these are the questions

Stringing together the intertextual mutterings of DFW-- raw and touching provocations on the basic questions of human faith and existence -- from his essay "Joseph Frank's Dostoyevsky":


**Am I a good person? Deep down, do I even really want to be a good person, or do I only want to seem like a good person so that people (including myself) will approve of me? Is there a difference? How do I ever actually know whether I'm bullshitting myself, morally speaking?**

**What exactly does 'faith' mean? As in 'religious faith,' 'faith in God' etc. Isn't it basically crazy to believe in something that there's no proof of? is there really any difference between what we call faith and some primitive tribe's sacrificing virgins to volcanoes because they believe it'll produce good weather? How can somebody have faith before he's presented with sufficient reason to have faith? Or is somehow needing to have faith a sufficient reason for having faith? But then what kind of need are we talking about?**

**Is the real point of my life simply to undergo as little pain and as much pleasure as possible? My behavior sure seems to indicate that this is what I believe, at least a lot of the time. But isn't this kind of a selfish way to live? Forget selfish--isn't it awful lonely?**

**But if I decide to decide there's a different, less selfish, less lonely point to my life, won't the reason for this decision be my desire to be less lonely, meaning to suffer less overall pain? Can the decision to be less selfish ever be anything other than a selfish decision?"**

**Is it possible really to love other people? If I'm lonely and in pain, everyone outside me is potential relief--I need them. But can you really love what you need so badly? Isn't a big part of love caring more about what the other person needs? How am I supposed to subordinate my own overwhelming need to somebody else's needs that I can't even feel directly? And yet if I can't do this, I'm damned to loneliness, which I definitely don't want ... so I'm back at trying to overcome my selfishness for self-interested reasons. Is there any way out of this bind?**

**What is 'an American'? Do we have something important in common, as Americans, or is it just that we all happen to live inside the same boundaries and so have to obey the same laws? How exactly is America different from other countries? Is there really something unique about it? What does that uniqueness entail? We talk a lot about our special rights and freedoms, but are there also special responsibilities that come with being an American? If so, responsibilities to whom?**

**Does this guy Jesus Christ's life have something to teach me even if I don't, or can't, believe he was divine? What am I supposed to make of the claim that someone who was God's relative, and so could have turned the cross into a planter or something with just a word, still voluntarily let them nail him up there, and died? Even if we suppose he was divine--did he know? Did heh know he could have broken the cross with just a word? Did he know in advance that death would just be temporary (because I bet I could climb up there, too, if I knew that an eternity of right-hand bliss lay on the other side of six hours of pain)? But does any of that even really matter? Can I still believe in JC or Mohammed or Whoever even if I don't believe they were actual relatives of God? Except what would that mean: 'believe in'?**



“He had always been so strange and had lived, like a prophet, in such unimaginably close communion with the Lord that his long silences which were punctuated by moans and hallelujahs and snatches of old songs while he sat at the living room window never seemed odd to us.” 
-James Baldwin


"I find that my praying turns into thinking. It’s like trying to contain something, and then perhaps it turns into prayer. It’s almost impossible for me to maintain it as a purely distinct activity."
-Marilynne Robinson


“The soul knows for certain only that it is hungry. The important thing is that it announces its hunger by crying. A child does not stop crying if we suggest to it that perhaps there is no bread. It goes on crying just the same. The danger is not lest the soul should doubt whether there is any bread, but lest, by a lie, it should persuade itself that it is not hungry.” 
-Simone Weil

"The truth is, most wisdom is embittering. The task of the wise person cannot be to pretend with false naivete that every moment is new and unprecedented, but to bear the burden of bitterness which experience forces on us with as much uncomplaining dignity as strength will allow. Beyond that, all we can ask of ourselves is that bitterness not cancel out our capacity still to be surprised."
-Phillip Lopate


* "Blindness" by Jorge Luis Borges
"He said that when something ends, we must think that something begins. His advice is salutory, but the execution is difficult, for we only know what we have lost, not what we will gain. We have a very precise image--an image at times shameless--of what we have lost, but we are ignorant of what may follow or replace it."

"A writer, or any man, must believe that whatever happens to him is an instrument; everything has been given for an end ... Everything that happens, including humiliations, embarrassments, misfortunes, all has been given like clay, like material for one's art. One must accept it ... Those things are given to us to transform, so that we may make from the miserable circumstances of our lives things that are eternal, or aspire to be so."

Vivir quiero conmigo
gozar quiero del bien que debo al cielo
a solas sin testigo
libre de amor, de celo,
de odio, de esperanza, de recelo.

-Fray Luis de Leon

Alles Nahe werde fern ("everything near becomes distant")
-Johann Wolfgang van Goethe

*"Some Thoughts on Mercy" by Ross Gay
"It is said, and I believe it, that bees can see inside you. And yet, and yet, the bees didn't attack. Not one sting. They didn't even warn me by coming toward my face. They didn't believe what I thought--what I had imagined--was real. They knew inside me was a truth other than murder. They had mercy. And once the hive was all cloesd up, they went back to their business."