Archive for November, 2008

Joseph Conrad describes the state I find myself in when I wake up at night. It’s a sheer terror for it’s own sake: nothing to be afraid of in particular – but fear. And then, hopefully, the rational parts of my brain kick in, I switch on the light, go to the toilet and find myself in a world I know and which supports me – or at least consoles me.

Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness, Chapter 3:

The fact is I was completely unnerved by a sheer blank fright, pure abstract terror, unconnected with any distinct shape of physical danger. What made this emotion so overpowering was—how shall I define it?—the moral shock I received, as if something altogether monstrous, intolerable to thought and odious to the soul, had been thrust upon me unexpectedly. This lasted of course the merest fraction of a second, and then the usual sense of commonplace, deadly danger, the possibility of a sudden onslaught and massacre, or something of the kind, which I saw impending, was positively welcome and composing. It pacified me, in fact, so much that I did not raise an alarm.

Might that be the Amygdala or any of the old parts of the brain running havoc? Is it that what children see when they fear monsters under the bed? Children have not yet developed the rational parts of the brain. So their terror must be much bigger than ours.

And as we have the rational parts of our brain at our disposal, we cannot imagine anymore how life is without it. We cannot imagine life without the ability to speak, to form your thoughts into words.

And so we cannot imagine how tough it is to be a child.


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Two poets shedding light on the mystery of life:

Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness, Chapter 3:

Droll thing life is—that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose. The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself—that comes too late—a crop of unextinguishable regrets.

… If such is the form of ultimate wisdom, then life is a greater riddle than some of us think it to be.

Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act V:

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow; a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

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