Tuesday, October 2, 2012

I must acknowledge Lev Shestov

Portrait by Leonid Pasternak 

Lev Shestov, Russian (1866 - 1938)

Wikipedia said this:

The author seems to contradict himself on every page, and even seeks out paradoxes. This is because he believes that life itself is, in the last analysis, deeply paradoxical, and not comprehensible through logical or rational inquiry. Shestov maintains that no theory can solve the mysteries of life. 

Camus said this:
Shestov ... throughout a wonderfully monotonous work, constantly straining toward the same truths, tirelessly demonstrates that the tightest system, the most universal rationalism always stumbles eventually on the irrational of human thought. None of the ironic facts or ridiculous contradictions that depreciate reason escapes him. One thing only interests him, and that is the exception, whether in the domain of the heart or of the mind. Through the Dostoevskian experiences of the condemned man, the exacerbated adventures of the Nietzschean mind, Hamlet's imprecations, or the bitter aristocracy of an Ibsen, he tracks down, illuminates, and magnifies the human revolt against the irremediable. He refuses reason its reasons and begins to advance with some decision only in the middle of that colorless desert where all certainties have become stones. 

Though Jewish, Shestov turned to Christianity as the answer to his philosophical concerns about radical freedom and the truth of subjectivity. Christianity as the true north against the hubris and dead systems of pure reason (Idealism). But it doesn't necessarily follow that the non-rational must reach apotheosis in a personal God or in the promise of the Cross.

While I agree that the human spirit is mostly unfathomable and that lived experience has a different, deeper resonance than philosophical and scientific edifice-building, it could be the case that our unmeasurable chambers of meaning have no absolute echo in a Fatherly Heaven. Maybe, but maybe not.

Again in sympathy with Shestov -- I think there is a density to human consciousness and its relation to phenomenal reality that supersedes the dim-but-noble lights of abstraction and theory. But if Shestov is sensitive to paradox, then how could he have so blithely tumbled toward and into God? How could he not also discern an even greater paradox in God's own theory of God?

About Shestov's notion of radical and infinite freedom -- freedom to be or to do what? To be simply unburdened with abstract formalism and the mentations of scientism? Surely he means more than that. Something mind-blowing and spiritual and religious. But what? To just sit around and have Godly and paradisaical feelings? To be a wild-spinning mystic? To prepare oneself for something beyond the grave? I just don't know what he's getting at.

Of course, it's not for me to criticize or even guess about the contents of Shestov's religious imagination. Whatever he envisioned and deeply felt about a Living God beyond reason is something that took place in the unique dimensions of his perception and response to reality.

Sometimes I wake up from dreams and know for sure that I've just come from worlds far more lustrous and strange than my thinking could ever encompass or understand.

And here's an essay by Czeslaw Milosz on Shestov:

"Shestov, or the Purity of Despair"

An article:

"A Philosopher of Small Things"

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