The Axe for the Frozen Sea Within Us

posted Jun 25, 2016, 5:56 AM by Scot Casey   [ updated Jun 25, 2016, 6:43 AM by Scot Casey ]

When the Christian crusaders in the Orient encountered the invincible order of the Assassins, that order of free spirits par excellence, whose lowest ranks followed a rule of obedience the like of which no order of monks ever attained, they obtained in some way or other a hint concerning that symbol and watchword reserved for the highest ranks alone as their secretum: “Nothing is true, everything is permitted.” — Very well, that was freedom of spirit; in that way the faith in truth itself was abrogated. Has any European, any Christian free spirit every strayed into this proposition and into its labrynthine consequences? has one of them ever known the Minotaur of this cave from experience? — I doubt it.

[Nietzsche, On the genealogy of Morals. Trans. Walter Kaufmann (NY: Vintage Books, 1967): p.150]

[Kaufmann’s note:]

The Assassins’ slogan is often mistaken for Nietzsche’s coinage and derived from Dostoevsky ; e.g., by Danto [in, Nietzsche as philosopher (Macmillan, 1965)]: it “must surely be a paraphrase of the Russian novelist he so admired” (p. 193).

In Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov we encounter the idea that, if mankind lost the belief in God and immortality, “everything would be permitted.” But what matters to Nietzsche in this section is the first half of his quotation, “nothing is true,” which has no parallel in Dostoevsky. [.…]
Incidentally, Nietzsche never read The Brothers [….].  

-- From Origins by Jeff Taylor

You can imagine anything. There is no limit, no necessity of logic or law. You can say anything. Anything can be written. If you are not concerned with truth, there is no restriction upon your language. 

"Nothing is true, everything is permitted.”

In his Proverbs of Hell, William Blake wrote an antidote: 

"Everything possible to be believ’d is an image of truth."

But what is the truth value of these statements? There is a self-referential unraveling at the heart of each. Each seems a representative form of the Liar's Paradox:

This statement is false.

Where is the Truth? 

The question haunting every language construct. And when we commit (and the hint of crime is salient) a speech act or a written act, what difference does it make to the truth? The wonder of it is that language can spin up these beautiful lies, fictions, that can function as accurate mirrors to reflect our present condition. What does the Truth matter in such an instance? If we look into the Iliad or Hamlet or Faust and are able to see a representation of our self - and through this reflection, are able to gain a deeper insight into our condition, then who would question the Truth of the language here?

What disturbs me about my own writing and speech is how easily it can create a Narcissistic Mirror which captures my own attention but has lost all relevance to the world beyond myself. There is a danger of Decadence here. I can occupy my time creating castles in the clouds as I starve to death or am suffering a terminal illness. And with all the pain in the world, the creation and enjoyment of fictional worlds to escape into seems one of the few joys we have as human beings. Without being able to dream of a better world, life would be a mistake. 

But there is a danger here - a crisis endemic to our time - of becoming lost in the Land of the Lotus Eaters, where the Odyssey is forgotten, the Quest abandoned, where we no longer desire to make it to Ithaca or home. I wonder what the literature of the Lotus Eaters would be like? Is literature even possible under the conditions of of this narcotic paradise? Or necessary? Is a fundamental discontent with reality a necessary condition to creation and invention? Things could be otherwise. There is a better way to live. There is a another method to make things easier. What underwrites the artist's desire to add creation to creation? 

I think of Kafka:

“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we're reading doesn't wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief.”

Under the weight of these words, I wonder: why am I writing these words? And how do I create a language like a axe or a hammer?