I remember being in a nightclub with a good friend of mine in Belfast. It was late and the place was filled with music, laughter and dance. But in the midst of the entertainment I could see something else going on behind the manifest aesthetic pleasure. Despite all the seeming affirmation of life one could glimpse a nervous grasping of a drink, a momentary loss of confidence, a faked glance at a mobile phone or a faltering kiss unsure of the pleasure it is supposed to be giving and receiving.
The whole mise-en-scene reminded me of something that Johannes de Silentio (one of Kierkegaard’s pseudonyms) wrote in the nineteenth century. He commented that “most people live dejectedly in worldly sorrow and joy.”
He wrote that some do not dance at all but “sit along the wall” while others partake in the revelry. But neither is necessarily free from anxiety, frustration and fear.
Concerning the people who do dance widely Johannes de Silentio noted, “One need not look at them when they are up in the air, but only the instant they touch or have touched the ground – then one recognizes them.” For when their feet touch the ground a careful observer can witness their momentary stagger and half-concealed grimace.
While standing in the nightclub that night I imagined what might happen if the music suddenly stopped, the lights went up and the DJ asked us to put down our drinks so that we might be able to really look at each other for an awkward moment.
In many ways it is this event of “turning on the lights” that I argue is one of the roles of the new collective that arises out of the practice of pyrotheology.
The new collective is to be a desert in the Oasis of our lives. A searingly hot and blindingly light space where we can’t pretend (to ourselves or anyone else) that everything is, or will be, perfect. Where we encounter each other in our beautiful, wondrous, terrifying, human frailty. Not so that we are crushed by the sight, but so that we learn to say “yes” to this vision and to each other in the midst of it.
For it is in saying “amen” to the highs and lows of life that we are able to live fully in both worldly sorrow and joy. Touching what Johannes de Silentio called “the sublime in the pedestrian.”