Hope in Futility

Our pus-filled thumbs crack and bleed as they try

to make firm the pillars supporting the sky.

We started too late: tardy efforts, raw hands

infected arrival, new-formed on us, strands

who were near-formless blurs but for hungers and loins;

the sod tossed down open throats ready to swallow

a meal that vapors, thinkless, cannot enjoin

or consume; as they drift, it moves into their hollows,

for they’re kited on paths they cannot help follow.

A thought, or a panic, solids them, moves to action,

though it is too late, the nocturnal faction

bred them from the shadows: bred stomachs, like clouds,

and milked off the bodies and wills from these cows,

which are unfit to shore up the crumbling surround.

12 thoughts on “Hope in Futility

  1. Though I am a poet, I’m not sure I’m fully understanding your poem; however, I am familiar with both futility and hope, so I find it interesting that you blended them here in your title. Love the imagery of the clouds and the cows.

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  2. Thank you for your kind words — and your questions. Well, I am most certainly _not_ a poet, so that may be why my meaning is unclear — for lack of skill, to say nothing of poor thinking and a lack of vision.

    I was offering a perspective, not trying to preach (I don’t think; I’m not even sure I agree with the poem; I wrote it in an hour, in haste, and I merely wished to _lay out_ a point of view).

    The perspective would go something like this: My generation, and less so the Boomers, has been weaned on a whole network of consumer pleasures, nearly impossible to escape from, which are generated from within systems that are too large for meaningful participation, and which perpetuate this whole bread-and-circus thing to keep us manageable, and to employ systems of wealth-extraction that do not return the resources they take to the populations/economies they extract the wealth from; these consumer pleasures are largely self-soothing baubles, and they have robbed us of a sense of agency (we are vapors), technical skill to accomplish the ends we would seek (the cracked and infected hands), and the ability to think or evaluate beyond mimetic simplicities (the solidifying people were only loins and feeding tubes, without heads or even eyes, until solidity overtook them). The web of consumer pleasures keeps us moving from one entertainment or distraction to the next — and when we think we have hit upon something important, it is very often only one more layer in the bread-and-circus, or else we have hit upon it because of the habituations that have formed us within the nexus of these pleasures, which habituations direct us to certain ends, rather than reflection. We are the bronze-souled men from Plato’s _Republic_, at best, though with hardly a silver-souled or gold-souled person about, it should seem. Was it Dostoyevskii who said that the marketers want to map out the human psyche, so that they can reliably press a certain note and obtain a certain result? There is a panicked reaction to this state in the recent election: people are unhappy, but don’t know what to do or how to identify the problem or how to act or how to perceive the issues in play.

    At any rate, it’s a bleak vision. I liked that the people were trying to shore up the world, and keep it from collapse, even though they couldn’t see what the hell they were doing, and were so ill-equipped to do it. The “nocturnal faction” didn’t disappear, either, so there’s always that threat — but these people, these newly-solid people, are focused on the pillars, even though they have never paid attention to them. I hope that singular focus doesn’t blind them to other real problems they might be ignoring that would undermine their focus; I hope they can figure out how to fix the pillars.

    In the end, I hope. Even when things seem futile.

    But again, it’s just a perspective.

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  3. Great explanation! Sometimes it’s best to write a poem in the moment without putting too many controls upon the flow! I find an interesting relationship between futility and hope on a personal, psychological level. Not sure how to express it; perhaps that hope can indeed rise up more fully when we have experienced a kind of futility? Perhaps it is the crucifixion/resurrection journey that many of us are on, but hope seems to occur and re-occur and yet so does a kind of futility. I connect the futility with the concepts of creation groaning, waiting for redemption, the law of entropy, and so forth (I think it is in I Corinthians?). I attribute the hope to the Spirit of God animating the world nonetheless, despite everything that we can point to that is broken.

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    • There are times when I am satisfied with the results of such a process of flow, and others when time washes away all of the pleasure I might take in what was produced.

      Hope has no sense unless there is something unattained, something that is contingent, something that might not be. If it is simple futurity, then what one has is not hope, but mere anticipation — like the excitement on the way to a movie one’s been expecting. Nietzsche would see hope as a sign of health, and despair as a sign of sickness, weakness, in the organism. The text you’re thinking of is, I think, Romans 8:19 — all creation “eagerly strains forward for” the “apocalypse” or “unveiling” of the sons of God; otherwise, it is 2 Cor. 5, about the “groaning” that Paul speaks about (a different word in Greek than the word in Romans 8:19, though one that appears also a few verses later in Romans 8), which “groaning” is, in 2 Cor., a childbirth metaphor. The biblical symbolism, generally speaking (and there is no other way to whip up a unity out of it), deals with childbirth through infertility, fructiveness after desolation, restoration after destruction, life after death, light after darkness, justice after injustice.

      Whether one is Christian or not, there is really no other sustainable way to live. As Charles Taylor notes, the Liberal project we are all in the midst of so often disappoints: what can sustain us, except that we hope _against_ the evidence of the futility of our efforts, and the squandering of our efforts by those whom we labor on behalf of? Nietzsche, of course, writes that health requires forgetting; perhaps hope is a part of this, for Nietzsche. If so, I hope he is wrong, and that there is something more to hope than the health that can only be built upon a lie (even if it’s only _partially_ upon a lie). But then, the biblical kind of hope must wait for eschatological verification.

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  4. I suppose that faith plays a role in our ability to hope? Not just a faith that things will turn out all right for us, but faith in the God of the Bible, that there is indeed one Perfect in the universe? A loving creator who has created us with purpose? Haven’t really read Nietzsche in a systematic way, so I cannot speak to those ideas, though I like the idea of forgetting, if only to not indulge bitterness and despair.

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    • I strongly suspect that you are correct: all hope involves some kind of faith, for there is no hoping _against_ circumstances for an outcome that is, in some sense, still hanging out there, without trusting –viz., having faith– that the hope is founded. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of an example in which faith and hope are not offered by some sign to indicate their verity, can’t think of a case in which they are pure, spontaneous projections; though perhaps at times they are — whether because of the drive to health, the greed and hunger for more than what we have, or because of an innate sense of the distance between the good and whatever circumstances one might find oneself in. (The good is never perfectly articulated in any situation.)

      My own personal hope, ultimately, is that life is vindicated against all that is unjust and deathly, even in myself, even the shitty things that I bring to the world: as in the Creed, “I look to the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the age to come”. I’m very aware that this hope might not pan out. I still hope.

      I am not terribly interested in selling my personal hope, however, to others. (I have a post on this that I’ve been sitting on, and have yet to publish.) I am an Orthodox Christian, but I’m primarily interested in finding what is common with others — common hopes, common loves, the loveliness of the good, which is public, and which radiates in and as all things. (I wrote about this in Denys here: https://intotheclarities.com/2014/09/12/pseudo-dionysius-epistle-9/ ; I wrote about Christianity and the possibility of factionalism here: https://intotheclarities.com/2014/12/27/unification-in-the-gospel-according-to-mark/ ) I am worried that many of the classical Western religions, in the forms they take in the contemporary world (and, seemingly, so many other non-Western religions _because_ they occur in the contemporary world), participate in the very Nihilism that they attempt to supplant via an implicit or explicit commitment to Voluntarism and Nominalism. In this way, I am a Platonist, as well as a Christian. Perhaps that makes me a very Pagan Christian, though I don’t think so. I do share this with nearly all of the early Christians up until Scotus or Ockham. I’ll get to Plato and Platonism in other posts, eventually — sooner, rather than later, as I am tutoring on _The Republic_ at the moment.

      The biblical text has a number of images of faith, but so far as I know, nearly all of them refer to trust in a promise, to trust in an event, or to trust in a person (or all three). These trusts I understand; I have “faith” in a sense like this. The precise sense of “faith”, however, is not entirely the same from book to book of the bible. In classical Christian preaching –or if one prefers, beginning no later than Paul of Tarsus– this trust is directed to the apostolic testimony of the resurrection of Jesus — usually, as a promise, with commutative effects in the present (i.e., there is an inaugurated eschatology in Paul). Nowhere, as far as I know, does the biblical text treat “faith” as projecting beyond the chaos of the world, to an otherwise-unknowable beyond; nowhere in the biblical text, that I know of, does “faith” take, as its object, the existence and perfection of God. These, or something like these, are usually simply assumed.

      I would suggest that the fountain of Christian identity is an event, even a vision of sorts, a recognition of one’s own face and one’s own destiny within the face of Christ, preveniently there, not stamped or imposed or effected in oneself by power. I’m not sure that every Christian experiences this, or that every Christian _ought_ to (i.e., not everyone needs to ascend the mountain for the vision of divine darkness with Moses, so to speak; some enjoy the meal halfway up; some simply remain at the foot of the mountain, that is, some simply love the effects of this event-of-recognition in others, and cleave to it). I’m not usually anxious when other people don’t have this event, and I’m not concerned when they don’t trust the images of it that are about in the world. I do not believe that someone is fated for some horrible existence after death for not recognizing the divinity of Christ (I affirm that God does not have goodness as a quality, but that he simply is the good — not goodness as a quality, but the unqualified, limitless (i.e. unbounded), and perfectly simple good, and that this good is public). I am, I admit, often enough more worried about religious people than non-religious people (https://intotheclarities.com/2015/04/12/concerning-authority/). This vision-event can’t be manufactured, and most attempts to facilitate it in the modern world reduce it to some consumer kitsch cheaply bought, with no indexical power, or else as a moralistic package — that is, either way, as a product is sold. The recognition, however, simply happens at times to some people as they look into the mirror of the image of Christ — whether artistic (even musical — I know one high-powered individual in the education field who said that he knew nothing that so powerfully communicated the divinity of Christ to him as one musical piece about the Passion), narrative, or the kinds of images produced in the gestures of others (interpersonal). Of course, not all of the imagery surrounding Christ is visually, narratively, or conceptually identical, but then, the Logos, in Greek philosophy, begins as the Monad running out into the Myriad –exactly how Maximus the Confessor paints things– so that perhaps this isn’t the problem. In Plato’s _Allegory of the Cave_, after all, it doesn’t matter how the soul begins to move out of the slavery, delusion, and ignorance of the cave, toward the light — only that it does.

      Ten thousand apologies for my excessively long answer! –and thank you for your questions, as always. :-D

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      • Thank you for this comment. I am a bit overwhelmed by your earlier response, although I am also interested in many of the things you said. What a weighty responsibility to have so much knowledge and engagement with the topics that you explore. I am not fully armed for such a conversation, and yet I welcome the call to learn, understand, and grow.

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        • And that response (you are not “armed”) highlights the problem of my lengthy comments — they can only be attacked, and not responded to; it unintentionally becomes conversation-as-combat, and slips away from being conversation-as-collaboration.

          You were consistently collaborative, and I set sail to show you something, went too far, and lost sight of the shore. For that, I am at fault: forgive me.

          Liked by 2 people

  5. A conversation that was two stories above my comprehension still made me determined to understand. Determined was the wrong word and idea. It was neat to see two people sharing and caring. Your conversation reminded me of the old Bulletin Boards and the great debates i read and participated in somewhere back there in the fog.. —Smile—
    Michael booguloo Yost

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Bridges, I | Into the Clarities

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