“I mean, to live is an aggression”: The Life of Life, the Joy of Thinking, and Stream of Consciousness

Susan Sontag is one of my favorite thinkers. Her research is interdisciplinary and informed by the rigorous analysis of anything and everything, where nothing is off limits, and where being well-read is the ultimate joy. She is the perfect model of how to be a successful scholar, artist, and activist. While her ideas can by no means be truncated to a few “gold nuggets” (as Virginia Woolf would say) or a few simple quotations, she does have a few that I really admire.

While walking tonight, I was again reminded of her powerful words:  

I mean, to live is an aggression. You’re involved with aggression on all levels when you move around the world, you’re occupying a space that other people can’t occupy, you’re steeping on flora, fauna, and little creatures as you walk….that is part of the rhythm of living.

When we walk around, we are invariably stepping on and therefore killing or (perhaps) disrupting the life of hundreds, if not thousands or millions of tiny animals and various forms of bacteria (99% of which have not been discovered! even though some scientists still like to claim everything has been discovered – but they are not “real” scientist)- not to mention all of the disruption caused when various tools cleared and cleaned the land making a walkway possible.

Then this causes me to think about the life in everything, everywhere. The couch I am sitting on, the computer I am using. All of these have atoms – all are part of the circle of life – all are part of the chemicals created with the Big Bang and after the first supernovas, for instance. Everything has life to it. Just because something does not breathe, cannot talk or walk, or does not “evolve” in the same evolutionary way, does not mean it is any less a form of life or any more permissible to abuse it. Philosophical questions surrounding “what is life” are huge. Are their degrees of life? And, too, just because humans “rule” the Earth does not mean they are all powerful or free from mother nature or other smaller or larger forces. We cannot separate ourselves as a form of life from anything else. We’re not special. 

Then this causes me to think about the millions and billions of parasites for which our body serves as a host. More things live in our body than we live in it! How many of our thoughts and actions are truly are own if we have things/life living in us (before even considering anthropological, psychological, and sociological influences)–they didn’t ask for permission after all!

Now I think about all of the bacteria and tiny animals living on the lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers in the salad I had yesterday for supper. What about too that eating lettuce and eating pieces of a cucumber is no different than eating a chicken breast or a hamburger? All are forms of life. All are the product of water, food, and sun.

Then I think about how every time when I eat anywhere there is some kind of small hair in my food. I know full well from experience and eating for 28+ years that people have hair; therefore, hair is everywhere. If I see a hair, I just take it off.

Then I think about all of my books. Books, to a lover of knowledge, are the pot of gold at the end of a beautiful rainbow. Books contain life–both the ideas and experiences shared and the materials with which I can hold it in my arms. Never let someone tell you that reading is bad or that you can reach a point of reading too much. Some of the best thinkers in the world were Men and Women of reading and writing. The written word makes transmission of knowledge and culture as we know it possible. 

Now I’m reminded of a new law in France that requires roofs to either have solar panels or a garden. What a wonderful idea! What a unique way to give back to the earth! Why can’t the United States be that conscientious? People here would lose their pants if something like that were passed. And why? Individual freedom is meaningless if life (as we know and enjoy it) halts or vastly changes because the world is too hot and too gaseous.

And then finally, I ponder at the mystery that life holds, all that awaits, all that I want to learn and how that there will only be enough time in my life to learn 0.1% of what I would like to know.