Acedia and the Unbearable Lightness of Being

Thomas VanJun 29, 2015

In his recent book The Noonday Devil, Jean-Charles Nault suggests that one aspect of acedia, or spiritual torpor, in modern society is that man does not want to receive goods that have a source outside and above himself. This leads him to deny the infinite, which in turn leads him to a general hostility to life and disillusionment with finite things.

When things have come to such a pass, as Nault quotes Joseph Ratzinger, it is only “flirting with death, the ghastly business of playing with power and violence, that is still exciting enough to create an appearance of satisfaction.” Ultimately even this sense of power becomes wearisome, and “man who only wanted to be his own creator and to reassemble creation himself with a better form of evolution he had thought out himself—this man ends in self-negation and self-destruction.”

This insight serves as the starting point for another new book on acedia by R. J. Snell, Acedia and Its Discontents: Metaphysical Boredom and the Empire of Desire. Snell begins with a striking illustration of man’s desire to dominate and his ensuing libido delendi (lust to destroy): the character of Judge Holden from Cormac McCarthy’s novel Blood Meridian.

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