Un-Fainthearted: the Bold Faith of the Faithless


Nick: The Red Hand Files Issue #128: fantastic, evocative, magical image. It seems now like a different world. You endure, likely, accusations of seeking adulation. I know that you are rather invoking ritual in the mythological sense – namely, invoking participation in the myth. Which keeps us going. J. Campbell said, “It’s not me, it’s the myths.” Otherwise, condolences on the cancelled tours – a loss all around, you must have been so amped to communicate the wonderful GHOSTEEN and the rest of it. I read this in a biography of Ralph Waldo Emerson by Robert Richardson, recently deceased:

“Goethe teaches courage, Emerson wrote, and the equivalence of all times: that the disadvantages of any epoch exist only to the faint-hearted.”

Robert D. Richardson Jr., Emerson: The Mind on Fire, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 222.

Lately people that I otherwise esteem have seemed to become faint-hearted. Folks hoarding toilet paper. Folks walking down the street with a mask on their face. Sham politics and bald-faced, heartless agendas. Old people afraid to die and lies, lies, lies all around. But when you responded to cancelling your U.K. tour with “It’s time to make a record – see you next year”, it was a thrilling example of resolve and stirred my heart. Even if you make a shitty record. Har. I know you’ve signed off for now. But may the muse bestow her grace upon you. Head high and fuck ’em all, right on.

Indeed I submitted this to Cave’s question & answer forum, despite it not being a question and knowing that, well – what does Nick Cave give a shit about yet another fan’s blatherings? Nevertheless, I’m convinced it does no harm to reach out. Tribe. We seek it.

This after skimming through an eBook I purchased, the obviously rather hastily written but otherwise apt Scamdemic – The COVID-19 Agenda: The Liberal’s Plot To Win The White House, by John Iovine. I’ll say no more on my opinion of current affairs except that it’s probably the only topical book I’ve ever bought and ever will – I passionately despise anything to do with so-called “news” when it comes to writing because, well, I’ve always intuitively despised journalism of any type. Even when it’s not written by a journalist. As such, while it’s tempting to describe all the miserable misinformation that has unfortunately described 2020 I realize my opinions ought to be kept close. Heaven forbid I contribute even by way of my miniscule contributions to the crippling atmosphere of polarization, disappointment and dread that has damaged us all.

Meanwhile, journalism inevitably strikes me as false and pandering and inauthentic. It somehow always reads, first, as utterly tossed-off, utilitarian, generate-the-wordcount, sensationalistic dross (who can believe anything a journalist writes?) and, secondly, journalism is simply fucking painfully boring. It’s the truly misguided journalist that believes in his or her mission as one of influence and communication of the truth. It’s just the selling of the news. It’s just commerce. A person clicks on a story (a more accurate term to be sure) and the advertisers get paid. Otherwise, the writing is not intended to evoke or invoke anything but anxiety and to appeal to our compulsions. It’s either politics (which boils down to military conflict and the economy), natural disasters, murders and other unsightly forms of criminal inhumanity or sex. In short, it plays on our fears and shameless desires, as if to distract our attention from anything with substance.

And what does any of it matter as time goes by? Oh, Carnegie Olson, I’d like his novels if he wasn’t always rattling on against political agendas and sham-demics and blah, blah, blah. Nobody wants to hear it. I don’t even want to hear myself go on about it. But the exception indeed proves the rule and this one thing, namely the global institutional poison that this sham-demic has revealed – the agenda laden corruption, greed and unhindered fear mongering propagated by those in power – along with the embarrassingly naïve response by too large a portion of the general public who frankly seems to have not advance beyond a medieval level of superstition and gullibility… I don’t know, it just makes me crazy that common sense and basic epidemiological science has flown the coop.

Goethe teaches courage… and the equivalence of all times: that the disadvantages of any epoch exist only to the faint-hearted. This to me expresses the backbone of mythology. Myth does not trip itself up in the present. Rather, at its best, it exists in a kind of rarefied timelessness, drawing equally from the past and the future and vitalizing the present beyond daily cares. Within mythology our nameless and shameless shadow aspects – the worst of us – is redeemed by confrontation with its opposite, with the boundlessness of the human spirit at its most aspirational, faithful and true. This is romanticism, I know, but it’s how I regard it, so be it. Why else would myth sustain us through the ages, oftentimes in spite of ourselves, if it weren’t somehow an expression of who we are and how things are beyond the pedestrian affectations of an otherwise hopelessly dull, workaday utility? We do not live to work. Rather, I’m convinced, we work to have the experience of being properly alive. Anything else is mere ambition and ambition, rather than aspiration, is a taker and feeds on appropriation and tyranny.

Should I post this? Nobody reads it anyway, you say, so who cares? And we’ve all got opinions so what of it? Blog your heart out, it matters not in the end. I get it. And it’s not as if blogging, having surrendered to it this past year, has somehow become to me anything less unsavory. It seems a sordid manner of communication, this effusive, shamelessly unedited yammering. Blogging is desperately, unpleasantly similar to journalism. It is journaling if not officially journalism, after all – there is a relationship or connection or shared agenda between them, is there not? Yes. I journal and blog in this way to say my piece and, while I’ve never been keen to convince others of anything – it’s not me it’s the myths – nor do I consciously engage in stroking my own ego, as unpleasant as that sounds. Anyone who reads any quantity of the DOP must, if they’re reading at all closely, agree that I’m merely the type who needs to write their way through things – some of us write our way through life. My brother for one despises this type of confessional auto-therapy and he’s not alone – Campbell himself, as I’ve often reiterated, suggested that nobody needs a confession besides a priest. Again, I get it. But this is part of what I do. There would be no fiction, no novels, no Time Crime without it, so be it.

Keep it to yourself, then. Believe me, I’ve struggled with this. And the only thing that seems to justify my publishing this stuff in any form is my own interest in the journaling of others. I value reading what goes on in somebody else’s head, so long as it communicates a certain mostly unintentional pedagogy, so to speak. I’m one who appreciates guides. In the sense that I’m convinced that nothing I’m experiencing is without precedent. Hence, the mistakes of the past need not, at least not entirely, be repeated. It can’t come as advice, of course, because none of us heed advice (a study in itself why this ought to be the case). But we are capable of following that  which strikes us as authentic and true. True to ourselves and, even when it conflicts with our immediate intuitions, true to how things ought to be.

Which is to say it’s not all relative. If everything, every experience and interpretation were subjective there would exist no humanity whatever. We’d be on our own, doomed to travail against the predicament of life as individuals and advancing, in the end, not a jot towards what is good and fine and best. Well, you argue, we don’t. Clearly we don’t advance for we are cursed with struggling against the same travails throughout the millennia. The so-called human potential movement and its adherents conducting their research, such as it is, within, say, Esalen? One could regard it all as impossible idealism. I would argue this myself. Better to observe, examine, intellectualize and apply rigorous scholarship, in the vein rather of Eranos (but unbeholden to academia) than seek to literally transform. Quit striving against the cosmic impossibilities, I say, and surrender to what is, namely, the dynamic between dark and light and the living of our lives in between it all, mired, such as we are, within the play of opposites. No need to choose sides; rather, our only chance of success in life is to choose emphasis or influence. Towards the good. Mencius, the fourth century B.C. Chinese philosopher of Confucian bent, argued that men are innately good. At our best, yes, this is intuitively undeniable. Good is within all of us. But philosophy (and I was a philosophy major) inevitably is a single perspective, hence flawed in its application. Philosophy, as history demonstrates, promotes an agenda. Whereas mythology, as symbol and metaphor, contains and, at its best, communicates all things at once. And this is exactly what we cherish, in the end. Because truth, in all its aspects, evokes this sense of a cosmic home, as it were. The affecting image transcends the limits of subjectivity and strikes to the heart of all things, hence to the heart of each us, hence it resonates intuitively, philosophically, aesthetically, psychologically, biologically. Melville, via Ahab, within the chapter entitled “Surmises” comes closer than Mencius to capturing the entire revelation:

In times of strong emotion mankind disdain all base considerations; but such times are evanescent. The permanent constitutional condition of the manufactured man, thought Ahab, is sordidness.

And let’s face it: the sordid part is oftentimes the most, well, fun. Or at least the most interesting on the face of things. Cue the news media. But I rather suggest that we emphasize, or better yet merely seek, the best in us. Apply one’s influence towards that end. That’s all. No heaven on Earth. No one fine day of judgement. Likewise no escape – there is no successful refusal of this life. Endure our sordidness and seek to rise above it. What else is there?

Un-fainthearted. And the bold faith of the faithless. Oftentimes to me life appears to consist of nothing but irony. In fact, I’ve pondered the idea for a book: The Mythology of Irony. And perhaps the biggest irony of all is our intuition – zealously mythological at that – of believing in things that, as Nick Cave himself has described in a lyric to “Ghosteen”, cannot even stand.