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Philosophy - Part 24 - Deeper into the Sunset Limited
Philosophy - Part 24 -
Deeper into the Sunset Limited - by P.K.Odendaal - October 2012.
Somehow this story haunts me often, and although I have
spent much time on it here on the blog, it comes up again and again as a
general life crisis for many people, although not for me personally. I know
their position and their plight quite well, as I almost tripped in front of
that train many years ago. Although we have gone much deeper than a superficial
treatment of the disease, we have not explored its depths satisfactorily.
What is concept of the The Sunset Limited? It is the
pinnacle of a life of self-destruction, ending sadly with an inevitable
nihilistic act - in this case jumping in front of a train to commit suicide. It
is clear from the story that White has no other viable option. If we listen to
him carefully, we can clearly hear the words of Nietzsche in the background of
But what is more tragic, is Black's inability to touch his
heart. Black has the basic answers, but cannot seem to connect with White,
probably due to his lack of insight into the world of White and into the
dynamics of conversations.
And that brings us to the basic, mundane and complex
activity of conversations. It is something we do every day, and which we mess
up every day, not being conscious of the emotional and intellectual dynamics
between us and our conversation partner. It is also the activity that leaves
scars in our psyche and that of our partner, because it is fraught with
misunderstanding, ambiguity, competition, false emotions and many more.
We start at a basic simple conversation level, and move on
to more profound issues, which we normally miss, not having progressed well in
the conversation from superficiality to profoundness. Only once they can touch
each other's hearts can we say that it was a meaningful conversation or
At any conversation between two physical people, there are
six persons present: two persons in terms of what they think of themselves, two
persons in terms of what they think of each other, and the two persons in terms
of who or what they really are. The whole object of this game is to keep
yourself protected under your false personality which covers anything, as a
smokescreen, from your fears to your prides to your scars. And that is why all
conversations begin with the weather. It is an impersonal subject that
everybody knows something of, and no controversy or friction can originate from
this preamble ... well, most of the time. It is so totally superficial, and
should the conversation be ended here it would be totally unsatisfactorily, but
void of conflict.
After this preamble, some people, like myself, will jump
into the deep end of the conversation and emerge minutes later in a semi
drowned condition, and that will end the conversation immediately and abruptly,
with antagonism and resistance felt from both sides. Why? Because each one was
waiting and longing for a love stroke in the form of a compliment. Compliments
start off superficial, like in: I like your tie ... but just make sure before
you say it that the other person is really wearing a tie. It is now time for
him to deliver a compliment or a bon viveur. Somehow the formality and tension
of the conversation must be broken, and many ploys are successful here.
Thereafter you can plaster the compliments on real thick, if that helps,
especially in the presence of monarchy and their progeny. There is nobody more
in need of flattery than monarchy. With them it does not have to be disguised
even, but in normal conversation it is best to disguise flattery with all sorts
of veils. You can read more on this subject from the excellent books by Eric
Berne: 'Games people play' - and 'I'm OK, you're OK'.
We can already see from this that White and Black never even
got to this part of the conversation. They remained in the part called: You are
good, but I am better - a game we all play and in which each party defends its
home ground, however frail and idiosyncratic that may be. There is no progress
in this type of conversation.
In contrast I wish to quote an anonymous saying which I
believe in, although I do not practise it: 'I am not going to shame and blame,
but I am going to take risks and expose my vulnerability to really connect with
people'. That is the crux. We cannot progress in such a conversation if we do
not expose our own vulnerability by exposing our real selves. After all, we are
all humans - frail and unsure of ourselves, insecure and full of doubt,
prejudiced and stereotyped, bored and worthless, uncomfortable with ourselves -
and so is the person we are conversing with.
If we look closely at the text, that is all White is looking
for and hoping for - a word from Black that can make him feel important and
worth something. He tarries and it happens twenty times that he threatens to leave
- and commit suicide, but then opts to stay, just in case there might be such a
word forthcoming from Black - but it never comes. Each time Black comes up with
a reason and argument that White should choose life, then White threatens to
The piece is too deep and profound to discuss in a few short
articles. If I wish to address this properly, I should write twenty articles
just on the Sunset limited alone. Maybe I should, because it contains all the
arguments and counter-arguments for death and life. However, I will leave that
for another day.
I will however conclude with two serious arguments stated
towards the end of this dialogue. The one is about the intensity of the
argument to kill yourself, and the other about the fact that you have no
choice. And these two are the crux of the argument which we will conclude with.
The first one is about the reasons for suicide - and I
speak for others (he means for the 'low down' people that commit suicide, not
from an understanding of the reasons they do it, but as a last way out, and
they commit suicide by hanging themselves with a necktie from the steam pipes
of their apartment buildings.) My own reasons centre around gradual loss of
make-believe. That's all. A gradual enlightenment as to the nature of reality.
Of the world.
them reasons that your brother don't know nothin about hangin by his necktie
from the steam pipe down in the basement. He got his own dumb-ass reasons, but
maybe if we could educate him to where some of them more elegant reasons was
available to him and his buddies, then they'd be a lot of folks out there could
off themselves with more joy in their hearts.
Absurd to the power on n. The argument here is that the more
learned you are, the better reasons you have for committing suicide and
therefore you would commit suicide with more conviction and happiness. This is
true once you get to the point where you doubt everything and therefore rationalise
to prove your legitimacy to kill yourself.
The second is the argument of the existentialists - from
Buddha to Kafka. Their argument is that the whole of life is suffering and that
death is the only way out of this. Here is the test:
It's that the world is basically a forced labour camp from which the workers -
perfectly innocent - are led forth by lottery, a few each day, to be executed.
I don't think that this is just the way I see it. I think it's the way it is.
Are there alternate views? Of course. Will any of them stand close scrutiny?
aint nothin to be done about it?
efforts that people undertake to improve the world invariably makes it worse. I
used to think that there were exceptions. I don't think that now.
one thing I won't give up on is giving up. I expect that to carry me through.
I'm depending on it. The things I believed in were very frail.. As I said. they
won't be around for long and neither will I. But I don't think that's really
the reason for my decision. I think it goes deeper. You can acclimate yourself
to loss. You have to ...
give up the world line by line. Stoically. And then one day you realise that
your courage is farcical. It doesn't mean anything. You've become an accomplice
in your own annihilation (nihilism) and there is nothing you can do about it.
Everything you do closes a door somewhere ahead of you. And finally there is
only one door left.
... later ...
Maybe you're right. Well, here's my views, Reverend. I yearn for the darkness.
I pray for death. Real death. If I thought that in death I would meet the
people I've known in life I don't know what I'd do. That would be the ultimate horror.
The ultimate despair. If I had to meet my mother again and start all of that
over, only this time without the prospect of death to look forward to? Well.
That would be the final nightmare. Kafka on wheels (The reference here
is to Franz Kafka, known as an existentialist, and by Kafka on wheels is meant
the ultimate existentialism)
You don't want to see your own mama?
White:No. I don't.
I told you this would upset you. I want the dead to be dead. Forever. And I
want to be one of them. Except that of course you can't be one of the dead,
because what has no existence have no community. My heart warms just thinking
about it. Silence. Blackness. Aloneness. peace. And all of it only a heartbeat
Let me finish. I don't regard my state
of mind as some pessimistic view of the world. I regard it as the world itself.
Evolution cannot avoid bringing intelligent life ultimately to an awareness of
one thing above all else and that one thing is futility.
people saw the world for what it truly is. saw their lives for what they truly
are. Without dreams or illusions. I don't believe they could offer the first
reason why they should not elect to die as soon as possible.
believe in God. Can you understand that? Look around you man. Can't you see?
The clamour and din of those in torment has to be the sound most pleasing to
his ear. And I loathe these discussions. The argument of the village atheist
whose single passion is to revile endlessly that which he denies the existence
of in the first place. Your fellowship is a fellowship of pain and nothing
Show me a religion that prepares one for
death. For nothingness. There's a church I might enter. Yours prepares one only
for more life. For dreams and illusions and lies. If you could banish the fear
of death from men's hearts they wouldn't live a day.
What a brilliant argument of the intellectuals. McCarthy has
said this so simply and forcefully. I could not have done it better. And still it is all lies. Lies they cling to. The insinuation here, which is true, is that the more you know, the easier it would be to commit suicide.
Give me life. Give it to me intermingled with sorrow and
pain and fear. With doubt and hope and courage. Anytime and every time.