Crooked Finger (crookedfingers) wrote,
Crooked Finger
crookedfingers

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the atomic Armageddon

"Dr. Faustus-is he damned or is he saved? Who would not suspect that the question has been emptied of meaning? Can we, from within our secular sensibilities, make sense of these words at all? Are they more than sonorous echoes from outlived theological solemnities, vibrating with a vague promise or a not so vague intimidation? Where there is now talk of hell-fire, what comes to mind with banal inevitability-for the gods strike those whom they wish to destroy with the sense of the occasions's banality-is, of course, not an eternity of the soul's torment but that thing to end all things, the stale, murderous, unthinkable, unspeakable, banal thing, the Bomb, which, whether or not it will do its work, has done its work already: its very existence frustrates the spirit, its very contemplation corrupts the mind. Indeed, the Bomb does readily comes to mind-yet, alas, not quite so readily that which has made it possible: the wings of the eagle that Dr. Faustus took upon himself in order to search out the uttermost parts of heaven and earth, and the innermost parts of life and matter, and to bring them within the reach of man's ever-blundering power, untutored helplessness, and mortal folly. Man, a creature that, upon the irrefutable evidence of his history, cannot control himself, in control of all life on earth: the Faustian Leonardo da Vinci had an inkling of this scientific Hell when he feared to make known his discovery of how to stay under water for long stretches of time, and decided to keep it to himself because men would only use it for making machines with which to carry their wicked designs into the seas.

Yet such timely reflections are still no answer to our question: Is the alternative of salvation or damnation still meaningful? Indeed, the atomic Armageddon would not bring home-home?-the ancient meaning of damnation. It would be, on the contrary, the consummation of absolute meaninglessness-of a meaninglessness which may have acquired demonic properties on its journey from the laboratories of science to the arsenals of power; but if so, then this demonic acquisition could not affect the proud theological meaninglessness of the scientific "truths" in whose pursuit the demons were begotten. For Dr. Faustus, once bitten, soon discovered means with which to overcome any theological shyness: in the war between Heaven and Hell he declared himself a neutral and claimed that the works of his mind were supremely irrelevant to the theological status and destiny of man's soul. He became the "objective observer" of creation and finally of himself. But the genius of invention that possessed him played him a trick. In the long run he willynilly became the inventor of a new kind of Hell: of the dull inferno of a world without meaning for the soul, a world ruthlessly examined by the detached mind and confusedly suffered by the useless passions. If once Dr. Faustus had sold his soul to the Devil for the promise of success in his search for Truth, he now tried to annul the bargain by turning scientist and insisting that in his role as a searcher for Truth he had no soul. Yet the Devil was not to be cheated. When the hour come, he proved that this search, conducted behind the back of the soul, had led to a Truth that was Hell." pg. 16-18 Erich Heller essay Faust's Damnation
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