Lev Tolstoy, by Repin. 1887
What has it? What brings it? What gives meaning to our existence in the here and now? The afterlife? Paradoxes aside, the search for meaning has meaning itself, above and beyond any cleverness in the equation. To express that meaning, however, has become problematic in our late date — our cynical, jaded, post-post-guileless world. Post-guileless in the sense that we no longer can stop self-referencing or self-consciousness enough to just be. Enough to let be be the finale of seem, to borrow a brilliant phrase from Wallace Stevens.
It’s hip to search for meaning without letting others really know. It’s hep to mock the attempt. It’s cool to stand above the silly masses striving to do the right thing … Believe, believe in what they do, accept that life really does have a purpose in the here and now, beyond the here and now!
Perhaps those who stand above find meaning in standing above, mocking. Perhaps those who judge them find meaning in their own accusations. And so on, layer upon layer, meta meta, world without end.
Does the work have meaning, the place and time? Does a painting on the wall have meaning outside that wall? A tree, a rock, a bird, a mountain? A roar in the jungle, gulls on the shore? Does it mean something to see a beautiful girl, up on the shoulders of her mate, singing along with the band on the stage, her arms forming a joyous V? The crowd going wild, the girl transfixed?
Sean Howard examines, in brilliant fashion, more than one kind of search for meaning, or process, or project in the wake of Lev Tolstoy. Because of Lev Tolstoy. Below.