No meaning Outside Life?

The meaning of life is in life itself. There is no meaning of life outside of life. What we name eternal life is also life but at a different level. This is why the true meaning of life lies in facing life. Often we do commit philosophical suicide by seeking the meaning of life elsewhere. The chief coordinates of the meaning of life are God, other Humans and the Cosmos. We are with other humans and Cosmos. But where is God? Maybe we have to change the question. Maybe we have to ask: who is God. James Joyce answers the question, who is God in his famous book, Ulysses as ‘a cry in the street’. Somehow Joyce tries to see the sacred at the heart of the profane. He sees the infinite in the infinitesimal and the sacramental in the quotidian of everyday life. Does that mean the divine continuously translate or transubstantiate before of us ? This indicates that it may be that we are encountering little daily miracles as Virginia Woolf teaches us in her book, The Light House. The same is also taught by Marcel Proust when he points to the return of the inexperienced experience, the ana-experience in his book, The Lost Time. It is amazing that these avowedly atheistic authors open up the space of God to bring meaning to life.

Joyce while pointing to God as a cry on the street is saying that if God exists he has to be understood in a radically immanent way. He indicates that we do not have to think of God as in the goal-box waiting for humanity to finish its race but one who is surging through excited bodies on the field. He seems to be rejecting God who is waiting outside of time to embrace those humans who have successfully reached the finishing line of the race of life. To him, God is the race itself. He seems to be proposing a peripatetic God, God who does not just walk with us but the one that is the walk itself. To him, God, therefore, becomes all in all and all in each of us. He seems to introduce spatial as well as temporal indivisibility into our God thinking dissolving it into what may be called pantheism. While his thinking has to deal with the issues of the mystery of evil, his divine thinking does not delay the day of God to some appointed time in the future but opens up possibilities to experience God and find meaning in the here and now dynamic contexts of human life. Every moment is transubstantiated by God’s presence. Joyce, therefore, appears to be an anti-theist not so much an atheist. He presents a radically immanent God and the immanent meaning of life.

Virginia Woolf seems to have contested the characterisation of ordinary life as mundane. Everyday experience to her is a site of personal meaning, social understanding and ethical value. Ordinary experiences become epiphanic moments of being. Woolf’s ontology of the ordinary manifests the power of every day in Woolf’s ethics. The quotidian things and unimportant things become inundated with depth and ordinary experience thus becoming the site of the extraordinary in her work. She thus enables us to see and feel what we know as the usual ‘cotton-wool’ of lives. She identifies the intense feeling of being alive as pointing to this depth experience in the ordinary. She takes us to several of these moments of being and tries to point to the excess that itself can be viewed as translating the divine. She too opens us to the fact that the meaning of life resides in life itself.

Marcel Proust also take us away from our thinking of time as the chronological movement to time as duration. Time as duration enables Proust to collapse time by fusing it to interdependent moments or expanding it to complicate the narrative. The collapsing of our memories knot them together producing a compounding effect. Proust is using these techniques to drive home that there is no meaning of life outside life itself. Proust tries to seek the meaning of life in his novel, The Lost Time. He thinks that the meaning of life might lie in joining the high society. He thought that social success might be a meaningful life. But to his dismay, he realises that virtues and vices are spread throughout our society without regard to social success (income and renown). There are no extraordinary paragons of virtue and wisdom. There is no class of superior people somewhere out there in the world. Life is not going on elsewhere.

The second area that Proust thought of as one that brings meaning to life is love. Proust things that the ultimate promise of love is that we can stop being alone. But there too he realises that we fail to understand each other. Hence he is haunted by the realization that we are condemned to be lonely. Therefore he takes us to the last candidate for the meaning of life. He puts art in that position. He thinks that art shows the world as fresh, appreciative and alive. But much of life is ruined for us by a blanket or shroud of familiarity that filters everything that we experience. This means there is inexperienced experience because of the force of habit. Habit, he says dulls our senses and stops us from appreciating everything. Children do not suffer from habit. It is because of this that they get excited about simple things. But we adults have lost this ability. This is why we need stimulants. Proust wants us to recover the appreciative power of a child. He thinks that it will enable us to seek the meaning of life in life itself. To do this we have to strip the veil of habit and be appreciative of daily life with the sensitivity of a child. It is only by being a Child that we can recover the lost time, find meaning in God, other Humans and the Cosmos without the need of escaping life itself. We all have the challenge of being artists who can find meaning in ‘the cotton and wool’ of life.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao