Monday, February 5, 2007


Anxiety is surely the next best thing to sex. They are forces of a similarly mysterious nature on the Shakespearean stage of Man in the Cosmos. With anxiety, like sex, there's a gut feeling that physical action needs to be taken, to achieve some inexpressible end. This action concerns our body. In the case of sex, we seek to disappear corporeally into the heavenly haven of another being—re-entry into the primeval womb—to protect ourselves from harm or even annihilation. That's what the verb "procreate" is all about. With anxiety, we would like to scream out that we want to get off the world, because it's moving too fast, but we finally store up our scream in our fragile fear-filled body, in frustration and stunned silence, awaiting encouragement. Meanwhile, we tremble. That's what anxiety is all about.

The supreme critic Voltaire had a nephew named Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian [1755-1794] who wrote fables, using the imagined thoughts of animals to express various moralistic convictions. Now, I can understand the motivations of Claris de Florian insofar as I often use the same subterfuge. If I quote my dog as saying or even thinking such-and-such a thing, that doesn't mean that I would care to express myself in the same outspoken terms, because I don't necessarily agree with my dog. QED

One of the best-known fables of Claris de Florian concerns a dull field cricket (I'm talking of an insect, not a sport) that observes a butterfly. Unfortunately, teenage morons arrive on the scene, are attracted by the presence of the beautiful butterfly, and end up tearing it to pieces in a barbaric fashion. The cricket, witnessing the scene, makes one of the saddest declarations (which I have not attempted to translate poetically) that has ever accompanied the accomplishment of an absurd crime:

Brilliance in this world costs too much.
I'll bask in peaceful retirement.
To live happily, let's live hidden.

Anxiety-ridden Claris de Florian got put into prison during the French Revolution, and he succumbed to his hardships at the age of 38. Maybe he might indeed have been better off if he had decided to live hidden like a cricket rather than gallivanting around in the style of a butterfly.

Happily, today, certain great minds affirm outspokenly that passive anxiety—in the face of religious fanaticism—simply isn't cricket.

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