On Philosophy and Legacy in the Digital Age: Notes from Quarantine
A little untraditional today, I’d like to share a few reflections on the interplay between being and doing which, while an obvious enough point, seems especially important to explore during our ever-extending coronavirus quarantine.
In general, we view ourselves as individuals. Sure, within groups of friends, in communities, in a connection with our work, our families… but still, as individuals, which can feel a little cut off sometimes.
“The idea of being forgotten is terrifying. I fear not just that I, personally, will be forgotten, but that we are all doomed to being forgotten—that the sum of life is ultimately nothing; that we experience joy and disappointment and aches and delights and loss, make our little mark on the world, and then we vanish, and the mark is erased, and it is as if we never existed.”—Susan Orlean, The Library Book, p. 93
Orlean goes on to write, amidst her discussion of libraries, that “if you can see your life reflected in previous lives, and can imagine it reflected in subsequent ones, you can begin to discover order and harmony.” Isn’t that beautiful?
As the famous psychologist Carl Jung notes, the process of life is, partly, to answer questions previous generations had yet to resolve, or couldn’t resolve because of the limitations of their time.
Philosophy resolves itself and is relieved, realized, and challenged in dramatic theatre. For all this reasoning behind aesthetic worth, appropriate forms, of the levels of God, for these collected thoughts—what is their purpose if not to be embodied in an experience of some kind so that the individual (linked with community or otherwise) is affected.
Otherwise the ideas float away to die, estranged to our most immediate perceptions. In this sense, resolution occurs across generations. (And we’re, now, in a lucky position of being especially connected online. Only, we can’t forget our origins.)
“…a myth is dead if it no longer lives and grows”—C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p.332
Readily, we continue ourselves by having or adopting children, (and this isn’t just a biological link)—but what of legacy in things, heirlooms, furniture, photographs, passed down writings which are increasingly digital? Who will cherish, or read them?
Defending against vanity we claim a humility over becoming popular, in part to uphold and not spoil the intrinsic quality of what we do and create. Being liked isn’t the point, (not to dismiss ethics), but to continue. To pass along the time-transfigured torch, for whatever reason seems apt, not blindly—to extend. To appreciate the perpetual “Yes” of life, as Molly Bloom affirms in her soliloquy at the end of Joyce’s Ulysses like a wind over the path.
These gardens aren’t logical and one wonders, now, knowing a more relative position, what comes next. Shakespeare’s dramatic theatre? Travels big or small, to the farmer’s market or across the ocean dueling fate like Ahab? General remarks in this case tend, rightly, to fail.
The Library Book, by Susan Orlean
Memories, Dreams, Reflections, by C.G. Jung; Edited by Aniela Jaffé
Ulysses, by James Joyce