How far does my ignorance extend? To the ends? To every end? I might be certain of having a hand, but the certainty is merely a brick in the wall of a building I use as my shelter. I might be certain of having a desire for someone or something, but a desire can be a trick in itself, and can lead you away from precisely what you most desire. Also, it is always a painful or at least searching task for us to discover whether the desires that we have are really ours, or whether they were perhaps given to us. And death? Well, if death has ever been hailed for anything it has been hailed as the most certain thing, that which stands there unwaveringly for each of us as the starkest inevitability. Death, though, might just be ignorance itself. Not only are we, in our depths, uncertain about when death will come or whether there is anything added onto death for the human being or for any living being, but at bottom we are as uncertain about what death is as we are about what life is. We breathe and we moan and we work and we rest, and all along we are ignorant of what power it is that grants us the possibility to moan and to rest and to breathe and work. Life and living have been drained of much or all of their former majesty and enchantment as of late, and for a while now, but life remains undefined, we remain ignorant of what life is. Perhaps acknowledging our ignorance will ignite a new magic in the world.
Socrates, that wisest fool, demonstrated this as he stood trial for his ignorant wisdom and approached his death. He did not let our sure certainty about the ill of death overtake him when the Athenians gave him the option to leave the polis with his life rather than continue to spread his anarchic ignorance within its walls. There is indeed something holy and magical, like the death of a god, a dionysian death, in the way Socrates makes his foolishness and lack of knowledge regarding death into a motive for lightness and liberation. He gives us the feeling that our ignorance may extend to our every height and depth and to the furthest ends, and that this is alright. Indeed more, much more than alright: such bold and acknowledged ignorance may be the only open door we have to a genuine love of this life, this life of which we know nothing, and of the god whose name will be forever unknown.
There’s a lot to think about here. Go not quietly into that Good Night. as Dylan Thomas said.
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It is fitting, I think, to have Dylan Thomas’ searing confrontation with death enter into this discussion. Fitting and enriching. That poem, which I have always loved for its pleading honesty, also affirms the surrounding darkness, and adds intensity to the demanding quality of the task by reminding us that the darkness must not only be affirmed for us alone but also for our loved ones and all. We know we can not exactly demand this of others, but we hear Thomas’ desperate admonishing of his father to do so.
Thank you, Paula. May your day shine through all the shrouds…or at least along with them.
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