Kurtz, Pain, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia

This almost sounds too easy or too trivial a matter for me to put here, but one of the main draws of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia is extremism. It’s about a kind of pure logicality, of following things to their inevitable conclusion. It’s also about a form of obliging that is, however, not entirely thoughtless, oddly enough, not a kind of thoughtless generosity, but rather a kind of noblesse oblige, which is itself an odd expression. Since to oblige to something, in this sense, doesn’t mean, actually, to become someone else (even though this becomes sort of Dennis’s experimental character in the later seasons), but rather, to reach for a kind of purity. The idea of noblesse oblige doesn’t actually mean peer pressure, it’s not even, “doing as a noble should do”, since the very definition of nobility is one who is self-justifying – a noble is one who sets his own standards. As I said, it is a paradox or an oxymoron, since one can only oblige oneself in a sense. This is how we should actually understand Dennis’s character, or actually all the characters, not so much self-centered as self-obliging. A weird expression… let me just include something I wrote on Facebook the other day:

OK, I get it — the entire premise of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” is this, that one day, 5 grown men and women suddenly decide, a la Don Quixote, to become teenagers again, but, armed with a greater self-awareness and confidence in their reasoning, can now follow through those proclaimed logics to their conclusion — producing something that is an impossibility in the real world: a *self-consistent* teenager (just as Don Quixote is the only possibility of pure knighthood). The moments when they interact, always contemptuously and destructively, with actual teenagers (as well as actual adults) are some of the highlights, or maybe simply the show as such.

But, as I said, these observations seem almost too trivial too include on here, because it seems to relate to a kind of naturalness or unquetioning extremism that we have always tried to distance ourselves from. What makes Sunny tolerable is certainly that it there is a great deal of thinking involved on the show, by all the characters — they don’t simply put on hats, or become or pretend to be other people, but they are sort of selective in what they oblige. We are returning to that mysterious sense of self-obliging, which should really be thought of as almost as a kind of ascetic practice, I believe.

We still haven’t spoken about pain yet, but let’s talk about Kurtz first. None of these people seem to feel pain. In Kafka’s famous one-paragraph summary of Don Quixote, the knight is associated with the demonic because it is able to carry on this self-obliging without pain, with a kind of purity, while Sancho, the human, follows him along. We’ve talked about demons before, it’s a very apt concept here. This is what I want to emphasize with Kurtz too, the demonic Kurts, he was one who gave in, who obliged, who was satisified — abominable satisfactions. And Kurtz felt no pain because his death, “the horror, the horror”, should most definitely not be understood as a kind of deathbed renunciation of his ways or something. Even on his deathbed he felt like he was being robbed of something, that he deserved more — and however deluded Marlow felt this to be, he never treated it with anything more than a kind of mild annoyance — he seemed to respect the man.

This is what Heart of Darkness means, or means to me: a focused, demonic kind of asceticsm, a self-obliging that is, oddly enough, that is some paradoxical combination of asceticism and gluttony at the very same time, asceiticism and satisifaction.

~

Pain — let’s talk about pain… I hear in this word that line form Boy of Winander

Actually, this is very odd… there is no mention of pain in that poem. I must be remembering some other poem? In any case, pain is our response to the demonic, it is the moment when we realize that we cannot be demonic. Pain is the experience of the encounter with the demonic source. Since we can never be demonic (though we try to be) we experience this demonic intentionality as pain.

Rejection is actually not our main concern here — I mean, rejection of society.

Let’s talk about Boy of Winander for a bit, even though for some reason I misremembered this poem.

Now, this boy has not explicitly rejected society as the later Wordsworth had. Yet nonetheless, his communion with the owls is a kind of rejection, it is a way in which he can, it seems, reach out and touch at a distance, conjure, the magnificence of the natural scene about him. Nothing is explicit here, which is why this is so interesting, even though it seems to follow the motions of a mature asceticism. (Which means that the poem itself is not ascetic.)

The moment of pain — let’s just call it that — is the moment of self-recognition, the pain or the shock of self-recognition that I spoke about in the previous essay. There, I spoke about how naive and teleologic my self-awareess was — and I also spoke of the possibility of a kind of genuine engagement. I spoke about how my self-awareness had already become too seeped in grandiose concepts. All these recognitions, I believe, takes place without language in that poem, so that what’s so remarkable about that poem is how it is able to think pain without rejection, without asceiticism — it merely hints at asceticism.

The pain felt by the boy is … the pain of exclusion from something, the sense in which he no longer interacts, not because of the sublime immensity of nature but rather because of something much lower. The rocks, the trees, etc. — are barely alive.

 

TBC

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