The Decline of the West

There is a book I love, almost beyond all others. Oswald Spenglers, The Decline of the West. I gave away my prized, well loved, dog-eared and underlined copy in Madras to my friend S2’s dad. I’m glad I did, because I wanted to read it again throwing out what I thought before.

JJ had a book he wanted to read, but he said he was saving it. Finnegan’s Wake. I thought he should dive in. But that is the story of his life. He lives in anticipation. His whole life revolves around anticipation. Without it, he is lost. This was the reason for the decline of our relationship. The novelty wore off and he was too naive to know the value of persistence, of struggle, or the ardor that depth brings with it. When we broke things off he talked of moving, of going to school, of writing, but they were all ghosts of anticipation. His words were bullshit and I knew it, but I could not get him to talk about real things. I could not draw him back to the present. We met up once, after some time apart, but he was still lost in fantasy and would not talk about real things, perhaps believing they were old, already done, and he was searching for something new. Until he reads Finnegan’s Wake and then reads it again, he will not be ready for life. He will not be ready for becoming.

This favored book of mine is hard to find, but I did find it again in San Francisco in the basement of City Lights. I have read The Decline of the West over and over again, and each time it becomes new and enlightening. Sometimes, after a fashion, it is heavy and old. It looses it’s shine. Or, if I am particularly engaged in it, at the end I wonder, what is left for me now? What can compare? What have I done?

This is the realization of all of our lives, in our work, our relationships, our experiences, our being. We feel that the world has limits and our fears come from the feeling that if we breach them we will have nothing left. I feel that way often. I have told my friend S on many occasions, that there is nothing left for me. Nothing that I love so passionately, no surprises, no wonder, no more mystery to life. But I pick up this book again, and I return fresh to that love which first captured me. It seems like such a small and inconsequential thing to read a book, but these are the things that take the most courage because they are first steps.


I spoke to JJ once about Nietzsche. I think he imagined I was talking about those naive ideas of “the transvaluation of all values”, the “will to power”, or “superman” when I was really thinking of his ideas of “becoming” and “become”. His idea of a person as first a child, then as a camel being loaded with all the rules and duties of society. He says that when this camel is fully loaded, it journeys (like all great sages) into the desert, the wasteland, where it is transformed into a lion. “The heavier the load the more powerful the lion” says Joseph Campbell. And finally when we, as the lion having absorbed the power of life, slay the dragon facing us, our transformation back into a child. But not the same child we were before. A child approaching a life they have already seen, a feat they have already done with new wonder, living from their own center.

Nietzsche offers this as the cycle of our lives, but I would say that it is also the pattern of cycles within a larger cycle. Not just the pattern of our lives, but of any kind of learning, any relationships and experience. Spengler says that “The means where by to understand living forms is Anology.” Without having read Spengler, I would not have been lead here, because this blog is an essential analogy. Without reading it I would not have had the gift  of him to give to someone else. Without reading this I would not have the pleasure of a second, deeper, more profound journey. Art has taught me the value of repetition. Just when you think you have reached your limit and you know it all, it pulls you deeper and deeper into the mysterious, the unknown; into the labyrinth.

If there is something you are waiting on; saving in anticipation…don’t… Enter. Descend. RETURN.


My book recommendation for the not-so-faint-of-heart. Don’t worry, there is a Skelton Key to help you along.

It is as painful perhaps to be awakened from a vision as to be born – J.J.

Your sacred space is where you can find yourself again and again.  – Joseph Campbell

It’s a miserable ritual, a magical procedure. . . a homunculus of the consciousness of the new world — our world passed away and a new world has arisen.–Carl Jung on Ulysses, in the Europaeische Revue

Life is a long preparation for something that never happens. – William Butler Yeats


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