The Infinite & the Everyday
There are times when I'm driving through the horror of San Francisco streets with its absurd proliferation of douchebags all driving as if theirs was the only car that matters so why use turn signals or stay in a lane; with construction on every corner because these 27 year old Google douchewads need somewhere to live so why not build another 50 glass and iron live-work (ha!) lofts on every available, or not quite available, corner; with the roads torn asunder by the third world gas company (there are blackouts in SF with alarming frequency); and, of course, with all those bikers and their fragile flesh perched perfectly for accidental annihilation (not that I have anything against bikes; it's only to say that the thought of squashing a biker with my car is so so so very, unspeakably horrible — which makes driving amidst their swarm a tad stressful). Oy!
Man, there are times I want simultaneously to punch myself in the face, bash my head against the steering wheel, and ram into every BMW-driving douchepig until we both explode in a fury of nihilistic redemption.
But then I think: Who cares? All this here — me, my car, these glassholes, bikers, work, traffic — it's all just part of a teem that exceeds us all, an infinite cosmic flow. Does it really matter if I'm stuck in traffic? If some moron almost runs me off the road? Who cares if I'm stuck in this car an extra 45 minutes? What's the rush, ever?
It's so easy to get wrapped up in the everyday, to have my mood shaped by the day to day banalities of existence, to get worked up into a rage or depression or, for that matter, happiness. Oh, damn, I have this annoying conference call for three hours! Oh, jeez, that girl didn't text me and now I'm feeling bad about myself! Oh, yeah, I'm cool because I published a paper! The anger, frustration, anxiety — and, yes, happiness — can be all consuming, defining how I feel, how I interact with the world. My son asks for a soda and because I'm annoyed with the driving conditions, I bark, Can you just once stop asking for things! enacting a parody of a passive aggressive asshole dad that I too often actually am. It's humiliating.
This is as true for things seemingly more profound than traffic. My sister died this past November and, after her funeral, I found it hard to do anything. I lay around in my pajamas, zoned out, bursting into hysterical, mad tears every few hours. I was all consumed by this sense of loss.
So I went in search of a shrink who wouldn't just tell me to meditate and do yoga. Well, frankly, my list of demands was higher: male, older than I, Jewish, PhD, from New York. Lo and behold, I found him. And this is what he told me: Death happens. We're not here, we're here, we're not here. So it goes. Live with it. He told me other things, of course. But mostly he just said: Detach from all this nonsense, from your day to day emotional life, from all the chatter in your head. Live through it but not as it. Live as the infinite creature you are and enjoy all this beautiful, if heart wrenching, quotidian finitude. Ok, he didn't say it exactly like that but you get the idea.
Suddenly, all my eviscerating grief seemed absurd. Grieving is good, a process of reckoning the flux of life and, well, death. But weeping for hours, being so devastated by the fact of her death, was not doing me — or anyone — any good. And was silly. Such grief is predicated on the finitude of life, as if dying were the ultimate end.
Even if my life isn't infinite per se, as part of Life, I am — we all are — infinite. The universe keeps going. In fact, the universe needs death to happen for it to do what it does. This is not cruel or indifferent. It just is. Or, better, that's just how it goes. This is Nietzsche's great, merciless, indifferent nature.
Now, mind you, I bucked at all this — and most of me still bucks. I want to be entrenched in life! I want to feel it all! I don't want to detach. No way! I want to be in it, man!
But that's just silly ego weakness which leads to feeling insane because of traffic or a boring meeting or another latte ordering zombie yapping on his phone for all to hear. To feel completely eviscerated because someone died or a woman broke your heart; to feel so annoyed and put upon because your boss is a schmuck or your parents are morons; to become irate because of traffic and capitalism and the hegemony of idiocy: all this is to assume that my stupid little ego self matters. It's to miss the other register of existence, the grand temporality of existence, the flow that moves through us and with us and exceeds us with hardly a notice.
OK, what I'm saying is not earth shattering. In fact, it's quite simple and been articulated by many for eons. But this doesn't make it any less profound or life altering. While all this bullshit is haranguing us, there are the stars, clouds, insects, the wind. This other register of life, this infinity, is not an abstraction. It's not out there. On the contrary, it's all right here, right now, everywhere, all the time. Look.
Rather than identify with this or that character, rather than striving for this or that goal or living by this or that standard, I can identify with the infinite flow and flux of life. That is, rather than live through the petty, even if profound, machinations of this all-too-human life, I can identify —if that's still the right word — with this other register of existence that runs alongside and through and with this existence of traffic and girlfriends and parents and meetings and children and, yes, death: the register of the infinite flux of it all — the dust and bugs, the stars and heat and wind and leaves and stench and sadness and madness and beauty and semi-colons and gins and tropes all mixing and mashing and morphing and on it's gone and on it goes, forever.
Refracted through the lens of the infinite, the daily mechanics of life seem so silly. This is not to say that they don't matter, that I should turn a cold shoulder to them. On the contrary! It's to say that all there is is this life. There's no goal, no ideal, no truth: just flux and flow, always and forever. So it's not worth being too identified with any one component as everything gives way, beautifully, to more, to other, to itself. It's not that infinity effaces the everyday; it's that infinity puts it in perspective. All there is is all this.
Such is Kierkegaard's call to be a knight of faith, to walk in the infinite and the finite with every step, every gesture, however big or small.
It's actually quite practical. I can focus on the day to day and constantly be reacting to the madness of people and traffic and the destruction of San Francisco by greed. Or I can negotiate all those things but see them all as part of an enormously bigger picture: an infinite panorama. Sometimes, all I have to do as I feel the rage of human douchedom — or the devastating loss of death — is glance up and see the flow of clouds as they bend with the ever-variegated texture of space and, suddenly, all my angst vanishes in the magnificent woosh of the universe.
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