Friday, September 28, 2007

A Fertile Absence

Now and again I have been turning to the writings of Evagrius of Pontus who lived in the fourth century. He is credited for having collected or articulated the Eight Deadly Thoughts (long before the Seven Deadly Sins took prominence). I was intrigued by the opening lines for the first two "thoughts" Gluttony and Fornication.
He begins on Gluttony,

Abstinence is the origin of fruitfulness, the blossom and beginning of the practical life.

Then on Fornication he begins,
Abstinence gives birth to chastity.

These statements struck me first as counter-intuitive (at least to most contemporary sensibilities) and second as having a certain ontological importance. There are means and resources which the individual and social can draw on that are not easily perceptible. We show great admiration for those who can live a life of voluntary poverty but do not embrace the underlying ontology that informs it. The word "abstinence" in our vernacular evokes images barrenness, repression and sterility. It should be re-endowed with the fecundity that is latent in it.
In his treatise against "boredom" Kierkegaard writes of the principle of "limitation" as "the only saving principle in the world". In offering a variety of examples he comes clearly to the maxim that "the more you limit yourself, the more fertile you become in invention." We equate fertility with its "fruit" its end product and not so much its actuality which is ironically its potentiality, its ready absence.
This feeds into my overall thoughts on aesthetics as the sensing of possibility and the allowing of its birth and also the role that absence (often articulated as the sacred) plays in conception. This is of course part of a monastic culture only tangentially observable in our culture but worth greater consideration.

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