Friday, December 14, 2012

Semiotic Essays and Book Reviews: Unamuno's The Tragic Sense of Life

Unamuno: Hunger for Life in The Tragic Sense of Life

Whenever doubt assails me, I turn to The Tragic Sense of Life and my faith is quickly restored. Faith, reason, the man of flesh and bone, and immortality of body and soul, are themes that Unamuno discusses with the ardent —fanatical I'd say— hunger for God.

After such shoddy fiction as the DaVinci Code, and fake TV Documentaries (The Tomb of Jesus), I find solace, wisdom, respect for God, and much joy as I read pages upon pages of Unamuno’s much beloved book: The Tragic Sense of Life.

Deep thinkers such as Aristotle, Kant, Hegel, Spinoza, and Descartes, filled Unamuno with distrust. Little value did he place in knowledge —gnosis: rationality— going on the attack against them, but in particular against the arrogance of Descartes' cogito, as well as Spinoza's atheism and geometrical proofs of ethics. For Unamuno “The truth is that reason is the enemy of life.”

“Wither knowledge?” He asks: "The end of man is to create science, to catalogue the Universe, so that it may be handed back to God in order...." he answers himself by quoting a thought from one of his novels. Concluding that the thinking man of reason and wisdom isn’t the true creature that God created  but a shadow (or simulacra); instead, he posits that the man that agonizes on a daily basis and craves for immortality is God’s creation.

Undisturbed by what scholars may think, he lavishes praise to man: the agon whose lot is to suffer the dread of having been cast into an alien universe. 

Dostoevsky’s irrational, irreverent, disdainful Underground Man says, "After all suffering is the sole cause of consciousness." Unamuno, like Dostoevsky and other Christian existentialists see the futility of this real world as unreal —exalting passion and suffering over reason, truth, and beauty— as only a prelude to the ideal world of eternity where one returns to God. 

Other thinkers such as Lucretius, John Stuart Mill, Freud, Marx, Sartre, and other atheists never felt the meaning of the word 'suffering.' Freud came close to understanding it when he said that religion comes about because of the human desire to escape death (The Future of an Illusion). That is partially correct. The ultimate truth —Unamuno believes— is that men are the only beings that go through life knowing that death is a certainty; hence his lifetime suffering.

Note how a master of argument uses denotation (dictionary usage and meaning) of ‘reasoning,’ ‘reason,’ and ‘equations of the second degree’ to stand for thinking, intellect, and science, so that he can cast doubt on them by the connotation (usage of words beyond the literal) of  the words ‘affective,’ ‘feeling,’ and ‘inwardly.’

“Man is said to be a reasoning animal. I do not know why he has not been defined as an affective or feeling animal. Perhaps that which differentiates him from other animals is feeling rather than reason. More often I have seen a cat reason than laugh or weep. Perhaps it weeps or laughs inwardly — but then perhaps, also inwardly, the crab resolves equations of the second degree.”

Unamuno’s method of argument is indirect, a method that appeals to personal associations, emotional associations that the public can understand. Hence, his use of the images ‘cat,’ and ‘crab.’

Those who are wise accept the certainty of death and find consolation in the return to God. Those who are knowledgeable seek more knowledge instead of acceptance and live to die alone; and what can be sadder than the utter desolation of a godless man or woman? Take Ayn Rand —a woman of deep intellect— who died husbandless, friendless, childless, and thankless; a woman who believed that giving thanks was a sign of weakness.; a godless until her bitter end.

Unamuno would have seen Ayn Rand’s as futile. Unamuno even rejects St. Paul’s ideas that we all return to God where one is absorbed into peace and quiet for eternity. Nay, Unamuno says, the hunger we crave for immortality is for us to go on living in this life and in the other with full consciousness, the very same consciousness we own now. This is a daring request. This is the Unamunian never-ending longing for “a life in which each one of us may feel his consciousness and feel that it is united without being confounded, with all other consciousnesses in the Supreme Consciousness—in God.”

For the Spanish philosopher science isn’t the way to God. Wisdom is. By wisdom Unamuno means the acceptance of a seamless universe where this one melds into the otherworldly realm that is God’s abode. In this context we can appreciate his view of other thinkers:
 “Among the men of flesh and bone —the suffering ones— there have been typical examples of those who possess this tragic sense of life. I recall now Marcus Aurelius, St. Augustine, Pascal, Rousseau . . . Kierkegaard─men burdened with wisdom rather than with knowledge.” 

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