The tension between life and thought is a very old theme of mine, from the painfully intense youthful days when I read Hermann Hesse's Narcissus and Goldmund and Steppenwolf and all the others. I rehearsed the theme once again the other night in the nocturnal twilight zone between deep sleep and wakefulness. Strange and exasperatingly elusive thought-forms patrol that penumbral region.
Life is one-sided, self-assertive, self-servingly particular, hierarchical and tribal. Life is in every case this bit of life, or that, here and now, limited and conditioned. Thought, however, aims at truth which, if it exists, is by its very nature objective, impersonal, universal, non-perspectival, and not in the service of any particular individual or group. Thought is receptive, not willful, oriented toward what is, open, feminine. And thus in tension with life's will-driven self-assertion. The truth-seeking soul, like the religious soul, is a feminine soul even if masculine will drives its seeking.
My youthful worry was that thought weakens us, making us less fit for animal and social existence. Moral scruples impede action. The potential endlessness of thought opposes the decisiveness of action. He who acts cuts off reflection; he de-cides. Look before you leap, but he who hesitates is lost. Our spiritual nature, including reason, is anti-life. It is of the endlessness and fluidity of the sea; he who swims in it overmuch is unfitted for life on solid ground and may drown in its depths.
Geist als der Widersacher der Seele, to press a Ludwig Klages title into service. The soul, as the principle of life, is at odds with spirit.
It is a dark vision and it worries me. But is it true? Or just an expression of a certain sort of perverse form of life? If the latter, then it can't be true, given what truth is.
This side of the Great Divide I do not expect any resolution of the tension between life and thought. I don't expect the resolution of any tensions. The philosopher seeks the One and the coincidentia oppositorum. But the living mystical One he craves, the final synthesis that cancels while preserving and preserves while canceling, is an Aufhebung unavailable here below, pace the Swabian genius. Discursive reason to which he is tied vouchsafes him only the abstract One, the Hegelian night in which all cows are black.
This life is a kaleidoscopic confusion of tensions and conflicts on multiple levels from the intra-psychic to the macro-cosmic. It is to me nowadays mostly fascinating and the struggle to untangle it exhilirating. It no longer depresses me. And when rarely it does, death wears the kindly visage of the Great Releaser.
But this too is a contested notion as we shall see when we examine David Benatar's thought on the matter. He does not accept the Epicurean reasoning. Our predicament is a vise in which we are squeezed between life which is bad, and death, which is also bad. The Reaper is grim; he is no Benign Releaser. There is no escape once you are born. Not a pleasant thought. The 'solution' is not to be born.
This side of the Great Divide it's a bloody tangle from every angle.