Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Exterior World, and the Interior

During the heat wave of the past 5 days, I had no motivation to do anything, and virtually no guilt about wasting away my time laying and doing nothing. Once I was laying on a blanket in front of a fan in front of the air conditioner, and Sadie said, "Are you sleeping?" "No," I said. "Are you reading?" "No," I said. "Are you just laying there?" "Yes," I said. All that mattered was getting past the heat wave; now we're past it, and it's time to start living life again. The only thing that interested me much at all was crossword puzzles.

In the history of ideas, perhaps we don't give enough attention to the exterior aspects of thinkers' lives (well, some people do, some people perhaps give too much attention to the exterior. Perhaps I should replace "we" with "I", but I think I'll leave the "we" because there are wider issues at stake). Sometimes we do--certainly it's hard to read John Keats' best poetry without realizing that he was fatally ill and expected to die young. How did his sickness affect his thinking, his poetry? There are scholars all over that, I think. Sometimes we don't. Now, every perspective of Martin Luther has been taken up by historians, so there are historians out there who have focused on his health issues. But for most people, the fact that Luther spent his later life constantly ill (likely because of total physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual exhaustion--though he was still pretty sharp and revising the Bible translation all the way through his life, so it's not like he totally broke down or anything) doesn't show up much in their thinking. Luther had every sort of painful illness you can think of--he once almost died from a kidney stone. So the fact that he was a prematurely old and bitter man lashing out at the world (in the form of papists, peasants, Jews, "fanatics," and anybody else who didn't see the world exactly as he did) makes some more sense. He was "A Great Man"...but he was a human being. When people talk about "A Great Man" being human, they usually refer to his mistakes and sins. In fact, being a human being meant Luther had flesh, blood, and bone, and that physical material was subject to the same decay as all flesh, blood, and bone. His physical nature had a strong impact on his spiritual-mental nature, I think.

I don't know where else I'm going with this right now, so I'll stop and let somebody else use this computer.

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