tragic vision

September 5, 2020

What are the implacable values of Homer? Honour, status, personal courage — the values of an aristocratic military class? But this is not what the Iliad is about. It would be more correct to say, as Simone Weil does, that the Iliad — as pure an example of the tragic vision as one can find — is about the emptiness and arbitrariness of the world, the ultimate meaninglessness of all moral values, and the terrifying rule of death and inhuman force. If the fate of Oedipus was represented and experienced as tragic, it is not because he, or his audience, believed in “implacable values,” but precisely because a crisis had overtaken those values. It is not the implacability of “values” which is demonstrated by tragedy, but the implacability of the world. The story of Oedipus is tragic insofar as it exhibits the brute opaqueness of the world, the collision of subjective intention with objective fate. After all, in the deepest sense, Oedipus is innocent; he is wronged by the gods, as he himself says in Oedipus at Colonus. Tragedy is a vision of nihilism, a heroic or ennobling vision of nihilism.

Susan Sontag
The Death of Tragedy
[included in: Against Interpretation and Other Essays]


August 23, 2020

All you need is love. And the occasional three course meal, of course. Washed down, perhaps, with a reasonable Merlot. We humans love to fall in love, don’t we? But often it ends badly. Especially in poetry. Or a Hemingway story. Lovers are burned by this too sweet honey; by their bittersweet desires. By those black thunderstorms of sensation.

Sappho said:

I’m in love! I’m not in love!
I’m crazy! I’m not crazy!
[Poetae Melici Graeci (428), ed. D. Page]

Only she said it originally in Greek, of course.

Simone Weil spoke of hunger:

All our desires are contradictory, like the desire for food. I want the person I love to love me. If he is, however, totally devoted to me he does not exist any longer and I cease to love him. And as long as he is not totally devoted to me he does not love me enough. Hunger and repletion.
[The Simone Weil Reader, ed. G A Panichas]

Ah, the erotic ambivalence of love!

And yet we all need it; crave it. This Midas touch of love.

Your caresses
in secret places.

Our ragged breathing.

Love protects
against time
against these shy silences
and the many empty, waiting hours.


Have you ever been in love? Horrible isn’t it? It makes you so vulnerable. It opens your chest and it opens up your heart and it means that someone can get inside you and mess you up.

Neil Gaiman
The Kindly Ones

Love is like the wind, you can’t see it but you can feel it.”

Nicholas Sparks
A Walk to Remember

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
                                                   i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

e e cummings

We read writers of such scathing originality for their personal authority, for the example of their seriousness, for their manifest willingness to sacrifice themselves for their truths, and – only piecemeal – for their “views.” As the corrupt Alcibiades followed Socrates, unable and unwilling to change his own life, but moved, enriched, and full of love, so the sensitive modern reader pays his respect to a level of spiritual reality which is not, could not, be his own.

Susan Sontag
Simone Weil
collected in: Against Interpretation

Perhaps there are certain ages which do not need truth as much as they need a deepening of the sense of reality, a widening of the imagination. I, for one, do not doubt that the sane view of the world is the true one. But is that what is always wanted, truth? The need for truth is not constant; no more than is the need for repose. An idea which is a distortion may have a greater intellectual thrust than the truth; it may better serve the needs of the spirit, which vary. The truth is balance, but the opposite of truth, which is unbalance, may not be a lie.

Susan Sontag
Simone Weil
collected in: Against Interpretation