First Things | 5/25/2017 | Peter J. Leithart
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Educate” derives from the Latin educare, “to lead out.” All education promises an exodus from the darkness of ignorance into the light of knowledge. All education proclaims liberty to captives. The question is, whose slavery? Whose freedom?

We cannot answer by defining slavery as “whatever inhibits my will” nor freedom as “the power to do whatever I like.” Such absolutist notions of freedom are self-contradictory. If freedom is limited by anything beyond individual will and desire, then freedom is no longer absolute. But desire is itself a limit. When I hunger or thirst, I seek particular satisfactions—food and drink. Sexual desire impels toward sexual gratification. Desires can be diverted, repressed, masked, but they retain the same teleological structure. Desire is ordered to ends, tethered to a telos. “Freedom to do whatever I desire” shatters this structure. It leaves desire end-less.

Poet - Vera - Pavlova - Point - Freedom

The Russian poet, Vera Pavlova, concisely expresses my point about freedom and desire in an arresting poem. In a translation by her husband, Steven Seymour, she writes:

by heart, to improvise caresses.


A soul is light when full,

heavy when vacuous.


to dance the agony alone,

for I was born wearing your shirt,


will come from the dead with that shirt on.

Pavlova begins by linking being to freedom: “I am . . . hence free,” but she doesn’t suggest a Rousseauian natural freedom. A specific experience links being and freedom: love. The translation neatly captures the connection with the alliterative “in love . . . to live.” Contrary to cynics of all ages, Pavlova insists that love need not be bondage, but can liberate. Liberated by love, she is free to live “by heart” and to “improvise caresses.” Her spontaneity isn’t spontaneous, but a byproduct of love.

Poem - Heart - Soul - Poet - Paradox

As the poem continues, “heart” modulates into “soul,” and the poet introduces a paradox of soul and...
(Excerpt) Read more at: First Things
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