Sunday, 16 October 2011

J’ai l’éternité devant moi!

One of Lamartine's poems ventriloquises God:
Arrête, orgueilleuse pensée;
À la loi que je t’ai tracée
Tu pretends comparer ma loi?
Connais leur difference auguste:
Tu n’as qu’un jour pour être juste,
J’ai l’éternité devant moi! [Lamartine, “La Providence À l’Homme” (1819), Les Méditations Poétiques, 49-50]
Dangerous stuff, really: not from the point of view of run-of-the-mill impiety, but on the contrary insofar as it might tempt people into thinking through the implications of an immortal deity. How could a being, from the point of view of actual infinite existence, see the lives of transient mayfly beings like us as anything at all? I mean: anything at all -- is it even logically coherent to imagine that infinite can apprehend the finite in any sense? Mayflies live only a small fraction of our lifespans, but it is a meaningful fraction; mortality divided by infinity is nothing at all. We might want to say, indeed: only a god who dies (like Pan, or Christ) can have any relationship to mortal beings at all. To make the obvious leap from Lamartine to Elvis Costello, this (I think) is what 'God's Comic' is about:
I wish you'd known me when I was alive, I was
a funny feller
The crowd would hoot and holler for more
I wore a drunk's red nose for applause
Oh yes I was a comical priest
"With a joke for the flock and a hand up your
Drooling the drink and the lipstick and
Down the cardboard front of my dirty dog-collar

Now I'm dead, now I'm dead, now I'm dead,
now I'm dead, now I'm dead
And I'm going on to meet my reward
I was scared, I was scared, I was scared, I was
He might of never heard God's Comic

So there he was on a water-bed
Drinking a cola of a mystery brand
Reading an airport novelette, listening to
Andrew Lloyd-Webber's "Requiem"
He said, before it had really begun, "I prefer
the one about my son"
"I've been wading through all this unbelievable
junk and wondering if I should have given
the world to the monkeys"


I'm going to take a little trip down Paradise's
endless shores
They say that travel broadens the mind, till you
can't get your head out of doors

I'm sitting here on the top of the world
I hang around in the longest night
Until each beast has gone bed and then I say
"God bless" and turn out the light
While you lie in the dark, afraid to breathe and
you beg and you promise
And you bargain and you plead
Sometimes you confuse me with Santa Claus
It's the big white beard I suppose
I'm going up to the pole, where you folks die of cold
I might be gone for a while if you need me

Now I'm dead, now I'm dead, now I'm dead,
now I'm dead, now I'm dead and you're all
going on to meet your reward

Are you scared? Are you scared? Are you scared?
Are you scared?
You might have never heard, but God's comic

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