The Use and Abuse of Blindness (8)

Whatever the expectations others may lay upon us, we all have a natural tendency, one to which for the most part we are ourselves blind, to fulfill those expectations. Drawing upon that tendency, expectation itself tends to engender the very thing it expects. Not only do we have a tendency to try to live up to whatever high expectations of us we experience others as having. We have no less of a tendency to to try to live down to whatever low expectation we experience them as having for us, as well. 

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The Use and Abuse of Blindness (5)

It is not only such negative, self-focused desires and emotions as greed and  fear of reprisal that provide motivations for blindness, tempting us to turn a blind eye to what is there to be seen. Positive, unselfish desires and emotions such as love and hope for others, or for one’s entire community inclusive of both oneself and others, can also motivate blindness.

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The Use and Abuse of Blindness (4)

There are, after all, many who have eyes, but cannot see.  When they go to the optometrist, they may turn out to have perfect 20-20 vision, but yet remain blind as bats to things that are the most important to see. Such blindness as that, which has nothing to do with what optometrists can measure or opticians correct, can serve its own purposes—not only for the blind themselves, but also and especially for coercive power.

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The Use and Abuse of Blindness (3)

In the course of serving oneself one may often have to perform some dis-service to others. That is especially tempting if by the disservice to one’s community one can amass great financial wealth for oneself. Those tempted by the prospects of accumulating such wealth are at the same time tempted to “turn a blind eye,” as our apt common expression has it, to the disservice to others such single-minded pursuit of their own profit entails.

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The Use and Abuse of Blindness (2)

At least from 1933 to 1945, the German people as a rule—which means that there were, of course, exceptions to that rule, sometimes of the most estimable and profound sort—were defined by their blindness. They were blind to many things, from the often brutal silencing of all public opposition to the ruling coercive power, of the Nazi State, to the unprincipled aggressive wars that State launched against neighboring states, to the barbarous slaughter of six million Jews and an approximately equal number of other victims in the death camps and killing fields with which that same State dotted the map of Europe. 

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The Use and Abuse of Blindness (1)

The old wisdom continues to hold: One does not make deals with the devil. To do so in hopes of thereby gaining opportunity to do greater good later, is to blind oneself to the truth. Then, if the moment eventually comes that one sees what one has done, the only heroic response is to be ashamed--and to hold onto that shame.

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Poetry, Prayer, and Memory (8)

This is the last in a series of posts.

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To pray is to allow one’s thoughts to rise to God.

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My own first real experiences of prayer occurred when I was still a very young child, not yet old enough to be put in school. At the time, I did not know that what I was experiencing was called “praying.” Nor did I associate what I was experiencing with the word “God” (a word about the meaning of which I really had no ideas at all yet at the time). The combination of those two pieces of ignorance, of “not-knowing,” made my prayer all the more pure.

Thus, long before I ever heard of Heidegger, let alone read him, I heeded his admonition not to let words get between us and things. Just so, in my initial childhood experience without even needing to try, because I did not even know the words yet, I did not let the word “prayer” get between me and praying, or the word “God” between me and God. Instead, my soul just rose up to God like a feather carried aloft by the slightest breeze, as Abba Isaac, the old Christian desert solitary, long ago told John Cassian, who carried the desert tradition to the West, the soul would naturally just do, unless weighed down by its own sins.  Because at the time I am describing I was still too young to have weighed myself down with my sins (or at least any obsessive consciousness of them), my soul did just that—and I just prayed, without even knowing I was doing so.

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My father’s pride and joy during my early childhood years was his 1947 maroon-colored Buick Roadmaster convertible, which he always liked not only to drive fast, but also to drive fast quick, as Faulkner so nicely if ungrammatically put it. I am the youngest of three children. By brother is three years older than I am, and my sister is ten year older.

As a child not yet in school, my favorite place to ride in my father’s Buick, whenever the whole family went somewhere together and the weather was chilly enough that we had to leave the convertible top up, was in the well behind the back seat, where the convertible top would go when we went topless. On those colder weather occasions, I would climb over the backseat and stretch out on my back in the convertible-top well, and just look out the plastic window at whatever passed by overhead, from tall buildings to telephone wires to clouds to the moon and stars. Perhaps my very warmest childhood memory is of just lying there, thinking of nothing, wanting nothing, being content with whatever went by, and feeling the warmth and comfort of being surrounded by the family of which I was a part, without having to take any special part in what the rest of that family was saying to one another. I was just attentive to it all, open for whatever offered itself to me next through the plastic window above me—and I was happy.

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            It was not until many years later, after I’d been sober for more than a decade and was in my fifties, that I realized what I had really been doing as I rode along happily and attentively all those years ago in the well behind the backseat of my dad’s pride and joy, his Buick Roadmaster convertible. I was just lying there as a young child, just letting my mind go where minds naturally go, when not weighed down by sins and self-preoccupations.

            I have never prayed so purely since, nor been so rapt in God.

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Poetry, Prayer, and Memory (7)

Theodor Adorno once famously said that poetry is no longer possible after the Holocaust. Well, if by “poetry” one means some sort of grand and flashy chatter that calls attention to itself by how catchy it is, like some advertising slogan, then certainly after the Holocaust to write such junk is questionable, to say the least.

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Poetry, Prayer, and Memory (4)

n 1967, just three years before he committed suicide by jumping into the Seine River in Paris, Paul Celan paid his one and only visit to Martin Heidegger, whose writings had had a major impact on Celan’s thinking and his poetry. Celan went to visit Heidegger in the latter’s ski-hut on the slopes above the little Black Forest town of Todtnauberg-im-Baden, the very place where Heidegger wrote most of Being and Time and many later works. There was a little well near Heidegger’s hut, with a star carved into the crosspiece above the opening. Heidegger also kept a guest-book in the hut for visitors to write a line or two in when they visited.

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