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By Edward Curtin

"Who would study and describe the living, starts /By driving the spirits out of the parts: /In the palm of his hand he holds all the sections, /Lacks nothing, except the spirit's connections."

Mephistopheles warning to the student in Goethe's Faust

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"And how far would you like to go in?" he asked and the three kings all looked at each other. "Not too far but just far enough so's we can say that we've been there."

Liner notes to Bob Dylan's John Wesley Harding album

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"The shadow is what I am but will not admit I am. For the shadow of the psyche involves me in a deepening self-recognition which is more humiliating and emptying than the normal limits of endurance. In the end, acknowledging the shadow means acknowledging a bottomless void within me. The initial question of truth-force is: How deeply will I acknowledge my own emptiness?"

James W. Douglass, Lightning East to West: Jesus, Gandhi, and the Nuclear Age

We are haunted by a specter. Strange as it may sound, I was reminded of this when I saw a photograph of the quarterback of the Super Bowl winning Philadelphia Eagles, Nick Foles, looking and pointing up to the heavens. Or to be more precise, the roof of the aptly named U.S. Bank Stadium, a fitting venue for a national celebration of violence and the warfare state. But if we can assume Foles' gesture was meant to penetrate the roof and travel up to heaven, then you too may find it a bit odd, if touching. Most people, as the poet Czeslaw Milosz has said, are ashamed to ask themselves a question about the implication of such a gesture. "They have experienced the collapse of hierarchical space," he writes, "and when they fold their hands and lift up their eyes, 'up' no longer exists. Let no one say that religion can manage without such primitive directions to orient people."

Modern science has brought this about. And together with its models of reality, it has given us its technological child: nuclear weapons. So now we live haunted by the shadowy thought that human beings, having assumed God's mantle, can bring this world to an end in a flash. As William Butler Yeats said in another context: "All changed; changed utterly." But while we live in these end-times, in a new symbolic universe, our sense of spiritual power to stop the nuclear madness has been sapped by our refusal to venture deep into the interior of this enigma and change our minds and spirits enough to change the world. We seem stuck riding our bikes when we need to stop the world we think we know and experiment with truth at the deepest level. We need a revolutionary spiritual transformation to give us faith and courage to counter the nihilists who wage endless wars for the American empire and threaten nuclear destruction at every turn. Where can we find this inconceivable spiritual energy?

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***

I was thinking of this not long ago when something very strange happened to me. Six days previously I had written an article subtitled, "In Light and Shadows." On this particular morning I was sitting at the kitchen table contemplating that piece of writing and whether or not readers had grasped what I was trying to say by linking three very short stories that undulated like the flow of consciousness in waves of light and darkness. The phone rang, and as I answered I stood up and looked out the window at a flaming red bush, it being the height of fall's display of colors. I heard my wife sobbing on the other end. "My mother's dying," she cried. "Oh no," I replied, as I had an immediate flashback to my own mother dying five years earlier, and an inexplicably dark foreboding feeling gripped me. For some reason I looked at my watch; it was 10:58 on Thursday morning. In that instant, as I raised my eyes back to the blazing bush, I saw a sliver of a crescent dark shadow creep into the inner corner of my right eye as I listened to my wife tell me through her tears how her mother, who shared the name Rita with my mother, had turned a corner toward her death. When she was done, I told her something strange had happened to my eye.

I had suffered a detached retina.

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Edward Curtin is a writer whose work has appeared widely. He teaches sociology at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. His website is http://edwardcurtin.com/


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