Saturday, June 25, 2022

David Bowie, Low (1977)

My mother-in-law says if you have a bad dream and you tell someone about it before lunch, you will have bad luck. On days following nightmares, I don't, as a rule, tell anyone about the bad thing I dreamed, but by the time lunchtime rolls around and I want to tell someone what happened in the dream, I've already forgotten. Obviously, the superstition is designed so you won't dwell on bad stuff, and in that way, it's very clever. I doubt you're supposed to take the metaphysics of the superstition very seriously. How would it work exactly anyway?

Let's take the metaphysics seriously for a moment. Suppose I have a bad dream, and I don't tell it to you, but I blog it here, and I do that before lunch, but you won't see it before my lunchtime. Have I avoided the bad luck? Or is even the act of writing considered a form of communication, in which case the bad luck will come all the same? Suppose I write the bad dream in a dream journal and stow it, and I do this before lunch. Still bad luck?

I'm not mocking any of this. From an early age, we're trained to accept a great number of mysteries. I our faith, there's a being who is regarded as both the Son of God and God the Son, and then there's another, more ethereal person called the Holy Spirit, who can move through us, move through space and time. God is three persons in one being, we are told. Mainstream denominations of Protestants accept this dogma, Catholics accept it, Orthodox accept it. And yet if we were told of any ordinary human being that he contained three persons in his being, we would either think it nonsense or would interpret it to mean that this person is suffering from multiple personality disorder.

But perhaps we are not to take the metaphysics there too seriously, or better yet we are just supposed to take it as a mystery. I bristle at the idea that we cannot ask questions about it. Being told not to question and being accused of doubting puts me on the defensive. I feel like there's a weight on my shoulders I want to shake off. I don't like it. I don't like the limitation.

I guess I don't much like being limited in what dreams I can and cannot share, either. But I know these limitations are all in my head. Immanuel Kant famously wrote that Enlightenment is "man's emergence from his self-imposed tutelage." We are capable of thinking for ourselves and exercising our freedom how we want, and in doing so, there's a great responsibility.

Kant himself had stringent standards for what would pass muster if we wanted to count something as freedom. Kant believed that true freedom was a law you could give yourself and would apply to everyone and hold fast to, no matter what. Resolve not to lie or to cheat or to steal. Resolve to be faithful, to do your work to the best of its ability. These are examples of true freedom. Kant believed that we are not truly free when we merely follow our desires. That is just sinking into a kind of self-imposed oppression.

It's easy to understand what he means. Waking up late and eating a couple of ice cream bars and delaying work surely can feel good, but think about what the world would be like if a person lived liked that every day. What kind of world would it be if everyone did that? The world would fall apart. This is just another way to put shackles on yourself, only the shackles come in the form of ice cream and extra sleep.

Why do I mention all this this morning? Naturally, because I'm thinking about myself here. I'm preaching to myself. I want to be industrious and do my work but I will sometimes put it off because I'm afraid of what a large undertaking it will be. Yesterday, for instance, I wanted to work on a piece of short fiction, but I kept delaying and delaying and delaying and then the end of the day came. Darn, I said to myself, I guess there's always tomorrow. But one day there will not be tomorrow. And which is better? I ask myself. The satisfaction that comes with putting in the time and effort to do the work or the regrets I am bound to have later, when I lie to myself, saying I could have done the work, but I never had the time. Each of us has the same amount of time in the day as anyone else, and yes, there are other demands. I've got grading to do, tons of paperwork. I will do that, too. But the writing: the writing must be done, and it's not because there is any divine law, there is only me and the industriousness I want for myself. And yet I am not upholding this virtue—

I don't like this album, by the way.

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