220/ The Land of Ulro

The degree to which a work is of extraliterary importance is determined by the power of a given author’s philosophy, that is, by the passion with which it is engaged with ultimate things, resulting in an extreme tension between the art and thought.

“The Land of Ulro” is the kind of work that brings me back to my long-gone days at the seminary. That time when the struggle to reconcile religion and science, freedom and fate, nature and nurture was real. My diploma was on the line.

The name Ulro is from [William] Blake. It denotes that the realm of spiritual pain such as is borne and must be borne by the crippled man.

Alas, Gombrowicz’s  ‘interhuman church’ seems an illustration of the theory of those behaviorists who proclaim the model society to be one of absolute slavery—a state that can be achieved when human animals, those statistical units making up the genus Homo, become so trained as to look upon slavery as freedom perfected.

My representative man, free because isolated, cultivates a strict self-stewardship, as opposed to a Becketian radicalism of nothingness.

Is it right to idolize a poet, to put him on a pedestal and divest him of his thought merely because the people are in greater need of a monument than of a mind?

I am still struggling over these larger-than-this-world concepts but, whether I got tired or decided to just set them aside for the meantime, it’s refreshing to read Czeslaw Milosz audit his estate. Let’s see. One, he believes in the existence of human nature. For him, to believe in human nature, it is enough to see it violated and debased, day by day, in its most primal, but by no means animal, needs. Two, there is hierarchy when it comes to mind and heart; equality is a fiction, inequality the general rule. And three, without that moment of infatuation with the new, there would be no succession of “movements” and schools, hence, the law of triumphant banality.

Czeslaw wrote “The Land of Ulro” as a tribute, in a way, to his distant cousin Oscar Wladyslaw Milosz or O. V. de L. Milosz, who described himself as a man who lived always in the past. But Czeslaw also dissected a great deal the treatises of Swedenborg for his God-man and Human Nature Divinized Doctrine and Pascal for his defense of Christianity waged in anthropocentric terms. His take on fate-faith gnosis is made even more intriguing with Dostoevsky and Einstein thrown in the mix. We’re talking of giants here so I won’t even make an attempt to paraphrase them.

At the end of it all, “The Land of Ulro” is his work and so Czeslaw must have the last word, a position he claims so supremely thus: “The highest moral ideals, the most exquisite works of poetry, painting, music, architecture; the most ingenious intellectual constructions—from philosophical systems to the mathematical models applied in technology—all are the works of man. So why should he not revere his own genius, his own brothers, not only those who excel in it but those who partake of it? But man is also anti-Nature, divided, at war with the animal in him, afflicted by not being able to live without the means to assuage his existence, whatever name we give to those means. Deserving of wonder, yes, but also pity, immense pity, the greater in that man can be pitied only by man.”

Must we wait for dolphins to realize their full potentials and redefine epistemology and metaphysics for us before we harmonize our human nature?



When things are going so well that I start seeing the world in monochromatic lines and lights, I hanker after some disturbance if only for a quick jolt in my heart. (Ngong Ping Village, Hong Kong/July 2014)