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Archive for August 10th, 2009

hell 3: some versions of hell

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When I was taught about hell at school, the most convincing rendition went as follows: When you are dead, and bound for hell, you arrive at the gates of heaven and much to your surprise, they open. This isn’t what was supposed to happen, you’re thinking, but what the hell, you step inside. And for an instant, you are swept up in unfuckingbelievable wonder and beauty of it all (you “see God’s face” – whatever that means- the Catholic Church has a way of screwing up the film right when it gets to the moneyshot, no houris for us, etc…) but then, snap, it’s just an instantaneous taste of the good stuff, and you’re back out the gates and down and down till you land back on the smouldering bedrock, there to dwell for eternity on the opportunity that you had but missed. Hell is regret, regret and the self-hatred that it engenders, and nothing more. Hell is, it seems, simply room to think.

It’s a good story, and one that is compatible with certain deeply held family mythologies chez nous that I wonder if dad and even grandad (though he was a protty) didn’t hear something like the same story when they were kids. But I’ve been thinking lately about another one, however, and that’s a bit more true to the way the world looks through my eyes. Let’s take it from the arrival at the gates, and let’s leave undetermined the matter of whether the soul in question feels as though they deserve eternal reward or not.



So there you are in heaven. The houri-less and hour-less wonder of it all and so on. You bask for a bit, and it’s so so nice. But even as you bask, not a minute or two into the thing, something starts to happen at the back of your mind that you try for a bit not to attend to, trying to attend rather to your thorough soak in the rays of his face, the burn-thorough of the infinite delightfulness. You know what you’re thinking – you’re starting to worry that, really, as nice as it is, and it is nice, eventually it’s going to get tiresome, it’s going to fail to live up to your grand expectations and tastes – expectations and tastes that literally reset the metric to point zero with each passing instant of pleasure. The love you feel will eventually feel tepid, a half-hearted affair, and even if there were houris, you’d quickly think they were bored with you – and why wouldn’t they be? Maybe, at the back of it all, you’re worrying a bit that this is really the prologue to hell that you heard about in school, that at any second the other shoe is going to drop, and the length of time that you’ve been allowed to stay (admittedly, this is quite long for an instant) is only an index of the even-greater malignity that you’ve provoked in your creator. He’s letting you marinate a bit, before throwing you even more swiftly and insistently in the fire.

This is how it goes for you, and it is awful. The chaining thoughts roll forward inexorably, picking up speed as they roll. This happens because you’re wired wrong, and you start to wonder what kind of heaven doesn’t come with a free wiring adjustment, a sorting out of the neuroses and misprisions that, Christ, earned you a spot in the Kingdom of God in the first place. In fact, it remains unclear, from start to finish (but there is no finish), whether you’ve landed in a place that’s actually hell which perversely looks like heaven or you have indeed made it to heaven, only you’re fucked up and there’s no one around to help you sort it out.


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August 10, 2009 at 1:00 pm

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hell 2: journaux intimes

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Don’t have it at hand, and it seems to be a bit out of sync with the French version at Gutenberg, so working from (potentially projective) memory… But what was published by New Directions as Baudelaire’s Intimate Journals seemed to be effectively split into two parts, thematically. The first section presents a series of aphorisms and meditations, ever more dark and cynical as CB goes along, about the economics of interpersonal, especially sexual, relationships. That is to say, the darkness derives from the fact that they are economic, endless variations of whoredom and keptness in which either the male or female party can play either part.

The affectual atmospherics of this section, we can imagine, we can smell, were born in CB’s propensity for drink and the way that he arranged his sex life. Hellish stuff, but it only gets worse, as the second section of the book shifts focus from sex to work. A stream of self-chastisements, imploring himself over and over simply to get down to work, tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow.

One must work, if not from inclination, at least out of despair – since it proves, on close examination, that work is less boring than amusing oneself.

Despairing, neurotic work as the only thing better than the unholy finance of sex. To give this sort of thing space, to fill up pages of a notebook with nothing but promises that the work will be better tomorrow…. Do you see the strange math in the passage? The way that the “proof” works? I suppose one reading would be that close examination of work and amusement reveals that the former is more interesting. But I am feel sure that this is not at all what CB means. Rather, I think it’s the despair itself that settles the accounts – despair is less boring than amusement, in other words. In his rendition, and in the world that he describes, there’s only one general equivalent available, and it’s not money but pain.

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August 10, 2009 at 5:00 am