Marcel on Opacity

‘I am not watching a show’–I will repeat these words to myself every day.  A fundamental spiritual fact.   I found in myself a kind of resistance upon first reading these lines (Gabriel Marcel’s from Being and Having, quoted by Jolley).  Some inner voice countered with Emerson’s line: Let us treat the men and women well: treat them as if they were real: perhaps they are.  What I have been most grateful to Emerson for over the years is his acknowledgment of how the universe seems to collude with our own worst tendencies: showing us the truth of skepticism, affirming for us that we are the most real beings.  Emerson goes on, Men live in their fancy, like drunkards whose hands are too soft and tremulous for successful labor.  It is a tempest of fancies, and the only ballast I know, is a respect to the present hour.  Without any shadow of doubt, amidst this vertigo of shows and politics, I settle myself ever the firmer in the creed, that we should not postpone and refer and wish, but do broad justice where we are, by whomsoever we deal with, accepting our actual companions and circumstances, however humble or odious, as the mystic officials to whom the universe has delegated its whole pleasure for us.  Here the resources for addressing skepticism’s seductions have to be found from within the thick cloud of them: solipsistic fantasy has to overreach itself in the fantasy of real others–those “mystic officials”).  How strange that even though Marcel is all but explicit, This is difficult (else why the need to repeat these words every day?), my thought was, “He makes it sound given!  He makes it sound easy!”  I’ve always associated Marcel’s thought with Buber’s (and Buber, I think, does in spite of himself make it sound given, and easier than it is), but I’ve not read the man himself.  Here, now, just a few pages into Etre et Avoir I discover an extraordinary meditation on the concept of existence as always already tied up in my experience of embodiment.  He writes “Every existent is thought of like an obstacle by which we take our bearings–like something we could collide with in certain circumstances–resistant, impenetrable.  We think of this impenetrability, no doubt, but we think of it as not completely thinkable.”  And with that he’s won my allegiance.  Impenetraibility is at once what we require of the world as a proof of its reality, and what we hold against it as the sign of its unreality: The world’s opacity testifies to its actuality; yet how could we extend actuality to something we can’t see into, through, and beyond?  All of this is to say: Marcel gets it!  And, of course, I’ll have to keep reading.


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