Friday, February 18, 2005

Selfhood and 'containing multitudes'....(part of my manifesto)

[This was first posted on the MSN group The Flowered Grave--I was responding indirectly to some rather exhortative meditations/catechisms that had been posted lately by another member, and directly to some poems posted by the group owner.]

From: Aureantes_ in response to Message 3
Sent: 2/18/2005 3:07 AM

Hmmm......I'm rather fond of all those great personalities too. Characters, even....or, as the saying goes, character is what you have when no one is looking.

My deliberate approach to life is like the opposite method of going around the world--the actor's and novelist's way. By maximizing and multiplying awareness of selfhood, a spark of spirit caught in circumstance, and living as many lives or slices-of-lives as possible, like Walt Whitman--"I am large, I contain multitudes" ("Song of Myself")--and Edna St. Vincent Millay, in "Renascence":

... I saw and heard, and knew at last
The How and Why of all things, past,
And present, and forevermore.
The Universe, cleft to the core,
Lay open to my probing sense
That, sick'ning, I would fain pluck thence
But could not, -- nay! But needs must suck
At the great wound, and could not pluck
My lips away till I had drawn
All venom out. -- Ah, fearful pawn!
For my omniscience paid I toll
In infinite remorse of soul.

All sin was of my sinning, all
Atoning mine, and mine the gall
Of all regret. Mine was the weight
Of every brooded wrong, the hate
That stood behind each envious thrust,
Mine every greed, mine every lust.
And all the while for every grief,
Each suffering, I craved relief
With individual desire,
--Craved all in vain! And felt fierce fire
About a thousand people crawl;
Perished with each, -- then mourned for all!

A man was starving in Capri;
He moved his eyes and looked at me;
I felt his gaze, I heard his moan,
And knew his hunger as my own.
I saw at sea a great fog bank
Between two ships that struck and sank;
A thousand screams the heavens smote;
And every scream tore through my throat.

No hurt I did not feel, no death
That was not mine; mine each last breath
That, crying, met an answering cry
From the compassion that was I.
All suffering mine, and mine its rod;
Mine, pity like the pity of God. ....

A thorough odyssey there, to contain and feel all--but there, that's the whole thing, as Atticus Finch said in To Kill a Mockingbird, that you never know a man "till you've walked a mile in his shoes." Empathy carried toward its positive extreme exceeds individual selfhood, making each such contemplative a myriad light, less and less worried for his particular place and title and status even as he plays his own instinctive/allotted part. If you follow the dictum "Know thyself" and carry it to the nth degree of seeing yourself in others, others in yourself, than gradually this myriad light is multiplied times itself, onward and deeper and higher. Not that the personal self must disappear "in the end", but that its boundaries cease to matter, its own anxious self-definition ceases to be a need, for it is at home in the consummation of all selfhoods, all awareness. The culmination is bliss and paradox.

Here's some pages I came across while looking up these quotes--and a thesis I find (of course) extremely intriguing and valid: (with the Whitman quote of "contain multitudes")


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