Friday, September 23, 2011

A pot of crickets?

Yesterday I quoted the poet Hayden Carruth on writers: "Our heads are full of language like buckets of minnows." A few hours later, I came across a similar expression expression: A head like "a pot full of crickets."

It is, I think, a phrase most commonly used in Spanish-speaking countries -- olla de grillos -- for any confusing or cacophonous situation. I came across it in an essay by the Spanish writer/philosopher Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936) called "My Religion" (1907). I can't say that I know much about Unamuno, but I was impressed by his essay, which carved out a territory familiar to some readers of this blog at a time when such views were few and far between.

The essay is available in translation here.

Apparently, Unamuno was attacked from the left and the right. Scientific atheists thought him religiously mushy and mystical. Religious dogmatists accused him of spiritual anarchy. Both sides considered him a fool whose head was "a pot full of crickets."

"My religion," writes Unamuno, "is to look for truth in life and life in truth, even knowing that I may never find them while I am alive. My religion is to struggle constantly and tirelessly with mystery; my religion is to wrestle with God from the break of day until the close of night, like they say that Jacob struggled with Him...I want to reach for the inaccessible."

His methodology is applied skepticism: "To be skeptical does not mean that one doubts, but that one investigates or searches without the need to find definite conclusion or affirmation."

His religion, then, as a thinker and poet, consists of "cries of the heart," with which he tries to make "the heart-strings of others vibrate." If others have no heart-strings, or if their heart-strings are so rigid that they won't vibrate, well, so much the worse for them. It is the journey, not the destination, that is the essence of Unamuno's faith. But a journey requires a direction, a sought-after Ultimate, even if that Ultimate cannot be named and is forever inaccessible.