Thursday, February 10, 2011

Gnosis, Increased Consciousness, Prometheanism, and Depression--A Follow-up to My Review of FRANKENSTEIN

Promethean knowledge is an interesting theme in Romantic literature, it seems, and one of the more profound revelations that it conveys is that the more consciousness one attains, the more despondent and unhappy one inevitably becomes. In his comments on Frankenstein, Harold Bloom invokes Kierkegaard's remark that Satan, being pure spirit and therefore pure consciousness, undiluted by mortal and material constraints and distractions, is perhaps the most depressed individual in existence.

This, strangely, coincides with my fascination with noir literature, especially of the hardboiled kind. The gnosis that the world is a bitter and unhappy place is a constant theme in noir, and revelation and increased awareness are not only vital to the survival of a noir protagionist, but also inevitably lead to moral quandary and misery of the individual. Nevertheless, there is that thirst and desire for gnosis, the obsessive desire to open Pandora's Box and the consequences be damned (though they are more often damning).

Again, I have stumbled across something of which I have long been acutely aware, but have struggled to put into words. Hardboiled noir fiction helped me isolate and describe some of the major characteristics of reality and society. Mary Shelley and my introductions to Romanticism have confirmed to me that knowledge, consciousness, gnosis are all reflections of a Promethean ascendancy, and that increase of esoteric wisdom and awareness will only serve to cause the ascendant pain and suffering.

However, we mustn't forget what Prometheus' name means, nor his ultimate fate. Προμηθεύς--"forethought"--was punished by Zeus for bequeathing the secret of fire upon mankind. This secret gave humans power and understanding, birthing civilization and threatening the ascendancy of the gods. For his crime, he was chained to a rock somewhere in the Caucasus Mountains, where every day an eagle would come and consume his liver from his living flesh, and every night it would grow back. The great irony of this is that Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley's husband, would write the epic romantic poem Prometheus Unbound, in which the gods are overthrown and the titan is released.

The unexamined life is still not worth living. In this, I believe, suffering makes stronger, wiser, but oftentimes more bitter and cynical. One has to wonder that, if one's liver is devoured every day, if gradually one shall discover oneself turning into the very stone to which one is chained. Wisdom and awareness always make one a superior individual, no matter what the cost in self-esteem or emotional happiness. Passionate poets and brilliant thinkers are rarely happy people, but are often disturbed and disturbing. They say the things other people try not to think about. But, ironically, these despondent individuals can find joy in things that engage them. Thus, escapism seems to be a powerful refuge for the intellectual. Yet, that escapism can become all to often a blanket beneath which the intellectual hides, and then he sinks to the level of the proles and even beneath in his refusal to peek out and accept the outside world for what it is. The proles may not accept that the world is bitter and evil in thought, but they certainly do in deed, and that makes all the difference. The intellectual, however, has to ensure that bitterness and cynicism doesn't prompt him/her to cold indifference, because that route leads to evil as well.


Brian Murphy said...

Wow, love that last paragraph.

The more I read, and the more I see and experience in my daily life, the less I know and the more suffused in darkness everything seems. But then I manage to find joy in surprising places.

I'm not sure if you've seen this, but it's apropos of the equivocal nature of the "Promethean fire" and its implications are both staggering and disturbing:,8599,2048138-1,00.html

For the record, I'm not a tech geek and so have no way of verifying if such an event is possible.

Dave Cesarano said...

I'm not a tech geek either, but it's a staple of SF that AIs become genuinely intelligent and capable of self-programming. The frightening thing about it is that they could design their own successors, creating a new age in which computer intelligence increases exponentially into the future, far beyond our control or comprehension.

I'm also in the midst of reading The End of History and the Last Man by Francis Fukuyama and checking out what R. Scott Bakker has to say on his own blog and your article there kind of snaps into place, thematically. Man, we're in trouble.