“The philosophers have interpreted the world. The point is to change it.” -Karl Marx
“This whole act’s immutably decreed. ’Twas rehearsed by thee and me a billion years before this ocean rolled.” -Captain Ahab
I really need to dissect and compare these quotes, because they’re the crux of so much seriously meaningful shit that needs to be dragged free from the vaults of darkness into the light of conscious apprehension.
Marx goes first.
“The philosophers have interpreted the world. The point is to change it.”
There are two useful ways to interpret this.
The first way is essentially the main spiritual proposition of all left politics, that a better world is possible, and all thoughts which do not challenge power are complicit in the injustices of current structures of power.
This is a wildly powerful but insanely dangerous argument. At best, it will inspire heroic change in the Earth. At worst, it will create ideological drones of bad conscience who hate the world and scream against all that it is, ignoring the possibility that the world is only a macrocosm of the disorder of the individual soul.
The second way of interpreting it is that Marx is compelling us not to merely think, but to live out what we think in the world. We all live out our beliefs unconsciously, so the goal of thinking and articulating what we believe is so that we can begin to implement our thinking in the world consciously and become responsible for our own lives, and eventually become the best possible version of our best thoughts.
I love this quote for those reasons. It’s so damn world-defining. It’s so important.
Melville is more dour. Melville, the stoic, the mystic, the Platonist, sperm whale and right whale in one, is a monolith through which all ambitions of change are crushed and swirled into the great Pacific Ocean.
“This whole act’s immutably decreed. ’Twas rehearsed by thee and me a billion years before this ocean rolled.”
Fatalism is the greatest danger of spiritual thinking. Infinite deference to the cosmic order, or God’s will, results in utter immobility. It is a serious problem and it is crippling to the intellect and soul alike. Any student of the Western canon seems to emerge either a kind of fatalist or a peculiar and ever-shifting motion blur, but a motion blur with a purpose.
All spiritual thinking, when truly honest with itself, ends in paradox, or contradiction. There are simply no concrete answers. The person who sees this and understands it often becomes burnt by the realization, and becomes a fatalist with no faith in human action or human hands.
The image of the world’s soul is a flat circle, a spiral, a karmic wheel, an oscillating motion that loops back into where it first started. All these images, from Nietzsche, Hegel, Buddha and Jung, are the same essential thing. The type of person you are is immortal. Your kind have existed before, and will exist again. You are complicit in the outcomes of history and can claim no ledge away from it all. You were not born today into this place that is so cruel. You, your soul, whatever you are, is the same damn place that the world has come from. This is why symbolic and mathematical order exists, for God’s sake! The self is a microcosm of the entire world. That metaphysical conceit I will always believe. I have believed it forever. I will believe it forever.
It is the premise of the redemptive, transcendent and heroic story, that the salvation of the individual, in a true sense, is the salvation of the entire world. The triumph of one person over the demons is the triumph of all. This is what I believe. This is what my book, The New Symphony, is about.
I have given you some things to consider. That is all, in the end, that writing can do. But I was born a writer. I can do nothing else. I wasn’t born a great fighter, or a charismatic activist. I am this, and I cannot change who I am.
It is the only work I can do on this Earth. And that’s that.