Nietzsche’s concise description of the Jewish problem; Beckett’s aesthetic atheism

From a VFR discussion of a few years back. The whole thread, which is about Nietzsche and the Jews, is worth reading. It is also connected with the theme of reductionist nihilism that is discussed in the previous entry.

- end of initial entry -

Mark K. writes:

I read the VFR thread on Nietzsche and your comment that “I then proceeded to show how Nietzsche, in his total denial of any objective or divine truth in existence, moved increasingly into a horrible void.”

I would say that Nietzsche moved towards that void but the author who inhabits that void and describes it from the inside in the most complete way is Samuel Beckett. A good introduction to the structure of his thought and art is the novella “The Lost Ones.” James Joyce, with “Ulysses” and “Finnegans Wake” attempted the most complete and exhaustive recreation of the universe through art possible without God. Samuel Beckett, who worked for Joyce, took a look at Joyce’s cosmos, inverted it into a universal abyss (from plenitude to emptiness) and came up with the most complete anti-world possible. If there is a bottomless pit (as put forth in the Book of Revelation) it is Beckett’s anti-universe. In fact Beckett takes every possible Aristotelian category of being, thought, language and action, inverts their logic and comes up with the universe folded in on itself. In fact, at one point, after having spent some years reading Beckett, I wondered how it is possible for even God (for all his wisdom and ingenuity) to respond to Beckett’s unemotional deconstruction of the universe. Beckett to the very end maintained his sanity unlike Nietzsche and quite dispassionately unraveled every aspect and facet of God’s universe into non-being.

Job’s complaint was quite easy for God to respond to; Beckett is the most inveterate, unyielding, obdurate mind I know who can undo the very core of being “sanely,” without loud cries and emotions, and almost pull it off completely. I think God’s toughest case will be to face Samuel Beckett in the court of reason and logic and respond somehow. This is the toughest case I know of and I posit that God has deliberately created anti-beings, anti-minds and anti-worlds to the most extreme degree so that he can one day reply to the toughest philosophical and aesthetic arguments made against him.

For me it is almost a comfort to read Nietzsche (Gutenberg has a lot of his books in electronic format to freely download), given his emotionalism, compared to Beckett.

Mark K. continues:

Beckett is a most interesting case. He came from Ireland like Joyce to live in Europe. He wrote his earlier works in English then started writing in French. So he spans both the English and French literary worlds. He’s a link between Joyce and Sartre (Sartre was one of the earliest to mention him as a seminal influence). Most of the postmodern French and German writers take their cue from him on the European side. But then so do current American “icons” of postmodern lit like John Barth. So he has this interesting status of spanning the Anglo and European culture and being a bridge from that to the American one. He has the astonishing aspect that in writing French, he can translate his own books into English!

I first started encountering this aesthetic revolt against God in college. It is different from the propositional atheism of a Hitchens or a Darwinist. The “propositional” atheists make a statement using what they consider reasoned logic. They are usually countered by believers using different propositions also through reasoned logic.

In university however I encountered a girl who was reading James Joyce. We struck up a friendship. She had the habit of using religious language for aesthetic puropses. When I asked her if she believed in God, she said that wasn’t necessary. She didn’t say that God did not exist, she simply asserted that she was creating her own universe through art, like Stephen Daedelus in “A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man.” In other words it was an alternate universe in which the god question was not posed in an objective sense. The artist was godlike in creating worlds so in that sense god existed (and so the question of God’s existence was irrelevant). Joyce was her supreme model—a creator of worlds who could choose any template whatsoever for his design (“Ulysses” uses the Odysseus paradigm transposed on modern day Dublin).

Beckett was sharp enough to realize that aesthetic worlds were merely linguistic constructs. One can evade the question of God through an aesthetic recreation of the universe in one’s mind. God still remains a bothersome entity! What to do? We don’t want him in the universe and tricks of language don’t do the job. In fact Beckett turns language in and on itself in a spirit of self-demolition. Yes, one says to Beckett, you can do that and you are left with the void.

And Beckett comes back and says let’s see what happens when we inhabit the void. The threat of the void becomes the foundation for his non-universe. And a non-universe has no god—real or aesthetic. Joyce’s aesthetic, encyclopeadic recreation of the universe turns into the universal void. In fact I attended a lecture given by Saul Bellow at my college where he asked the question, “How the hell do you write a novel after James Joyce who attempted to write the novel to include all novels with Finnegans Wake?” And John Barth replied, “Samuel Beckett.” The final novel feeding on itself for its own food and content. The ultimate aesthetic act that incorporates the void into itself.

And these are the types of “atheists” that I have a problem responding to. They’re not interested objectively in the question of God and how it may affect logic and culture. The absence of God is devoutly to be wished, and if the void is the result, great, we will construct our own universe using the void as the very material we need (Beckett). And I sincerely don’t know how God can make himself significant to these people for they don’t wish his involvement—his absence becomes ironically a creatio ex nihilo for their own universe. Beckett’s work is creatio ad and ex nihilo perfected. I almost begin to feel sorry for God that he has individuals in his universe that have become dispassionate atheists that don’t feel the threat of the void—instead take the void as their “ground” so to speak to attempt a cosmic recreation.

That’s why when I read Anthony Flew’s abandonment of atheism, it almost seemed “old fashioned” to me—he used reason and logic in a propositional way to work his way out of skepticism. But what do you do with this aesthetic revolt against God that doesn’t see it in emotional or propositional terms. It is almost a professionally refined atheism that posits an alternate universe to God even if he removes his resources from their usage.

The only way I can understand it is that God knew fully well that this type of mindset would have to be revealed and manifested itself one day—the most extreme deconstruction of everything predicated on God’s existence and that he knows how to deal with it. In the olden days we would consign these people to hell and be done with them. But these people rebuild their own worlds from such material anyway. It’s almost comforting to have blustering and emotional atheists like Hitchens around!

Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 19, 2008 09:18 AM | Send

Email entry

Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):