restricted access 7. The “Eternal Mystery of Our Being”
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C H A P T E R 7 The “Eternal Mystery of Our Being” The Confusion of the “I” “Behind the word ‘I’ today there is a great confusion, and yet it is of prime interest to understand what my subject is. In fact, my subject is at the center, at the root of every action of mine (thought is an action, too). Action is the dynamic with which I enter into relationship with any person or thing. If I neglect my own ‘I,’ it is impossible for relationships with life to be mine, for life itself (the sky, my spouse, my friend, music) to be mine . . . : by now the very word ‘I’ evokes for the great majority of people something confused and drifting, a term used for convenience with a purely indicative value (like ‘bottle’ or ‘glass’). But behind the little word there no longer vibrates anything that powerfully and clearly indicates what type of concept and sentiment a person has of the value of his or her own self. For this reason it can be said that we live in times in which a civilization seems to be 87 ending: in fact, a civilization is evolved in the degree to which it promotes the emergence and clarification of the value of the individual self. We are in an age that promotes, instead, a great confusion about the contents of the word ‘I.’”1 This confusion is described—to give an example among many— in the following passage from Philip Roth’s novel, The Counterlife: All I can tell you with certainty is that I, for one, have no self, and that I am unwilling or unable to perpetrate upon myself the joke of a self. It certainly does strike me as a joke about my self. What I have instead is a variety of impersonations I can do, and not only of myself—a troupe of players that I have internalized, a permanent company of actors that I can call upon when a self is required, an ever-evolving stock of pieces and parts that forms my repertoire. But I certainly have no self independent of my imposturing, artistic efforts to have one. Nor would I want one. I am a theatre and nothing more than a theatre.2 An experience that does not respond to this widespread mentality , even if we attend a great number of meetings and take part in many initiatives, is defeated! Today we are witnessing the eclipse of humanity, as Abraham Heschel says: “The inability to sense our spiritual relevance . . . is itself a dreadful punishment,”3 one that we suffer every day. Why has this happened? The first observation at the beginning of every serious inquiry about the makeup of one’s own subject is that the confusion that dominates today behind the fragile mask (almost a flatus vocis) of our “I” comes in part from an influence external to our person. It is important to keep clearly in mind the decisive influence on us of what the Gospel calls ‘the world,’ and that shows itself to be the enemy of the stable, dignified, and consistent formation of a human personality.There is a very strong pressure by the world that surrounds us (through the mass 88 An Event of Rebirth media, or school and politics) that influences and ends up hampering—as a prejudice—any attempt to become aware of one’s own “I.”4 What is this external influence, this “world”? It is what Pasolini called power, which does not remain outside us (as Bernanos said of the dominant opinion: “Before power, energies wear down, characters become impoverished, sincerities lose their clarity”),5 but on the contrary , penetrates us so deeply that we become strangers to ourselves. Would that it were only an external persecution, and that our selfawareness remained intact! This is how power goes to work on the self: “The common mentality , created by the mass media and the whole network of instruments held by power—which it strengthens constantly, so much so that John Paul II had cause to say that the danger of our era is the abolition of man by power—alters the sense of self, the sentiment of self, or, more precisely, atrophies the religious sense, atrophies the heart, or, better, totally anesthetizes it (an anesthesia that can become a coma, but is anesthesia).”6 The sign of this alteration of the sense of self, of this extraneousness from ourselves, is the consequent reading we...