Impermanence, II

Coincidentally, while reviewing a chapter in Vassos Argryou’s compelling book, Anthropology and the Will to Meaning (2002)–I will have much more to say in coming weeks and months about this unique text, the first anthropological work I have read in many years that has so excited me–I came across this rather innocuous paragraph on an argument between Max Weber and Leo Tolstoy that may be relevant to the “impermanence” theme:

“For Tolstoy, Weber points out, science makes death, and therefore life itself, meaningless. In earlier times, before the advent of modernity, life gave people everything it had to offer so that they lived their lives in full and were ready to go when the time came. With the rise of science, however, what the world has to offer always extends beyond the individual’s life span, so that finite human lives are now caught up in the infinite march of progress and inevitably remain unfulfilled. Under such circumstances, death has no meaning. It can no longer be considered as the natural closing of the life cycle, but appears instead as an abrupt and timely end” (Argyrou 2002: 84-85).

This is important, because along with the ascribed heroism of the autonomous subject at the centre of modernity, is one who usurps the role of the demystified deity. This is a simple idea really–while some of us claim that god is dead, it has not stopped some from claiming the role of god for themselves. Imperfect gods to be sure, requiring large doses of botox, multiple bypasses, transplants, vitamin supplements, and personal trainers. The idea here is that a man can now become a living god, his own emperor…and this is very powerfully, memorably summed up in whose words? Al Pacino, playing the role of the devil, in a film titled The Devil’s Advocate.

The words are memorable when he characterizes a go-get’em protege as being “250 pounds of self-serving greed on wheels,” whose “belly is too full” and whose “dick is too sore” and “eyes are bloodshot” from a life of gluttony and lust. More:

“You sharpen the human apetite to the point where it can split atoms with its desire, you build egos the size of cathedrals…grease even the dullest dreams with these dollar-green, gold-plated fantasies, until every human becomes an aspiring emperor, becomes his own god.”

“Who has got his eye on the planet, as the air thickens, the water sours? Even the bee’s honey takes on the metallic taste of radioactivity.”

“We got a billion Eddie Barzuns jogging into the future, getting ready to fist fuck god’s ex-planet and lick their fingers clean…”

For those who wish to hear the complete sound file, see the TheDevil mp3 in the DOCUMENTS sidebar on this page.