Thirst for life

June 29, 2011

This post by Sean Coleman at Normblog asks what’s the meaning of everything for people without religious faith:

…the tremulous opening of Fear and Trembling, whose rapturous gloom sustained my Catholic late-adolescence:

If there were no eternal consciousness in a man, if at the bottom of everything there were only a wild ferment, a power that twisting in dark passions produced everything great or inconsequential; if an unfathomable, insatiable emptiness lay hid beneath everything, what would life be but despair?

I date my own religious scepticism – like many – from around this time, and something about this line always struck me as especially marvellous: for even without God, how could one not exalt an emptiness that could produce such a grandiloquent, vaulting, beautiful sentence? Even without God, there was lyricism – Shakespeare and Yeats and A Love Supreme. And girlfriends, and ice-cream, and sport and everything else. 

It got me thinking about the brief bit of The Brothers Karmazov i’ve read:

Do you know I’ve been sitting here thinking to myself: that if I didn’t believe in life, if I lost faith in the woman I love, lost faith in the order of things, were convinced, in fact, that everything is a disorderly, damnable, and perhaps devil-ridden chaos, if I were struck by every horror of man’s disillusionment — still I should want to live and, having once tasted of the cup, I would not turn away from it till I had drained it! At thirty, though, I shall be sure to leave the cup, even if I’ve not emptied it, and turn away — where I don’t know. But till I am thirty, I know that my youth will triumph over everything — every disillusionment, every disgust with life. I’ve asked myself many times whether there is in the world any despair that would overcome this frantic and perhaps unseemly thirst for life in me, and I’ve come to the conclusion that there isn’t, that is till I am thirty, and then I shall lose it of myself, I fancy. Some drivelling consumptive moralists — and poets especially — often call that thirst for life base. It’s a feature of the Karamazovs, it’s true, that thirst for life regardless of everything; you have it no doubt too, but why is it base? The centripetal force on our planet is still fearfully strong, Alyosha. I have a longing for life, and I go on living in spite of logic. Though I may not believe in the order of the universe, yet I love the sticky little leaves as they open in spring. I love the blue sky, I love some people, whom one loves you know sometimes without knowing why. I love some great deeds done by men, though I’ve long ceased perhaps to have faith in them, yet from old habit one’s heart prizes them. 

Splendid stuff. Even for someone over thirty.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: