On the Nature of Things, Lucretius

ImageThis was a syllabus requirement in one of the best graduate courses I’ve taken thus far—we were grappling with incredibly complex ideas (the nature of humans, the various ways people have defined human [male, free, white, straight, desiring, etc]) and reading primary sources to fuel our conversations. So we read Plato and Lucretius and Marx and Lee Edleman and Judith Butler and many more. It was terrifying. And it was amazing. Instead of reading about the brilliant minds—instead of ceding the authority to the scholars to tell us what they meant—WE were the scholars. Wow.

Isn’t this beautiful?

But shining grainfields sprout, and twigs grow green
on trees; the trees grow, too, and bear their fruits;
hence our kind and the animal kind are fed,
hence we see happy cities bloom with children
and leafy woods all filled with young bird-song;
hence flocks wearied with fat lay themselves down
out in fertile fields, and bright white liquor
leaks from their swollen teats; hence newborn lambs
gambol on wobbly legs through tender grass,
their baby hearts tipsy with winy milk.
Things seem to perish, then, but they do not:
nature builds one from another, and lets no thing
be born unless another helps by dying. (251-264)

Also this:

But now on sea and land and in high heaven
before our eyes we see things moving, here,
there, everywhere, but if there were no void,
they’d not so much be lacking speed and movement
as never, in reason, have come to be at all
in a world of matter tight-packed and motionless. (340-345)

In Angels in America, the angel screams for the humans to just STOP MOVING! It’s the fault of all of the moving that has created the rumbling in heaven, the earthquake in San Francisco, the absence of God.

Lucretius says motion is possible because of voids mixed in with the matter. I can’t move forward if a solid wall is in front of me. But to take that a slightly different way, perhaps it is the void that causes the movement. Desire, the attempt to incorporate something else into yourself (I’m not talking, strictly, about sex, which is, of course, always only an approximation anyway. I think any time you put an object on that sentence—any time it becomes “I desire [ ]” instead of “I desire”, we’ve begun speaking in metaphors.) But that desire, desire with a capital D, causes movement. My thinking here is influenced by Lacan’s mirror—we’re always seeking the regaining of that lost, fleeting self-recognition, that knowledge of whole-ness. And so the attempts to incorporate the other into our void [Desire], compelling motion.

And that’s what I think, on this broilingly hot Sunday in July.