When I was young and thrummed with testosterone, my inchoate mind, tormented this way, frightened that, occasionally burst out with briefly exhilarating ideas of that perfect unsullied freedom as pictured by Mlle. de Beauvoir. I pictured myself quite literally rocketing free of earth and its gravitatious rules into a starry space of freedom in all directions, faster, more lovely than Vaughn Williams' ascending lark.
I even drifted and flirted around anarcho-leftist politics quite awhile, but never committed to it, maybe because I was irresolute and dissolute; and maybe because my intuition warned me that grey, earthbound politics really existed in a realm far apart from the freedom I encountered in my flying dreams and fantasies.
Other problems roiled within, and revealed themselves in passions for such violent, disturbing portraits of the world as those by director Sam Peckinpah, playwrights Joe Orton, and Eugene O'Neill; not to mention the fox-eyed killers who creep and strut like spiders through Sergio Leone films--fierce world-burning nihilists all.
There were certainly reasons for my romance with nihilism-likely the major baseline was my male progenitor who became a free man by abandoning his family, slunking bitterly out the door, stopping only to shriek, shake his fist and sneer about how he showed us all, "all" including his three sons, ages 4, 14 and 15. (Right nefarious bastards, we were.) There was nothing we could do to stop him, nothing we could to change his mind.
He was a free man.
For many years, the freedom-loving Imp of the Perverse, the desire for the Freedom To, the freedom beyond human entanglement-which, I think, leads to morality-was lit within, as bright like a star, but with all the warmth of a firefly's bulb. It only took a slight shift to turn from romantic anarchism to nihilism. The only warmth I expressed was a scorching Satanic rage, which shows in my writing from those days. My work was certainly bright with spangle and flash, but it was burdened with a vicious bloody incoherence and willful cruel perversity. I repeatedly ripped the wings off butterfly after butterfly. . . and then repeated the action, both thrilled and horrified as the bourgeois faces around me froze and their voices stammered.
This is real freedom. And it was, too. In that sense alone, Monsieur Sartre seems to have been right.
It's easy to choose evil, isn't it? At least from behind the keyboard.
What happened? I got older. I learned more, gain experienced from many directions. My heart was disappointed repeatedly (as I disappointed the hearts of others). Nihilism and nihilists-best seen in certain seedy drinking establishments--became boring. Nihilism stopped looking like the ultimate freedom and starting looking like a sink drain, the Ultimate Snake eating its tail. I now note that nihilistic artists-like it seems all artists with ideological bents-quickly run out things to say beyond life is steaming shit and we're all going down the drain. In the end our actions don't matter, so there is no freedom.
Somewhere around the clock, maybe when its hands reached the mid-afternoon of my existence, Life became interesting again for me, and so, I could no longer sing the glories of the rats in the basement biting the ankles of deserving corrupt human civilization with its bi-faced, freedom-hating morality. (See how hollow and silly this can sound? A Hallmark card for the depressed.)
Life became Complex and Mysterious again, and Love came whispering outside my door and the ties between me and the world-of Nature and Humans alike, which had always been there--became visible. A desire for Freedom To became a desire for Freedom From want, crime, violence, despair, boredom, emptiness, meaningless.
A year or so ago, on the occasion of his death, I came across what appeared to be Norman Mailer's last book, in which he, one of the most violent and political writers of all, famous in part for his romances with psychopaths, stunned me by admitting that he believed in God-not the institutionalized deity most of the world keeps locked and chained in churches, mosques and synagogues, but the God as He is in, around, and beyond the universe He created. (Norman Mailer, of all people).
An interested, creative and ever-moving and evolving and involved God. To me, its curious how the idea links with everything and how everything links together, how one actions touches other, as a human hand might, reaching to steady me, to keep me from falling.
Causes Thomas Burchfield Supports
The Nature Conservancy; Africare; Capitol Public Radio