Yesterday, the emptiness and darkness of all the classrooms nobody was invigilating in brought a certain gravity to my thoughts. Except that at certain intervals, the sun got caught on the moldings of the facades I could see out the window. I felt it was a reminder about the silver lining: how gloom is a surface is to be scratched.
The strength of gloom comes from its obscurity. Its obscurity is also what makes it inevitable as we strike out in life, moving somewhere between inheritance and mores, and encounter that moment of dumb silence.
I was thinking, as my students wrote their essays, about the people I know of the generation now departing, and felt an incredible wish to grow into their shoes. I considered how diametrically opposed they are to Zolla's definition of the modern man: more like a gambler than a warrior or farmer; instead of inventing solutions, he chooses "automatically from among a restricted number of possibilities of play".
The thing about the warrior is that he can lose. Rather, he does lose. But he can also win, and the spoils are his, in the sense that he fought for them. After childhood is shed, when all manner of actions are excused, it becomes hard to become that warrior, and fight for the freedom to make mistakes. To step outside of "restricted possibilities" means being criticised by people with less life experience, inclined to mobbing and hypocrisy, like in The Forsyte Saga where a character objects that some people's lives are kept secret in order for some family members to feel better about themselves.
Who has the courage and moral compass to see truth - where it lies beyond prejudice? We may be wont to remember MLK's words. At one extreme, is the gambler, twisting wasted time and opportunity in a knot of lies, tying his own hands. At the other, is the willfully blind, careless delusion that we write our own destinies. In between, is the warrior, relying on his training, with an eye to make the best of the unplanned elements, willing to stand up for what is right, even if it is extravagari. This may be a lost art.
A painting I return to in my mind, connected to these ideas, is one of my favourites in the Louvre: Mola's Oriental Warrior. What I found so moving those decades ago as I stood in front of it were the subject's eyes, staring off to a distant point unclear to us, with his air of practice, and some kind of tension and steadiness. I wanted to possess the strength of that subject. I remember thinking how significant it is that he is looking into the distance, outside of a frame.
To depart from the structural element is a risk, and involves regular questionning, the occasional gloom of uncertainty. "We do go wrong sometimes, old man; I didn't have much of a time of it," a Forsyte character says. True faith which bursts out of the recesses of the heart/ and the faith born of shame and duty,/ seem the same, but beware and do not confuse them. To be the warrior is to see through the gloom.