pictures of high school friends, drawings from elementary schools, old books, certificates, Lego castles, Super Nintendo, all of these saturated their house with a sense of lived memory. Each relic bearing witness, however brief, to a  life, a testament to existence against the estrangement of our current selves, thrown as we are into it by our ambition. They serve as reminders that indeed, we were someone before, and in each room, a momentum of our past moves into the future. I write this because, I realized, in my home, we have no such things. The photographs of my mother and father had been pawned off long ago by an unscrupulous neighbor. Their love letters have disappeared and so their memories hang as stereotyped images of a romantic past in someone’s room. Due to our constant moving, we have unconsciously developed an ethos that prizes efficiency over rootedness, something easily translated into traveler’s parlance, “Always pack light, and buy the accessories later.” Photos are the first to disappear. There is nothing in my room, save an awkward photo, that reminds me of a past before college; all of Alaska is a dark haze, sparsely punctuated by vivid recollections, and even those have the hue of an unreal past. There is nothing that grounds me to that past, to Alaska, to a family there, to a friendship; all our relics are disposed, or packed away shamefully as if we cannot stand the thought of our imperfect selves. I am a pilgrim without a witness. This is also the way that I deal with relationships, I think; I scatter myself into one another, each bit taking just that much more emotional capital, until I am left without myself. Therefore, I must sift, the wheat from the chaff, the goats from the sheep, sometimes ruthlessly. One person had called it mechanical, surprised as she was by what she thought was my kind heart but I wonder, if this is not a truer form of love, since the right to call man “good” is not reserved for men.

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