Goethe and Croce and Strawson, floating serenely through the wreckage, the second time when a plumber reported that “Nathan’s frankfurters are floating down Surf Avenue.” For purposes of resistance and escape I read by flashlight, and was mordantly comforted to learn that the ancient philosopher Chrysippus wrote a work called On Things Not Worth Choosing for Their Own Sakes.
What to make of this; why does it rub me so wrong?
..A PERSON IN PAIN is a pariah. Misfortune always strikes twice: there is the calamity itself, and there is the marginalization that comes in the aftermath of the calamity, as the rest of society, all the lucky people who were untouched by the flood or the fire, the war or the famine, continue to live according to the customs of the normal world, and are disinclined to have the satisfactions of normality complicated or disrupted by the adjacent misery...
...They are not mean or selfish. They are merely creatures of their mild experience. They have no natural understanding of its opposite, of the terrible things that typically happen to other people. They are not indifferent, they are ignorant; and when the ignorance ends, when the news gets out that there are people in need of help, they sometimes help. But the ones to whom the terrible things have happened, the wounded ones, are hardly ignorant of the life from which they have been expelled: after all, it was just yesterday...
What to a make of this, indeed? A pariah is an outcast. Those who calamitously suffer in a unique way are inherently an obvious kind of other, necessarily different from us in their suffering. That is simply a truth of human nature. One amongst us is dying of cancer. We cannot be him, even if we have cancer ourselves. It is in the nature of our consciousness--"and man does not live by consciousness alone," actually he does in a sense--to be separate and unto ourselves, even with those we feel closest to. Two people never become one and to that extent our consciousness and our necessary subjectivity estrange us from others.
Empathy, feeling within one's self another's anguish, always chases after its own ideal.
Therefore, whence "pariah?" Whence our outcasting those suffering extraordinarily? Whence the marginalization? How does Wieseltier in his overreach to lay down almost aphoristically insightful large truth know how many different individuals respond to the tragedy of differentiated suffering remote from their own experience?
Here, rather than a pregnantly stated truth, we get mordant, gauzy generalization not only unrevelatory but distorting the obviously so into propositions the substance of which Wiesletier cannot sustain.
So too is the ascription of "ignorance" to what we, the relatively inexperienced, have not in our experience known. For in its connotative meaning, flowering into ignoramus, "ignorance" is an insult to describe those who deliberately ignore or disregard important information or facts, just as "ignoramus" is one who's willfully ignorant. There is in these thoughts by Wieseltier a subtextual preening, a special pleading for himself, as one of the accursedly enlightened by the wrecking that has vicariously touched his life via his mother. Unlike him, the rest of are sheep, "creatures" merely "of mild experience."
So it's fitting that this patronizing bundle of the obvious distorted into incoherent generalization reaches its own climax with this untrue, clunkily expressed pseudo profundity:
...One occupies only one’s own position, I thought, and so one must correct for the exclusiveness of that position, for the solipsism of situatedness. Such a correction can be achieved only by the imagination...
as if in our necessary separateness as the condition of our individuality we cannot, short of great imaginative leaps, understand and feel others' suffering, as if only the exquisite sensibility of a literary editor can show us the way to imagine the suffering of others, as if the rest of us prosaic, ordinary individuals cannot respond to extraordinary suffering without all this grandiloquent guidance.