Monday, January 21, 2013

The Rebel, Entry 3, The Greeks

     Camus begins his 'Metaphysical Rebellion' section, first by saying that the rebellion he is describing does not predate the enlightenment, then by saying intimations of it are to be found in the ancient tragedies.  Obviously, Prometheus is the first case that comes to mind.  He is in rebellion to the Gods and is heavily punished for it.  In a certain sense, bringing fire to humans can be taken as a rebellion against the inequality between humans and gods.  But Camus goes deeper into the Greek notion of Fate.  I can't help at this point quoting  Greenberg in his lectures on Beethoven, when Beethoven began the romantic movement in science Greenberg says he assumes his new 'artistic self image, that of a hero, battling, and finally triumphing, over Fate itself.'  I heartily recommend any of Greenberg's lectures from the Teaching Company, especially those on Beethoven.
     Metaphysical rebellion is characterized by a rebellion against the human condition as such, what with the pointless suffering and the death and the yada yada yada. Metaphysical rebellion

"presupposes a simplified view of creation -- which was inconceivable to the Greeks.  In their minds, there were not gods on one side and men on the other, but a series of stages leading from one to the other.  The idea of innocence opposed to guilt, the concept of all of history summed up in the struggle between good and evil, was foreign to them. In their universe there were more mistakes than crimes, and the only definitive crime was excess. In a world entirely dominated by history, which ours threatens to become, there are no longer any mistakes, but only crimes, of which the greatest is moderation."(pg. 28)

One is reminded of the 'Great Chain of Being' I used to hear in lectures on Shakespeare. I do often feel that we live in an all or nothing world.  The recent inability of our government to act is an example, as are political correctness on the one hand and neoconservatism on the other. Even in my own mind I can feel the pull against compromise sometimes.  But I identify this pressure as social, rather than intellectual. It probably doesn't compute for some that I can like both Charles Kors and Noam Chomsky at the same time. Camus is right, especially thinking in terms of 1956, that the world is divided by ideologies.  I've been to lectures, say between Dershowitz and Chomsky on Israel, where the audience was clearly on one side, when, on the basis of what was actually said, no decision could be made(I didn't observe either side not distributing a middle term or anything).
     Of course I can't leave the Greeks without talking about Oedipus. Oedipus, I can only feel with a kind of arrogance, rebels against nature to know the truth, discovers he is the cause of the plague, and it is the search itself that is his undoing. I read Oedipus The King at about the same time I read 'Heart of Darkness'; the parallels are hard to miss. Searching for the truth one finds out something tragic at the end of it.  So, does this mean we should leave these kinds of searches to the gods?  Are we better off not knowing?  Is it our 'place' to know?  Eventually, Oedipus and family discover that Fate cannot be avoided, Beethoven's self-image notwithstanding, and Marlowe discovers the 'horror' and all that(a view much more like that of Camus').

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