Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Despair arises "from the images of appearing" that do not appear

In discussing the many ways we seek to desperately negate the existential questions, Msgr. Giussani wrote: "In the morning when your alarm rings and you have to get up, a voice in your head says: 'Stay here.' You would not be living up to yourself to remain there in bed" (The Religious Sense 73). So, you get up and get going. Giussani likens this experience of getting out of bed with what Theodor Adorno claimed in his work Minima Moralia about our hope for salvation. When we experience a longing for wholeness, completeness, and satisfaction, which makes us realize all too well how far we often are from such a state, a recognition that causes us to realize we need to be saved, Adorno claimed "when we hope in in salvation, a voice in our head says that hope is vain" (73).

Giussani countered by insisting that if we are not living up to ourselves by getting out of bed in the morning, then we certainly living below ourselves if we heed the voice that says our deepest human longing is unrealizable. In fact, we do not act reasonably by heeding this because, according to Don Gius, this voice "does not provide a reason why [our] hope still persists" (73). Adorno did not stop there, but proceeded to say that it is precisely this false hope that allows us to continue to live. Adorno calls this phenomenon the "ambivalence of sadness" (73). This existential ambivalence arises as the result of affirming a contradiction, placing a contradiction at the center of my self-awareness; the hope I have that I cannot realize. Hence, according to Gius, Adorno claims that all we can do is "patiently redraw new approaches to and images of the ambivalence of sadness: the truth is not separable from the obsession that salvation emerge from the images of appearing without appearing" (73).


Bringing clarity to this convoluted idea, Giussani noted, "The mental and psychological choice which Adorno describes - that is, the affirmation that there is no salvation - is not separable from the 'obsession that salvation emerge from the figures of appearance.' The true aspect of Adorno's position lies in his latter observation. What Adorno calls 'obsession' is the structure of the human being, it is what we call 'heart,' or elementary experience: to negate it is to deny the existence of something that is real" (73) I agree with Giussani that such a denial is both "unreasonable" and "inhuman" (73).

Returning to Don Giussani's opening image, the difficulty of waking up, I am reminded of what St. Paul wrote in Romans:
it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness [and] put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day... put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh (13: 11b-13a.14)

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