Czesław Miłosz | To Raja Rao

Image

“I am those monsters which visit my dreams
and reveal to me my hidden essence.”

TO RAJA RAO
Czesław Miłosz

Raja, I wish I knew
the cause of that malady.

For years I could not accept
the place I was in.
I felt I should be somewhere else.

A city, trees, human voices
lacked the quality of presence.
I would live by the hope of moving on.

Raphael, Disputation of the Holy Sacrament, 1510

The city of “real presence” is not primarily about Plato. Augustine is a much better lead.

Somewhere else there was a city of real presence,
of real trees and voices and friendship and love.

Link, if you wish, my peculiar case
(on the border of schizophrenia)
to the messianic hope
of my civilization.

Image

Stefan Jasieński, Sacred Heart on the wall of his Auschwitz cell (194?)

Ill at ease in the tyranny, ill at ease in the republic,
in the one I longed for freedom, in the other for the end of corruption.
Building in my mind a permanent polis
forever deprived of aimless bustle.

I learned at last to say: this is my home,
here, before the glowing coal of ocean sunsets,
on the shore which faces the shores of your Asia,
in a great republic, moderately corrupt.

Jasper Johns, White Flag (1955)

“in a great republic, moderately corrupt”

Raja, this did not cure me
of my guilt and shame.
A shame of failing to be
what I should have been.

The image of myself
grows gigantic on the wall
and against it
my miserable shadow.

That’s how I came to believe
in Original Sin
which is nothing but the first
victory of the ego.

Tormented by my ego, deluded by it
I give you, as you see, a ready argument.

I hear you saying that liberation is possible
and that Socratic wisdom
is identical with your guru’s.

No, Raja, I must start from what I am.
I am those monsters which visit my dreams
and reveal to me my hidden essence.

If I am sick, there is no proof whatsoever
that man is a healthy creature.

Greece had to lose, her pure consciousness
had to make our agony only more acute.

Grunewald_-_christ

Wounds still there.

We needed God loving us in our weakness
and not in the glory of beatitude.

No help, Raja, my part is agony,
struggle, abjection, self-love, and self-hate,
prayer for the Kingdom
and reading Pascal.

Berkeley, 1969

Image

“Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end… They will never take the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.”

 Cynthia Haven of The Book Haven has more on Milosz and Catholicism here and here.

You can compare this to Walker Percy’s quiz to get a better idea of the influences behind this blog’s name.

Advertisements

The Problem of the Good (not Evil) or: On Rabelaisian Catholicism

Image

Rabelais: cutting through the crap.

The Charles Ramsey story went from viral to vile very quickly.  The rescuer of three kidnapped Cleveland women is himself a former wife-beater and deadbeat.  Do these details somehow tarnish his heroism?  Why would they?

They make it all the better. They  remind us that even assholes can do the good.  For example, my grandfather (R.I.P.) was a one man life-wrecking crew who was capable of just enough astounding and gratuitous good to disarm his victims.

And so I hereby declare myself a Rabelaisian Catholic, because the taint of the Puritan untainted makes me feel dirty.  Let me go even further: all those Catholics (and others) who  complain about the compromised bishops, big crisis of the church, the cabal of the clergy, and so on (ad nauseaum) are anathema to me. I embrace my historical continuity with bad Catholics of all stripes, times and ages.

It would feel extremely uncomfortable (like in the back of a Volkswagen) if everyone were as unalloyed as both the New York Times Catholics and Neo-Conservative Catholics make themselves out to be.

Observance in the breach deserves our admiration much more than untroubled dissent.

Image

Brodsky: leading the arrière-garde against Rousseau.

I’m with Joseph Brodsky who says in an old New York Times (!) article recently unearthed by Cynthia Haven:

“If one is to call conventions and make resolutions, the first resolution we should make is that we are all good-for-nothings, that there is a murderer in every one of us, that only chance circumstances save us, sitting in this hypothetical chamber, from being divided into murderers and their victims. What ought to be done first of all is to rewrite all of the history textbooks, throwing out all the heroes, generals, leaders and so forth. The first thing that should be written in the textbook is that man is radically bad.”

Brodsky knows that the question of evil is the wrong question, “The possibilities for compassion are extremely limited, far inferior to the possibilities for evil.”  What’s astounding is that we ever get around to doing the good.   The good is the real mystery of our world.  Give it some time and humor not only your own sins, but the sins of others with the help of Max von Sydow:

[Thanks for the inspiration Justin Tse.]