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The Casanova Conundrum

By:Philip Bradbury
Date: Fri,18 Nov 2011
Submitter:Philip Bradbury
Views:1386

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Philip Bradbury

There has been an alarming increase in the number of things I know nothing about. And that gives me huge scope to make up a world I know nothing about.

In our immaturity we’re desperate to find form and meaning in everything we encounter. Astutely, we watch what the rest of the world is doing and judge it as good/bad, right/wrong, happy/sad … and we then make up reasons why we’re right. All of it is made up and none of it is of any use.

I’m no different: I’ll walk into a supermarket that’s strangely devoid of people and immediately begin a discussion with Anna, my wife, about why this is so - it’s a fine day and many are at the park/beach, the soccer/rugby is on, the sales are over … then I realize I’m up to my old ego tricks again, making up explanations about things I know nothing about. Then I’ll notice a lot of cars on the road and so I plunge into speculation of why this is so - school holidays, sales are on … then I realise I’m at it again! I’m like a doctor prescribing chemotherapy drugs - I have no idea if any of my ideas are right but if I act authoritatively enough and try enough ideas (drugs) something’s gotta’ be right, eventually!

We do the same with people:

The originator of Theosophy, the Russian mystic Madame Blavatsky (1831-1891), acknowledged Count Cagliostro as the true originator of her program of hermetic Egyptian theosophy. Cagliostro was a chameleon, an ephemeral, elusive and unmistakable landmark on the eighteenth century European landscape. He started life as Guiseppe Balsamo, a Sicilian thug. Through a series of controversies and transformations, he became a great healer, healing hundreds of thousands of the poor for no payment with his own therapies. His part in the scandalous “Diamond Necklace Affair” (the greatest European court case, ever) helped precipitate France into its revolution. He was variously thrown into the French Bastille and into Italy’s terrible San Leo prison for heresy, hounded by Catherine the Great of Russia and Marie Antoinette of France, while being feted and worshipped by hundreds of thousands of faithful followers of his Egyptian Masonic teachings. Count Cagliostro was not a man who was easy to describe or pigeon-hole.
A contemporary of Balsamo was the famous Count Casanova. In the last sad pages of Count Casavona’s Solique d’un Penseur (1786), he shows himself to be confused with the world - he knows something terrible has happened to the world he’d known but he couldn’t describe it exactly. He ruminated on the mystery of Cagliostro’s success: “This is a man whose partisans think him wise because when he speaks he seems ignorant. This is a man who is persuasive because he is the master of no language. This is a man whom people understand because he never explains himself … This is a man who people believe noble because he is gross in his discourse and manners. This is a man who they believe sincere because he has all the appearances of being a liar.”

We all know the younger Casanova who charmed his way into the wallets of gullible noblemen and into the boudoirs of a thousand willing ladies. He lived in “The Age of Reason” which could equally have been called “The Age of Swindlers”, for there were hundreds (perhaps thousands) like Casanova, who chose not to work but to survive by their charm, wit and lies. The cream stayed at the top and such charmers only mingled with the wealthy intelligencia. However, things began to change - people like Cagliostro could rise from the gutter and mingle with the crème de la crème. People like Marat could rise from the slums of Paris and command the French Revolution that saw most of Casanova’s French acquaintances beheaded and/or stripped of their wealth and titles.

For this hugely successful lover of life, whose name still lives on 250 years later, the world took on a very different meaning and he just could not fathom it. His wily ways no longer worked and he was forced to actually toil for a living - firstly as an informer for the Inquisition, earning paltry commissions for titbits of gossip about blasphemers and, finally, on a miserable wage as a librarian for an Italian noble, surviving partly on food parcels from compassionate friends.

If our egos are stuck on “being right”, we’ll steadfastly maintain that the world is still flat and that black is white, long after they’ve been proved otherwise. Fervently holding to our old values, worn-out realities and bygone attitudes, we can become sad, angry and/or bewildered, complaining that the world and its people are not good, “like they used to be”.

However, by aiming to be light instead of right, we can transcend that state of disillusionment and stand quietly in a state of unknowing - happily knowing that we don’t know. It’s seems, then, that we must pass through four stages:
1. Birth - innocence, unknowing
2. Teens - knowing all
3. Middle years – confusion
4. Maturity - innocence, unknowing

Obviously, some peoples’ teen years last well beyond 60-years-old and some people reach maturity at 12 years of age - it’s our choice.

And so we have those who would tell us what heaven’s like, how to attain enlightenment and what we’re actually here for. That is, of course, their natural need to explain things for themselves, like me in the supermarket.
Then, every once in a while, we come across someone with deep serenity and steadfast joy. They have nothing to say to us, no advice, no explanation. Yet, strangely, we want to be with them. Though we ardently desire their advice, their guidance, their explanation, our soul is thrilled by the nothingness they express. They have an abiding sense of rhythm in a world that’s constantly changing its tune and that’s a rhythm of simply being at peace with what is - unjudging, accepting and smiling benignly on all that passes for life as we see it. They have seen heaven and don’t need to tell of it. Our world moves, imperceptibly, into a new dimension and we are never the same again. People ask what’s changed and we have no words or need to tell of it. We’ve gone beyond knowing. We are, at last, bathed in peace. We are, at last, at home.

That, I suspect, is what Casanova was looking for in every lover he ever had - he didn’t find it. That, I suspect, is what we all want. I know I will never find it when I need to know why there are less people at the supermarket today. I might, however, begin to sense it when I stop looking for answers and just know that I don’t know … and probably never will.
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Comments

Alan Rycroft said:

Dear Mr. Bradbury,
That article was worthy of my erstwhile prof of English when I were a youngster, Malcolm Bradbury! Beautifully written poignantlyy expressed and I learned a bit of history too! I have been musing on the moral ambiguity the subtle shades adn shadows of my own and human character and your article brilliantly chimed in there. Your description of the count is remarkable reminds me of another great Italian the painter Carravagio likewise a swashbuckling rumbustuous individual who died I believe a violent death yet who ws deeply religious and produced the sublime paintings! It leads me to further muse the futlity of judgement of the human and that God Itself may indeed be far more humourous and complex than our simplistic black and white notions and with a rascally twinkle of humour in his eye- well methinks I humanize too much but you may catch my drift. Thank you again!
Alan Rycroft
Sat,19 Nov 2011,11:15:43 GMT
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