For the last three or four months I have been intending on writing a series of articles on the Sublime, the Infinite, and a distinctly Christian aesthetic. I have been prevented from beginning this series by school and a deep fear that I will not do this subject the justice it is due. However, since I seem to be unable to devote the time that I deemed necessary to study the Sublime, I am simply going to explore the issue here and allow the articles (and the responses to them) to form a starting point for further studies. I must begin this series by citing wonderful conversations with my best friend Stephen as a foundation for my thoughts.
The Infinite as Ubiquitous and Fundamental
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even the to end.”
1 Corinthians 4:1
“Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of God and stewards of the mysteries of God.”
In every person, there is a passionate, piercing, and haunting desire for the infinite. The desire takes many forms but is evident in almost every endeavor of man. For some, it is articulated through a longing, for others it is hollowness. (This is Pascal’s “God shaped vacuum.”) Whatever form, this desire for the infinite reflects an innate knowledge in all humans that the world is fallen and something is terrible amiss.
An example from my friend will illustrate this point. When someone drives by a dead dog on the side of the road, they are always affected. Even the most callus person recognizes that this death is foreign to the world. There are a few people would attempt to embrace death, violence, and decay, but their embrace is always so self-consciously uncommon that they only exemplify a knowledge in us that death is somehow unnatural. If we truly were mere products of evolution, would we not all feel a union with death and its inevitability? We all recognize that death is not the way it ought to be. We all long for some world where death and suffering are as unnatural as them seem to be in our hearts.
A young man never longs to have sexual intercourse with a girl; he always longs to make indescribable and eternal love to the most beautiful woman imaginable. It is a desire forever stifled by reality and the muse of many addictions. He craves Guenevere, Eve, Aphrodite, Venus, a model, Gatsby’s Daisy, what is unattainable: both foreign to the earth and common to the heart. When he first sees a girl, he imagines a person with infinite wonder. Her mystery is endless and enrapturing. He sees in her a hint at infinity.
A child never desires to eat an ice cream cone; the taste that fills her imagination is always a sense that could never inhabit this earth.
A person never sees a beautiful sunset and believes that it will end and that it sets upon a broken and violent world.
Someone will object to my romantic ideas saying that there are many people who believe life to be a miserable existence. But I would suggest that even those whose intentions and thoughts seem to be focused upon the brutal, evil, and sad in life, do so with a passion that is equally infinite. In my own life, whenever I have become horrible depressed, it always takes the form of some eternally alienated feeling. I was never simply sad; my depression shook the very foundations of my world. This innate desire to obtain the infinite does not only manifest itself in beautiful or pleasant ways; occasionally, this desire turns upon itself and becomes a thirst for the epically dark.
Another person would argue that my examples only work in the cases of those people who posses a romantic sentiment. But this is not so. Even the most unromantic person longs for the infinite when he or she does the simplest things. For instance, when someone watches a commercial for a product that appeals to them, they reject all sense of reality, and they desire for all the claims of that commercial to be true. I am speaking of not only of the linguistically communicated claims, but more particularly the subtle, semiotic claims. A laundry detergent commercial states that it will make your clothes cleaner, fresher, and colorful, but it is the image of a beautiful women in a sundress hanging out clothes on a powerfully sunny day that speaks to the eternal in the hearts of all people. We see, at times, in these advertisements the manifestation of the ideal world that resides in our minds. Thus, the person comes to envision the laundry detergent to be a hint at that eternal. There are many other examples of the desire for the infinite within the unromantic person, but they all amount to the same principle: whenever we imagine or long for anything, it always touches in some manner upon an infinite ideal.
The two verses that I began this article with point to our obligation to the “mysteries of God” and the “eternal” in the hearts of all men. It is my conclusion that this desire for the eternal is a desire for heaven. I will be elaborating considerably on both these verses and how this idea of the infinite applies to art in the next few posts.