My first WordPress article, posted in 2012, was titled “Immortality.” Five years (and a ton of writers block) later, I’ve decided to revisit this post to see how my thoughts have changed.
In a sense, we are all crashing to our death from the top story of our birth to the flat stones of the churchyard and wondering with an immortal Alice in Wonderland at the patterns of the passing wall. This capacity to wonder at the trifles–no matter the imminent peril–these asides of the spirit, these footnotes in the volume of life are the highest forms of consciousness.
This excerpt from “Lectures on Literature” by Vladimir Nabokov is a lot deeper than I originally found it five years ago. I had a very shallow interpretation of his words; that eventually we will die and because we don’t know when death is coming, we have to “wonder at the trifles,” otherwise we won’t have time to reflect when death does come. I related this to writing, in that it’s the only way to achieve immortality. We may die but our words will live on; our writing evolves with us and the only way to reach that highest form of consciousness is to continue writing and evolving.
Looking back on this blog entry, I’d like to think my thoughts are much more coherent when put to paper (well, computer screen) now. While my interpretation hasn’t entirely changed, it’s certainly much less shallow.
Nabokov is right: we are crashing to our death from the moment we are born. We’re never as young as we are in this moment, while it’s simultaneously the oldest we’ve ever been and we never know when there’ll be a stone with our name on it six feet above us in a churchyard. While we’re living, for the most part, we aren’t constantly in a state of existential crisis (though it’s certainly a common occurrence). We are “wondering at the patterns of the passing wall.” That is, we are in the moment and focused on what’s happening in our life as it is happening and has happened and we’re planning our futures despite not knowing if that future will come for us.
There’s always imminent peril in our lives – just because we aren’t focused on the fact we’re growing closer to our death than we are to our birth – doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. I believe Nabokov is saying that human’s ability to not constantly be living in a state of existential crisis is the highest form of consciousness. We know death is inevitable and yet we are still able to enjoy the trifles, even if they are insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
But this is where I am uncertain if I agree (and also unsure if this is a thought I’ll be able to coherently express).
Is it fair to call events in life “trifles” just because they’re insignificant in the face of death? Yes, we will die. Yes, most of what the average person does with their life will make no difference after death. But unless you are specifically living your life for some sort of afterlife or are doing significant things that will impact humanity, isn’t enjoying your time on Earth the whole point of living?
Maybe it’s because I’m borderline atheist/agnostic and am doing nothing significant with my life, but I believe the trifles are all I have. I wont be able to take anything to the grave (or wherever they’ll put me after I donate my body) so why shouldn’t I wonder at everything? I don’t plan on having children, my family will be long gone (here I am, assuming I’ll live to be old) and I haven’t done anything significant that will leave a mark on the world after I’m gone. I will have no legacy. Everything I have done and will do are going to die with me.
But there’s my dilemma.
Everything is a trifle because it’s insignificant in the face of death while everything is simultaneously not trifles because it’s all I have to live for.
Is there any point of living if we’re only focused on death? Or is there any point of living life when death is the only thing we’re guaranteed?
Existentialism is a bitch.