I ask you, my human mind…

The human intellect is full of its own emptiness, better at looking than at seeing. – Saint Augustine, Confessions (285)

IMG_1391It was necessary for me to weave several books in and out of Augustine’s Confessions. As long as we are in a confessional state of mind, I will say that I had to keep my foot, so to speak, in the door of my mind to make sure it stayed open, and the effort was fatiguing. I may have read ten or fifteen other books while reading this one.

Who, after all, made me? (139)

That is not to say that the words, ideas, struggles and sublime beauty of language are not all present in the telling.

I was loosened from error, but not fastened to truth (109).

Nor is it to say that I did not, rather generously, ignore the oft repeated insulting words directed at my inferior sex.

Do we remember happiness, then, as we remember mathematical truths? […] No, I ask simply if happiness is a thing remembered – for how could we love it if we could not recognize it? (230)

When Augustine exhausts his intellect considering, memory, time and the cosmos – it is a wonder to behold. His algorithmic approach is astonishing, and his language, the pure beauty of his language, is a marvel.

How could times pass before they were there for the passing? (266)

But I can not help returning again and again, as Augustine himself did, to the epic battle he created between the body and the spirit. Whywhywhy?

He gives up sex, he cannot give up food and drink without sacrificing his life, but he is determined not to enjoy it. And no smell, however sweet will tempt him  (there is something of the Mr. Darcy in Augustine: “she is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me”). In the end he closes all of his senses, even (although he is a bit of a cheater here) to the one thing that really tricks him up: music.

A delicious physical sound should not melt our reason (241).

Ah, but it does. His and mine. As a friend of mine said to me recently, “Music is one of things we humans get right.” And I suppose this brings me to the heart of my confusion. Who, after all, made us? Why these bodies that touch, these smells, tastes, feelings, sounds? Why this moon, this sun, our stars, the mountains, the ocean? Why make something if only to demand a complete renunciation? Why are men so hell bent on religions of deprivation?

Grant this thing I love, since my loving it was your grant (273)

I probably did help matters by listening to Mozart’s Requiem while reading the bulk of this book. But, I am preparing to sing it with my Glee Club and I have no hope or wish to extinguish the awe I feel when singing or listening to such profoundly moving music.

*title from page 268. Penguin edition translated by Garry Wills


5 responses to “I ask you, my human mind…

  1. I hate that I seem to have something in common with this author as you’ve described him; a long held fear of letting myself be ruled by character damaging personal addictions and compulsions.

  2. YEs, I want to hear the requiem but this computer just comes up with an error message….it is hard to imagine looking for constraints on one’s experience of pleasure as life certainly deals up a fair amount of mundanity, discomfort, unpleasantness, etc. Perhaps his mind just needed more exercise than most….and he resorted to denying himself visceral joy? he decided to go for intellectual spiritual joy? It is amazing how much of his writing is something that could be written today. I especially liked a bit before his conversion when he writes about the impossiblity of fullfilling the demands of teaching while still trying to rest, think, persue lines of inquiry, etc. How many times have I felt this frustration.

    • But when we consider that the areas of the brain that “light up” are exactly the same whether it be spiritual or profane love…I wonder if he needlessly denied himself, while exhibiting a cruelly coldness to the woman and child he loved but sent away…maybe not, maybe he was perfectly satisfied with his choice, his life was his own. The part that rankles for me is the effect he has had on concepts of sin, the ramifications of which women have had to bear the brunt of…he has done a lot of damaged- most people understand his account of Adam and Eve better than they do what is actually written down in the bible (i.e. no mention of sin, no mention of a God being furious with either Adam or Eve…)

  3. Pingback: An Apology | so very very

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