John Deming, editor in chief of the important on-line journal Coldfront, has posted Part 2 of a 3-part interview with David Lehman.
I want to get back to God, briefly. At the end of your poem “Existentialism,” you write, “Such perhaps is the fate of certain avant-garde movements in art or thought. They arrive with the intent to move heaven and earth, and after they’ve gone, what they leave is their faded glamour, and it’s same old hard earth, and heaven’s as remote as ever.” To what extent is this statement true of any major idea, or any theory of God?
I think it’s true of all philosophy, including even the greatest, the most systematic thinkers from Plato to the present, who have done their best to confront the ultimate questions about the meaning of our existence: what would make a perfect state, what makes a great work of art, what would constitute an adequate explanation for how the world came into being, or what will happen after we die. Great works have been written, and none of them has settled these questions. You can’t do that, so at the end of the process, you still have what you started out with, a hard earth and a distant sky, by which I mean that the earth is resistant to your wish to assert yourself and heaven is too far away to reach. Time is resistant to your desire to make a name for yourself. Mortality resists your wish to endure. And at the same time as there is all this material resistance to your accomplishing what you want to achieve, you also have a self that aspires to a high spiritual state. And that’s a state very different from our quotidian lives, because we’re mortal beings whose bodies corrupt, and who are susceptible to lust, and whose behavior is not at all to be idealized. We are living contradictions in some ways. And movements come and they go. Existentialism came along and it was the killer philosophy of its day. And where is it today?