Mainte fleur épanche à regret
Son parfum doux comme un secret
Dans les solitudes profondes.
--Le Guignon, Charles Baudelaire
These flowers exhale one long lament
Their unique essence a secret spent
On profound solitude's witness
--Ill Fortune, (my translation)
Modern life means you can reject the world and still live in it. You can check out of society easier than ever and, say, live alone without starving. You might even thrive, after a fashion. It's a viable option, and I wouldn't be surprised if marketers have a name for it.
You can arrive at the solitary life by degrees, out of absent-mindedness. The momentous choice is obscured by the fact it comes on centipede legs, in the form of countless aggregated trivial choices, little minor retreats. They get easier and easier.
Isolation itself is now loud and lurid. Endless petty distractions and pleasures lure and then keep the isolate in his little den waiting for death, the denial of which drove him there in the first place. He's cornered. There is no point facing up to it at this point. Insulated in the glow of electronic light he creates a simulacrum of a life, one more to his taste, if bitterly false.
Lost in the dread is the moral decision made in checking out. The isolate is a miser who hoards and wastes his essence, because he doesn't like the price it will fetch. In our atomized, individualistic society there is no pressure on him to join in; his choice is as valid as any other. But is it? Or rather should it be?
Nature is indifferent; society shouldn't be. But for our unprecedented personal liberty we pay the price of an indifferent society.
It's exacted via the absurdity of the unshared experience. The isolate has no witness to his life but himself. There's a gnawing suspicion it matters--but it shouldn't (maybe he thinks), because, if God doesn't exist for one He doesn't exist for two. His retreat from society is a retreat from death. Other mortal beings remind him of his own mortality and physicality--with its attendant illnesses and degradations.
In choosing to face mortality alone he must come upon beauty alone. This is his curse. He piles up the moments whereupon he's moved, and he's alone. Now he sees the price. Beauty is gelded by melancholy.
He has a companion after all, regret. Don't let it happen to you. If you have to, run out into the street and collar somebody.
"Listen to me, you bastard!"
Spend yourself fruitfully.
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Today's Torah portion is Lech-Lecha, Genesis 12:7 to 17:27