Life Lessons I Learned From My Characters: Catullus

Life Lessons I Learned From My Characters: Catullus June 15, 2016

catullus black and white

This is the third part in my “Things I Learned From My Characters” series. Catullus is an artist. He’s openly gay, and a closet Catholic. These are his opinions. I should make it clear, for those of you who think that it would be fun, that if you leave comments for my characters they will in fact answer them and dialogue as themselves. Check out the wisdom that Juvenal and Germanicus have to offer if you haven’t already.

All Philosophies Are Inherently Self-Contradictory. And That’s Okay – If you have not yet found the internal contradictions in your beliefs, you have not sufficiently examined them. There is a good reason for this: no system of truth can ever be perfect. It’s rather like – have you heard this? There is a tradition, I believe it’s among the Mennonites but it could be the Amish or some other group. Some kind of wholesome, porridge eating people who wear hats. And also make quilts. The story is that when they make a quilt, or a table, or some other thing, they deliberately introduce into it a small imperfection of some kind. A slipped stitch, or a missing dovetail, or something not especially noticeable. This is to remind themselves that all the works of men are necessarily imperfect, “Vanity of vanities. All is vanity, and chasing of the wind.” Especially all philosophy. Chasing of the wind. Which is why these imperfections, these circularities, these contradictions, these lacunae, are necessary to the entire project of truth. They are God’s way of rebuking our impertinence in looking upon the inscrutable marvels of heaven and earth and saying, “I bet with my net I can get those things yet.”

There’s No Point in Having a Standard if You Can Meet It – People are always going on about hypocrisy. By it, they usually mean that a person has a very high standard which they, themselves, are unable to uphold. Which is alright. But it’s not necessarily hypocrisy. If a person has a very high standard for other people which they do not themselves adhere to, this is hypocrisy. If a person has a very high standard for her or himself, and they talk about their standard, and evaluate things according to their standard, and also they readily admit that their standard is very difficult to attain and they themselves are working on it that is not hypocrisy. That is called being a human being with standards. If your standards are so pathetically low that you are actually able to meet them, you might as well just not have any standards at all. I mean, they’re not worth calling by that name. All you really mean by having such standards is “I am perfectly just as I am, but I reserve the right to look snootily on other people who are not perfect like me.” Dear God, defend us from such perfection. No, any standard that is even remotely worth holding must be unattainable. Otherwise we might arrive at the ghastly condition of sitting down at our own lotus feet, paralyzed by worshipful contemplation of ourselves.

All Roads Lead to Hell – I mean this in the most hopeful of all possible ways. I’m just going to assume that aesthetic arguments can be taken seriously – if you’re one of these people who thinks that the ideal life is one lived in a state of perpetual equilibrium, without plot, or drama, or soul, then you can go and read Germanicus’ maxims and I’m sure you will be very happy with them. For my part, I think that a life must be a masterpiece. It must have substance, and meaning, and it has to imitate the hero’s journey, or the life of Christ, or the Odyssey. It must, in short, have a mythic structure. And here’s the thing, if you look at the great stories, where do they go? Generally, to hell. It can be literal, as in the harrowing of hell in the Christian story or the descent of Orpheus into the underworld. Or it can be figurative: a symbolic death, a tragedy, a moment of intense and insurmountable suffering, and then…resurrection. There is no other way. What this means, in practice, is that intense suffering is not evidence that you are on the wrong path – and the fact that others have suffered on a particular path ahead of you is not evidence that you ought not to embark. Rather, you have to look beyond the suffering: does this path lead to redemption on the other side of the void, or will it make of your life a horror story, or a dreary existentialist play.

Patience is a virtue best served cold – I have no idea what I mean by this. I just like the sound of it.

There is Nothing Especially Wrong With Being Superficial, But For Love’s Sake Do Not Be Superficially Profound – This is condemnation of Andy Warhol, not of Hallmark. Hallmark has no pretensions at all. It offers very simple sentiments that are wise in some contexts, bollocks in others, and always direct in their simplicity. When you look at a Hallmark card you know immediately whether it speaks to you at this moment, whether it has situational veracity, or whether it is a pile of crap that you loathe with your entire being. Or I suppose you could just feel indifferent, but saying “meh” is so very, very trite at the moment and in any case having dull reactions to life is dull. If you can’t work up any genuine loathing for the sentiment “Dance like nobody is watching,” you should at least be able to feel authentically irritated that you never see anybody who has this poster hanging on their wall walk past, read it, and spontaneously break out in a foxtrot. When you look at a Warhol, on the other hand, what you feel is confusion. Does it mean something? Is it deep? Should I pretend that it’s deep? Ha ha ha ha ha. Oh yes, I love it! (Because otherwise people will think poorly of me.) Or I hate it! (Because the art world will shrivel and die on contact with the banal.) I’m reacting! I’m reacting! Honest, I am. For pete’s sake, people. It’s a picture of a can of soup. You see this every day in the grocery store and have no emotional, aesthetic or intellectual response whatsoever. The only reaction that it should provoke is, “Hmmm, I think perhaps I would like a bowl of soup.”

Find out more about the Kirkman boys in Eros & Thanatos

Image: My own, with some help from Pixabay
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