A human soul

At this moment I must say, almost in the form of deposition, without argument, that I do not believe my birth began my first existence. Nor Humboldt’s. Nor anyone’s. One esthetic grounds, if on no others, I cannot accept the view of death taken by most of us, and taken by me during most of my life — on esthetic grounds therefore I am obliged to deny that so extraordinary a thing as a human soul can be wiped out forever. No, the dead are about us, shut out by our metaphysical denial of them. As we lie nightly in our hemispheres asleep by the billions, our dead approach us. Our ideas should be their nourishment. We are their grainfields. But we are barren and we starve them. Don’t kid yourself, though, we are watched by the dead, watched on this earth, which is our school of freedom. In the next realm, where things are clearer, clarity eats into freedom. We are free on earth because of cloudiness, because of error, because of marvelous limitation, and as much because of beauty as because of blindness and evil. These always go with the blessing of freedom. But this is all I have to say about the matter now, because I’m in a hurry, under pressure — all this unfinished business!

— Saul Bellow, Humboldt’s Gift

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