There has been a lively discussion going on over at Varieties of Unreligious Experience touched off by Conrad’s post Humanism and the virtue of anxiety. My mind, degenerate and poorly oiled as it is, could not help but take a particularly delightful exchange to its ultimate conclusion (pictured above through the miracle of photoshop). Rather than catastrophically lower the level of discourse there, I thought I’d post my addition where it could do no such harm- here.
Xensen: Suppose you love someone romantically—a woman, let’s say. Do you parcel out your love, setting it in scales and weighing it out against little blocks, one that says “improved character,” another that says “better self-understanding”? Or do you simply love her, without inhibition? Now suppose her name is The Humanities.
Conrad H. Roth: I do love someone romantically, and it is even a woman. However, if I spent my whole life—or even a large part of my life—stroking her lovely face, I might have reason to worry I was not spending my time as well as I should be.
Myself: Now suppose multitudes of people all over the globe love her, passionately, covetously, and these multitudes spend their whole lives stroking her face as well. This stroking, however reverent and gentle, has, through the constant attentive friction of countless fingertips, an unintended effect; A quantitative effect oblivious to the romantic clink of wine glasses and undiminished by concupiscent cooing.
The affectionate caress, when administered by a mob, feels decidedly more ardent.
Capillaries are broken, bruises formed, skin stripped, layer by layer, from her cheeks and forehead and chin. The Zygomaticus and Orbicularis oculi and Oribicularis oris are tenderized, breaking peptide bonds between amino acids and dissolving sinewy connections. Her lovely face breaks down. The fervent hands of the multitudes, with fingertips pressing into a slurry of scrap and cartilage, caress their way straight through the processes of autolysis, putrefaction, decay, and diagenesis until they are left, finally, pawing at a beautifully polished bone.
The image is adapted from a shot of Clown Skull by Vik Muniz, 1989.
Any resemblance to loved ones, living or institutional, is purely coincidental.