The truth is that my work – my mission, I was about to say – is to shatter the faith of men, left, right, and center, their faith in affirmation, their faith in negation, their faith in abstention, and I do so from faith in faith itself. My purpose is to war on all those who submit, whether to Catholicism, or to rationalism, or to agnosticism. My aim is to make all men live a life of restless longing.
Miguel de Unamuno, The Tragic Sense of Life (1912) pg. 349
I finally finished reading The Tragic Sense of Life by Miguel de Unamuno. Now I have to write a 12-15 (!) page essay about it, pursuing a question in the text. I’m drawing a bit of a blank here. The book isn’t really literature, nor is it really philosophy – it’s Unamuno’s personal fight against mortality, dogma, and rationalism in contradictory/philosophic style. In order to know what question might be worth following, I would need to understand what the book is trying to ask of it’s readers – and fundamentally (U. says this outright), it’s trying to wake us up from complacency. Well, OK. But how to I write an essay about that? How do I drag meaning, howling at the misuse, out of this text? In the last two chapters he talks about this tragic sense of which he writes as something distinctively Spanish in character, and I’m inclined to believe him, because I have grave doubts that most Americans can feel it, or even understand it very well. Sometimes he says things that are interesting, or suggestive, or poetic, but Somehow not accessible to me – perhaps because ti is not a system, or a series of categories, or stages, or morals, or a logical progression.
I feel within me a medieval soul, and I feel that my country’s soul is also medieval, that this soul has perforce lived through the Reniassance, the Reformation, and the Revolution, learning from them, certainly, but never allowing the essence of the soul to be changed, always preserving intact the spiritual inheritance derived from the so-called Dark Ages.
Reading the last chapter, I kind of wondered if perhaps U. was a kind of postmodern. He rejects modernism, without being able to really go back to medievalism. There isn’t really a solution that should content us.
And from it springs the ethic of invasion, of domination, of aggression, of inquisition if you like. For true charity is a kind of invasion—it consists in putting my spirit into other spirits, in giving them my suffering as the food and consolation for their sufferings, in awakening their unrest with my unrest, in sharpening their hunger for God with my hunger for God. It is not charity to rock and lull our brothers to sleep in the inertia and drowsiness of matter, but rather to awaken them to the uneasiness and torment of spirit.
Strangely, in this aggression, we pour ourselves out to others, and do our works with a kind of religious fervor.
…there is another, more tragic Inquisition, and that is the Inquisition which the modern man, the man of culture, the European—and such am I, whether I will or not—carries within him. There is a more terrible ridicule, and that is the ridicule with which a man contemplates his own self. It is my reason that laughs at my faith and despises it.
“We must learn to make ourselves ridiculous.” he’s going to create God, if He does not exist, simply by force of belief. And yet…
Once and again in my life I have seen myself suspended in a trance over the abyss; once and again I have found myself at the cross-roads, confronted by a choice of ways and aware that in choosing one I should be renouncing all the others—for there is no turning back upon these roads of life; and once and again in such unique moments as these I have felt the impulse of a mighty power, conscious, sovereign, and loving. And then, before the feet of the wayfarer, opens out the way of the Lord.
“I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know!” he exclaims at one point – and I wish to echo it. Unamuno doesn’t want to be analyzed. “You say I contradict myself! And so?” Christians, especially Evangelicals, give answers too easily. “There are no contradictions! Look, these lawyers have proven it!” “I believe because it is absurd!” replies Tertullian. And Unamuno? “Lord, I believe; give me something to believe in!” Yeah, not only is it a morass of contradictions, but in condensed form it’s also a mass of exclaimation points. “Loves of the head! Reasons of the heart! Delightful intellections! Intellectual delights! Tragedy, tragedy, tragedy!”
He’s obviously tormented by this. Everything is suffering; God suffers, and is made through the collection of our suffering. Love is suffering, as is consciousness, and compassion. Well, OK – so how on Earth am I to write on that
Possible Essay Titles (all quotes from the book…)