Ecce Homo, Ecce Mater
I value original thinking mostly because it’s so damned hard to achieve.
The frequency of my ‘derivative thinking’ is a source of mild disappointment.
I frequently fall upon ideas that strike me as intensely true, only to discover they are absolute clichés of human existence. I absorb wise ideas inadvertently through popular culture, and then, with misplaced bravura, launch them into the dark world, as though I were the first who craned his neck to the East predicting that from far yonder, in good time, will the sun rise…
Within the meaning of cliché, a disparaged term in our culture, is a concept of great value.
Clichés are receptacles of wisdom; the wise shoulders on which human life stands. They are so called because society has agreed that their truth is profoundly acknowledged, and that truth widely propagated. Although a basis for living, they fall short of being a formula for life.
The tragic meta-narrative of Madame Bovary is that she experiences love through literary clichés. She cannot escape the ideals set down in la culture pop de bodice-rippers of the time; and so, Emma has difficulty in discerning that which is of value, and, worse still, that which is true.
Her affairs of the heart are mediated by the heroes she has read in bed.
Walking with a good friend along the beach just today, he and I spoke of the aesthetic effects of ageing, and the ways by which people address, or fail to address, that slow march into invisibility.
Life, I pronounced, gesturing to the distant waves, is lived like the ebb and flow of tides. We are not aware when suddenly the direction reverses; and silently, in rolls the wrinkling sea.
Without losing a beat, my companion responded to this tidal declamation.
‘King Lear’, he said, alluding to the oft-quoted idea that, no matter the power of monarchs, the tide will not be held back.
He had got his regents rumbled, and was in fact referring to King Canute.
But his point, and mine, still stood.
There I was, thinking I had newly described ineluctable Time when, in fact, I was simply echoing an ancient text (“Let all the world know that the power of kings is empty and worthless and there is no King worthy of the name save Him by whose will heaven and earth and sea obey eternal laws.” from Historia Anglorum).
Now that I think of it, I assume that my tidal analogy for the ageing process has occurred to billions before me.
Madame Bovary, c’est moi.
Earlier this morning, I had been reading the opening chapters of Ecce Homo (Behold The Man), a mature text of Friedrich Nietzsche, written during that sliver of time when he no longer gave a fuck, and before he lost his marbles.
I was taking in the book’s first chapters in the manner of man before the printing press. That is, aurally, with the aid of Amazon’s Audible, one of the great gifts of the Internet Industrial Complex, tasked to soften us up before we finally get pummelled to obeisant, consuming robots.
Ecce Homo is a great read – less confronting than its title, less confusing than its author’s last name. From the grand old age of 44 years, Nietzsche pours forth wisdom on how we should start our day (let it be with tea; coffee is tar, for losers), how we can lift any season (live in cities with dry air because that’s where genius flourishes; Germany is a humid cess-pool, for losers), and how we might live a good life (nourish yourself so you become fully who you are).
It is a joy to listen to fresh thinking which is not cant.
Nietzsche’s text ambles along, dropping melodies of truth upon my ears, when a specific four-word phrase stops me with force.
Oh my, I think, rewinding to listen to it again. That’s it. That’s exactly what I’ve been thinking.
My Mum passed away in March of 2021. She was the most important and influential person in my life.
Since March 2022 I have experienced a home-truth of grief – that the second year can surpass the first in its trials. I feel her loss and her presence more; in my mind, dreams, and daily living. I remember things she said; I recall things she and my late Dad did; I see objects from our family home now in mine, and I feel her energy through those things. I have not allowed my Mum fully to pass. I claim her in my life, and the modus of that claim is in spending time with her memory.
In conversation with one of my sisters, I concluded this: our relationship with our parents evolves beyond their deaths. I love and understand Mum more now that she’s gone; and because she is gone.
I assumed it was an original thought, as it certainly is an original experience in my own life.
How then should I feel, today, to discover that Nietzsche knew it all along? Might I have lived my relationship with my parents differently, had I read Ecce Homo earlier? Should I feel frustrated that I have not reflected on his writing sooner? Or, does a truth only become true when it is internalised – this latter process an act of living, not reading?
The clause arrives early in Chapter 4.
His words are brief, as they are precise and revelatory.
‘Some are born posthumously’.
Now, ain’t that the clichéd truth.