And They Shall Have No Memorial

Good Works will get us remembered, and anonymous good works may leave an unsung but very real legacy, proving that we did not live entirely in vain. And yet in the long run, all this will one day be as nothing, will be one with Nineveh and Tyre.

Suppose there was once a good man in ancient Babylon, who went round helping poor people; well, then, his beneficiaries are now nearly three thousand years dead, and in the same place as the poor people of Memphis, say, whom this benefactor did not visit.

The same applies to great works of art. How many ancient paintings, and vases, and poems have been destroyed before reaching our own time; and of those that did reach our own time, how many will fail to reach someone else’s time? All those that knew the works of art and loved them, are now dead or will some day be dead, whereupon that appreciation will no longer have any place in the universe in which to reside. Were we to grow so powerful as a species that we could sculpt the Moon as a great and moving work of art, well, one day the sun will become a red giant and swallow it up. Were some culture-loving aliens to come and admire it, well then, they themselves will surely some day fall victim to a supernova. At any rate, in the long run not only are we all dead, but anything we could possibly do to mark our existence, individually or collectively, will be destroyed.

There is thus no immortality in architecture, art, literature or anything of the sort, only an extended period of remembrance, not unlike the way in which the most banal villager is remembered by his village for a decade. If you buy into the Platonic assumption that only the permanent is valuable, you are out of luck. You are then condemned to contemptus mundi with no fictitious consolation.

Posted on June 3, 2009 at 14:31 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: THE LONGEST CON, Religion And Conceptual Muddle

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  1. Written by Ghost In the Machine
    on October 18, 2015 at 15:30

    Certain African tribes speak of two deaths. The first, obviously, is when you die. The second is when everyone who remember you, or who sung your legacy, is dead.

    Clearly our concept of immortality is flawed.

    However, the ripple of a good deed may spread beyond what we can possibly imagine. And great transformative art – seen and appreciated – may echo long after the artist is dead and the art destroyed.

    Forever? No, that is folly.

    I remember when I first saw the cave paintings of Perigord. The guide led us deeper and deeper into the cave, and in the inner chamber paintings of animals were revealed in the electric light.


    As stunning as those paintings were, I could imagine the impact of seeing those animals move in the light of flickering torches; and I could only their power during that far earlier era, when there was no boundary between the symbol and that which was symbolised.

    I wept.

    That moment changed my life.

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