Thursday, July 24, 2008

Still unstill…

Consider how acute is the verbal contradiction when people assure, or, perhaps, justify, that they are 'still' doing this or that. The contradiction gets a pass because it is perfectly normal English grammar. Nonetheless, at its moral core, the present continuous frame of mind creates a profound cleft in the speaker's psyche. The moral, and poetic, connotation of still is stillness, placidity, constancy; by contrast, the poetic connotation of a present participle is flux, progress, incompletion. Thus, saying you are 'still Ving' is much like saying you are 'permanently unarrived', or 'perfectly incomplete', or 'maximally unsatisfied'. In one breath I say I am still, but in the next, I am unstill. Rank verbal recklessness. I both AM and AMing.

If I were a theologian, I would scour the Fathers and canons for indications in the Tradition that such talk is but the outpouring of man's hubris to BE like God, whilst BEing about too many idle pursuits. As Democritus said in Peace of Mind, "If you want to enjoy peace of mind, do not get involved in too many activities" (Diels-Kranz, Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, II 8.132). Or, as The Shepherd of Hermas adapted this maxim centuries later: "Abstain from many activities and thou wilt never go astray. For those who engage in many activities also make many mistakes, and drawn to their various activities they do not serve their [L]ord" (Hermae Pastor, Sim. IV.5).

Since I am not a theologian, only a mere scribbler, I will spare myself the erudite scouring and just say it: the careless misuse of 'still' is a measure of man's fallenness, and a subtle release valve for the pressure we endure in light of the crumbling inconstancy of our existence before HE WHO IS. At some level, perhaps, we feel that if our fleshly tongue can predicate at least the word 'still' of ourselves, then, at some level, our fleshy nature can actually enjoy it. Wrong. Still wrong.

A strong claim, I agree, and perhaps not something worth getting worked up about, you suggest. I suppose 'still' just rubbed me the wrong way today. Is it s necessary word? If not completely eradicable, is it a very useful word? Why not simply speak of current states of activity? Why inflate the appearance of constancy with a word that should be reserved for tranquility? Make 'still' implicit in the unchanging pattern of your life. Only by your actions, the sages pronounce, will your desires come forth. And only in the constant expansion of your desires will your actions bespeak any peace. Only in a constant stream of positive action will observers, in their reckless way, be inclined to say, "I see this is truly what he desires, for he is still doing it! This is someone that has found peace." As it stands, 'still' is just a verbal bromide we dispense to ourselves to assure us the welter of action in our life is rooted in a deeper, hidden, esoteric strength, which, if only it weren't for our inconstancy, the world would herald with trumpets.

I have claimed, or at least agreed with Fakespeare and St. Augustine for quite some time that 'need' is the most overused word in any language. Perhaps 'still' is not far behind. A need is simply an unimpeded desire. You only need what you desire and can actually get. I may need Miss O'Fallon's companionship to get by, but once she is dead or radically off limits, I can not need her anymore. Needing an unattainable is like having enough money for a non-existent product. How many of our needs are just desires we can't face are beyond us, or, what is worse for some, behind us?

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