And Now For Something Completely Different

If I was a book in a library, then I'd finally be free

The Ones Who Stayed and the Ones Who Went

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Omelas, as it exists with the suffering child, is utopia from the perspective of the false mother of 1 Kings 3:16-28.

The one who walk away from Omelas pretend to give up on Utopia as an index of the importance of that for the sake of which they left (hint hint: their own True Selves (an update to Hegel’s ‘Beautiful Soul’). They do not really give up on utopia though. Their counter- or anti-belief is their very bad faith in that society. Those who would really give up on Omelas, on Utopia, are those who stay to free the child or otherwise ameliorate the situation. They are, to paraphrase Zizek, the atheists who can truly believe. That is to say, call the bluff of the only law in this society: that it all goes away when that child is freed. (Begin to think here of ‘the child-like empress’ of The Neverending Story as a prisoner of fantasia.) The Law says exactly what will happen, so why not take it at its word? You want to let go of Utopia, but are still stuck on the idea? Then stay and engage it — watch it go away; watch it go no where.

The ones who walk away from Omelas have a bad faith in the Law, like the false mother had a bad faith in the Law qua Solomon’s judgement. Perhaps Joshu, walking out on Nansen with his sandals on his head, is one of ones who walk away from Omelas? The monks were scared shitless of Nansen, not because he was going to cut into the cat, but into their True Selves. Joshu would have turned Nansen’s sword on him and saved the cat, but he couldn’t because Nansen already killed it, sanctifying it in the process. Nansen’s mistake — that he kills the cat as a means for destroying the monks’ clinging (to their own True Selves) — is the false mother’s mistake too. Is Joshu critiquing Nansen’s bad faith, or merely repeating it? The suggestion that Joshu would take Nansen’s sword and enforce the same edict suggests that Joshu is repeating Nansen. Is this a case where an action is only fully realized when it fails and is repeated, where truth is attained through a misrecognition?

Did he really threaten their True Selves? If we take Omelas as a kind of True Self or Beautiful Soul, and the suffering of the child as a fundamental condition of the Beautiful Soul, letting the child in its suffering remain means letting the Beautiful Soul remain. In other words, without the child in its state of suffering, the Beautiful Souls become guilty – they lose their innocence.

This happens to the little girl in William Blake’s The Book of Thel. She is aware of the decay and transience inherent to her paradise, which in a Buddhist view is to say she is aware of dukkha or unsatisfactoriness in paradise. She makes to leave the paradise, but is confronted the sound of what I believe is her own voice and the Worm’s voice, and they are not-two. She is one of those children who flees back into Omelas in tears at the site of the suffering child, though ultimately to confirm their dwelling in Omelas and the suffering of the child. Is this what Nietzsche meant by affirming life?

Those who leave Omelas, or think they do, are to it as the little girl is to the Worm. She essentializes it as a weakling and inferior. Those who leave Omelas are reactionaries not revolutionaries. They are more libertarian than anarchist. The anarchist (i.e. the mature socialist revolutionary) throws away or at least lets go of it utopia for the sake of the child, against the usual drooz of how socialists want to sub-ordinate the individual to the collective. One for All and All for One.

The ones who walk away from Omelas give up on Omelas as the false mother gives up on the child, treating him like a piece of property that can be divided to resolve the conflict. It is still a place on a war-map, the place they left in rebellion, ever solidifying their resolve with every step they take going away from IT. Like Badiou said, we need a peace that is beyond the war and not merely it’s lazy hand. We need Omelasians more than Omelas.

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Written by Joe

June 15, 2009 at 11:22 pm

Posted in Lit Crit, Politics, Practice

One Response

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  1. So what’s a Buddhist to do?

    Ted Bagley

    June 16, 2009 at 6:48 am


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