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The Evanescence of Meaning

Meaning is a way-station on the journey from chaos to habit.  As a consequence it is a victim of its own success and inherently is subject to trickling away into unconsciousness.  Yesterday’s insight today becomes a cliche, tomorrow a fact, and by Thursday is an invisible part of our apparatus for making our way in the world.  If you want your life to have meaning you must therefore continually make it afresh; this being a requirement not of life but of meaning.

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9 thoughts on “The Evanescence of Meaning

  1. For some reason that makes me think of a dugong ruffling amongst the silt at the bottom, raising it in the air again in hope of something special amongst it.

  2. Mikey says:

    So by searching for meaning you find meaning and by finding meaning you kill the meaning. Yet each man kills the thing he loves, and that all seems to turn out alright for everyone.

  3. Jonathan says:

    Do all meaningful practices necessarily become unconscious habits? A practice can be habitual without being unconscious. I think there can be meaningful practices that are so difficult, complex, or totalizing that losing awareness of them is very difficult, if not impossible, without abandoning the practices. Think of one who feels a sense of gratitude at existence. Kierkegaard suggests gratitude is one of the major ways the knight of faith experiences life. The idea that one could be unconsciously grateful seems like a contradiction. Kierkegaard says something similar about the impossibility of a religious habit, as a way of critiquing Aristotle. One cannot be unthinkingly, or unconsciously, religious, according to his description of the religious stage, because this would entail being unthinking in one’s relating to God. A life of consistent gratitude would be both habitual and conscious, and it seems plausible to me.

    I read your book after picking it up on a whim at B&N, loved it, and have been checking in occasionally on your blog for the past couple of months. There were multiple points where I thought your work fits well with SK’s. I listened to your discussion on joy with the theologues and hope to have time to comment in a couple of days. On that note, have you read SK’s Christian Discourses? It starts out with a set of discussions on the cares of the pagans (where cares could be translated worries) and then moves to a set of discussions on joy. I am reading it now and have not yet made it to the second section. Some years ago I suggested to a grad school professor that I thought that SK’s entire project could be understood as how to pursue joy. I think this person knew SK’s analyses on despair, anxiety, etc., and did not take seriously the sermons and discourses, so my suggestion was questioned. I thought (and still think) that SK’s analysis of the negative aspects of existence points one towards an end goal of relating to God, and thereby oneself and others, in the right way, which produces joy. This book reinforces my feeling.

    • That is an excellent point about the relationship of joy and despair. SK is writing about how to avoid despair and therefore is writing about how to achieve joy. I agree with you also about meaning and habit, but constant gratitude towards God is a funny kind of attitude — it requires constantly being open to the new. So it’s a sort of meaning that constantly re-creates itself (imo).

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