All Too Human
The sadness of the human race is the failure to recognize the grandiosity of this world and our creations. The mountains that peak higher than the clouds reaching into the territory of the Gods, the oceans that swell and give life to innumerable organisms. We’re blind to this so we create grand architecture in hopes that we can physically recreate the Earth’s natural beauty and leave our mark, music that’s melodies and harmonies rival the beauty of any woman and artwork that brings us to the point of tears. The mysticism we search for has been right underneath our noses and hidden within the deep layers of our mind yet we are too blinded to truly take notice and stand in awe at the world that breathes with us and symbiotically grows as we grow. We are all interdependent; in a sense, we are all one. And when we finally reach the moment where we believe all our trials to be over and we finally give ourselves up to the river of life, we allow ourselves to love and create beauty more deeply than we have ever imagined to be possible. And then, we cry; we break down. But we do not cry because we are sad. In the words of Alain de Botton,
“we cry when things turn out to be more beautiful than we ever expected them to be”.
We are moved to tears in order to address a cognitive dissonance in what we expected and what we were actually given. We find serendipity in melancholy and the aesthetic experience. These moments in which we are moved to the point of tears define our lives and allow us to reach ecstatic signification. It happens throughout our entire lives and can be seen in all of our music, our films, the theater, in the gaze of a lovers eye, it’s all around us and it breaks us down to our most fundamental selves. So we continuously try to solve the problem of the human condition with love and it becomes this emotive transcendence into something that is so beautiful that we are unable to view it as something human. It becomes what Roland Barthes calls fulfillment; it exceeds totality and causes us to be so full with emotion that we cannot help but spill over in ecstasy. It becomes the most natural and addictive form of catharsis that brings us to the point of tears and allows us to achieve a rapturous release of emotions. Love is the one thing that gives the human race the possibility of being infinite. It is the only beauty that we find in our mortality and the mourning of lovers that know they will die because you cannot conquer time. To dive deeper into the mind of Roland Barthes, he writes:
“You see the first thing we love is a scene. For love at first sight requires the very sign of its suddenness; and of all things, it is the scene which seems to be seen best for the first time: a curtain parts and what had not yet ever been seen is devoured by the eyes: the scene consecrates the object I am going to love. The context is the constellation of elements, harmoniously arranged that encompass the experience of the amorous subject…Love at first sight is always spoken in the past tense. The scene is perfectly adapted to this temporal phenomenon: distinct, abrupt, framed, it is already a memory (the nature of a photograph is not to represent but to memorialize)… this scene has all the magnificence of an accident: I cannot get over having had this good fortune: to meet what matches my desire. The gesture of the amorous embrace seems to fulfill, for a time, the subject’s dream of total union with the loved being: The longing for consummation with the other… In this moment, everything is suspended: time, law, prohibition: nothing is exhausted, nothing is wanted: all desires are abolished, for they seem definitively fulfilled… A moment of affirmation; for a certain time, though a finite one, something has been successful: I have been fulfilled (all my desires abolished by the plenitude of their satisfaction).”
This is why love is both the greatest beauty and the greatest pain. Love and melancholy exist in the same space, there cannot be one without the other because as the moment is happening you’re already mourning that it will end. It is already a memory, long lost and infinitely craved. It is the tragedy of human existence and our only solution to our mortality. But above all else, we need this cathartic experience because as Camus says, life should be lived to the point of tears.
As you live life this way, you begin to understand the concept of feeling; the concept of cathartic understanding. You begin to follow the snake to its home as you become more and more aware of the ephemeral nature of this life. There’s a fantastic essay by Freud entitled “On Transience” in which he cites a conversation between himself and the poet Rilke whilst walking through a garden. But at a certain point, Rilke looked like he was going to break down and cry. Freud stood there shocked because they were surrounded by such beauty on a gorgeous day. So he asked Rilke to explain himself. Rilke’s only response was that he remained unable to believe that all of the beauty he was witnessing would disappear and die someday; that it would all dissolve into nothingness and meaninglessness. You see, one of man’s biggest rivals has been the prominence of entropy; this is why we find sadness in the ecstasy of love and beauty. It’s because they hint at something more, The tragedy lies in the fact that we see the transience everywhere in our lives. Man becomes stuck at a crossroad with his options being to love harder or develop no attachment and accept that everything he loves will one day disappear and decay. We fight having to make this choice throughout every day of our lives and we continuously try to defy entropy and the impermanence of our lives through our poems and films; we create things in order to live on for eternity. We cannot accept this tragedy and we want to extend it forever. Ernest Becker put it beautifully when he said that
“man is literally split in two: he has an awareness of his own splendid uniqueness in that he sticks out of nature with a towering majesty, and yet he goes back into the ground a few feet in order to blindly and dumbly rot and disappear forever”.
This is the ephemeral nature of our being, a truth that we cannot transcend; but we can try.
In the words of Dylan Thomas,
“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”