Loneliness: Power and Love

29. Unknown Artist, LOC - Country Courtship, mid 19th Century
Country Courtship, Library of Congress

 

“Of all creatures, only man is capable of loneliness because only he is in need of not being alone, without being able in the end to escape being alone. It is that striving to escape his loneliness which gives the impetus to both the lust for power and the longing for love, and it is the inability to escape that loneliness, either at all or for more than a moment, that creates the tension between longing and lack of achievement, which is the tragedy of both power and love.

In that existential loneliness man’s insufficiency manifests itself. He cannot fulfill himself, he cannot become what he is destined to be, by his own effort, in isolation from other beings. The awareness of that insufficiency drives him on in search of love and power. It drives him on to seek the extension of his self in offspring—the work of his body; in the manufacture of material things—the work of his hands; in philosophy and scholarship—the work of his mind; in art and literature—the work of his imagination; in religion—the work of his pure longing toward transcendence.” Hans Morgenthau

READ MORGENTHAU’S great essay Love and Power at COMMENTARY MAGAZINE

“There is no such thing, at this date of the world’s history, in America, as an independent press. You know it and I know it.” John Swinton 1880

The paper and some smokes. Library of Congress
The paper and some smokes. Library of Congress

“One night, probably in 1880, John Swinton, then the preeminent New York journalist, was the guest of honour at a banquet given him by the leaders of his craft. Someone who knew neither the press nor Swinton offered a toast to the independent press. Swinton outraged his colleagues by replying:

‘There is no such thing, at this date of the world’s history, in America, as an independent press. You know it and I know it.

‘There is not one of you who dares to write your honest opinions, and if you did, you know beforehand that it would never appear in print. I am paid weekly for keeping my honest opinion out of the paper I am connected with. Others of you are paid similar salaries for similar things, and any of you who would be so foolish as to write honest opinions would be out on the streets looking for another job. If I allowed my honest opinions to appear in one issue of my paper, before twenty four hours my occupation would be gone.

Newsboy in Camp 1863. Library of Congress
Newsboy in Camp 1863. Library of Congress

‘The business of the journalists is to destroy the truth, to lie outright, to pervert, to vilify, to fawn at the feet of mammon, and to sell his country and his race for his daily bread. You know it and I know it, and what folly is this toasting an independent press?

‘We are the tools and vassals of rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks, they pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes.”
(Source: Labor’s Untold Story, by Richard O. Boyer and Herbert M. Morais, published by United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America, NY, 1955/1979.)

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“I had motive for not wanting the world to have a meaning; consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in pure metaphysics, he is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do, or why his friends should not seize political power and govern in the way that they find most advantageous to themselves. … For myself, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation, sexual and political.” Aldous Huxley

Death in Brooklyn

SpencerTraskAtYaddo4MSo here’s how prominent Wall Street financier Spencer Trask and his wife Katrina  lost their children: Alanson, their first son died in Brooklyn at the age of five of meningitis where first come the fevers,  then the chills and mental changes. Five years is a pretty long time to get used to someone and really grow to love them.

Spencer brought his artistic wife to Saratoga Springs in hopes of starting afresh. The couple had a daughter Christina who named their new home Yaddo and for the next few years they fixed the place up and then had another son, Spencer Jr.

220px-Katrina_Trask00Katrina caught diphtheria. Skin turns blue, coughing and drooling ensue, breathing becomes labored and bloody-watery drainage pours forth from the nose. Christina and Spencer Jr. were brought in to say their goodbyes to mommy, but mommy recovered only after giving the disease to both of her children who died a few days later.

How does one recover from this? Can someone tell me? I suppose suicide is too easy an escape. The Trasks had generous spirits, but I fear I’d have no spirit left at all.

Spencer  financed other people’s dreams. In an era of low and dirty business practices it seems Spencer was more interested in the arts and immortalizing his wife in great works of stained glass. How did he handle the constant fragmenting of his little family?

Katrina created poetry and novels forgotten today as is the very existence of children who hadn’t had time to leave much of a mark on the world. She had created them, too. She was the consummate nurturer who couldn’t protect her own children. She spoke to the spirit world and it told her to give everything to artists.

And so after the final death of a newborn son the Trasks decided that all that they had must belong to the world. Everything slips so easily through the fingers like the shadows of children lounging at your feet or playing in the yard. Roses succumb as do people to disease brought by the touches of invisible winds. Poetry is spoken between husband and wife and then one stormy night Spencer, the builder of dreams is beckoned to the city, his train crashes as he’s shaving and he slits his own throat with the razor.

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Mansions for artists, children for couples, trains for rushing onward in a life that rarely lets you enjoy anything for too long–but do enjoy it. The children getting too close on a sticky day, the spouse who in all of the little ways builds a life with you despite your utter lack of gratitude for the fact that your spouse is still among the living. Most creations are never  immortalized in a great museum, but only in the collective whisper of all creation that reminds us when shadows pass over the foliage that life can be fleetingly lovely and terribly, tragically short.