Friday, May 15, 2009

In My Head There's A City At Night

I taught my last class of the semester yesterday, and in honor of the event we had a few photos taken. The first is of most of the class, including the two sign-interpreters, and then the second is of the few who were still hanging around, one of whom had a camera.

What I love is that it is almost impossible to distinguish me, as professor, from the rest of my students, which leads to today's theme: age.

In an oft cited passage from Walter Benjamin's "Theses on the Philosophy of History," he analyzes Paul Klee's painting, "Angelus Novus" (which happens to serve as the backdrop of my desktop):
"A Klee painting named "Angelus Novus" shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angle would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress."

Today I turn 25, not as one turns a page, but as the debris continues to pile skyward. It is interesting that Benjamin--perhaps under the sway of Western metaphysics--sees in the "single catastrophe" so many fragments that need to be made whole. When I had aspirations to be a poet, that is, when I was 17 and met in the poems of Rimbaud the only boy I could ever love and the only world I could ever survive in, I wrote, in praise and despair, myself as so many fragments. No doubt, when I die, someone who loves me will the the story of the "single catastrophe" of my life.

The danger of dwelling in ruins, fragments of the past, Nietzsche writes, is that this is where the tarantula of ressentiment lives: 
"And behold, my friends: here where the tarantula has its hole, the ruins of an ancient temple rise; behold it with enlightened eyes! Verily, the man who once piled his thoughts to the sky in these stones--he, like the wisest, knew the secret of all life....[:] with such assurance and beauty let us be enemies too, my friends! Let us strive against one another like gods."
The tarantula bites Zarathustra's finger: "'Punishment there must be and justice,' it thinks; "and here he shall not sing songs in honor of enmity in vain.'"
Rather than live a future poisoned with ressentiment, and doomed to sing of enmity, Zarathustra demands his friends tie him to a column: "Rather would I be a stylite even, than a whirl of revenge. Verily, Zarathustra is no cyclone or whirlwind; and if he is a dancer, he will never dance the tarantella."

I shaved this week--the last vestiges of Victorian barbarism?--in a vain effort to not look my age. It isn't that 25 is old. It's that I will be starting what promises to be at least a 5 year PhD program, leaving me 30 on the other side of the adventure--and there is no Penelope waiting. The Writer and I once spoke, with a healthy degree of sardonic distance, of "gay death," viz. 30, and how the only remedy to this fated mortality was either having a partner or being wildly rich and/or successful. As it is unlikely I will be wildly rich at 30, I can only hope for either a partner or success. And, perhaps sadly, I have more confidence in my success as an intellectual than I do in being in a relationship. (Needless to say, that enjoyable sardonic distance has since shrunken for me, though not for him.)

Confronted with inevitable "gay death" much like a replicant (I'm reading Zizek), I was prompted to retreat into the past, to sift through fragments, re-explore ruins. But I didn't stay for very long, which is somewhat strange because tomorrow I am flying to NY for the first time in over a year to return to the home I grew up in and the friends who helped raise (bildung) my spirit (geist). Not a nostalgic return. We will celebrate our futures: Ghazi, Joseph, and I are going to be deep in "higher education," and so very much has changed in my family that promises new beginnings unimaginable. 

Tonight, however, I celebrate the facticity of life itself--viz. natality, the pleasure of good friends, and dance (though not the tarantella).





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