07 December 2012

The Failure of Prometheanism

The failure of the strategy of Promethean expansion leads to a double discovery.  Browning finds that his inner ebullience does not give him the right to overflow in all directions, "encompassing the world."  Instead of reaching divine fullness he squanders his energies in the void.  No grandiose mission calls him to an exampled adventure.  The failure of Prometheanism leads Browning to an "existential" discovery: the discovery of his own gratuitousness.  No one but himself is responsible for his inner turmoil.

This discovery is related to another metaphysical one.  He finds that God has with drawn from the world, or at any rate from his own heart and mind.  The two discoveries are really the same.  He is entirely on his own because God is not present in his soul.  God seems to be operating everywhere else in the world, as an immanent force directing the development of life and justifying it.  But when Browning turns inside himself, where the presence of God should be most close and intimate, he finds--nothing but himself.  When he tries to go outside, and to embrace the God who seems so manifest in the  world, he sickens at last on the dead gulf of himself.  This  leads to a complete reversal of his original boisterous conviction that his "fierce energy" was the very presence of God working in his soul.  Now he finds that he knows nothing whatsoever about God.  He has nothing but the incomprehensible intelligence of his own suffering:

I know as much of any will of God
As knows some dumb and tortured brute what Man,
His stern lord, wills from the perplexing blows
That plague him every way... 
(from Paracelcus)

J. Hillis Miller, The Disappearance of God

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