If the diagnoses in medieval texts were so psychologically acute, it’s very likely because the most ferocious accusers and denouncers were themselves acedia sufferers. Today, too, it takes an acediac to know acedia. When I read Cassian on “disgust with the cell,” I look around my own office and sigh deeply; and I greet like an old friend the monk whose gaze “rests obsessively on the window” while “with his fantasy he imagines the image of someone who comes to visit him.” Cassian’s description of acedia as mental drift, meanwhile, perfectly encapsulates the pointless and random detours that stop me from bearing down on a particular page: “The mind is constantly whirling from psalm to psalm, . . . tossed about fickle and aimless through the whole body of Scripture.”
Of course, the desert monks were emphatically not us. Stripping their lives down to the bare bones, they sought the divine and fought the demonic alone. What could be more different from us, tap-tapping away with social media always at hand? They gazed upward toward God; we shoot sideways glances at one another while trying to resist the allure of e-mail (nowadays, you can “desert your cell” without shifting from your chair). Still, “excesses meet,” and now that solitary unstructured brainwork has returned with a vengeance, we may be suffering an epidemic of early medieval acedia. Is there anything we can learn from the monks and nuns who came before us?
Tuesday, January 03, 2012
Cassian in the New York Times
John Plotz brings the truly great books to the pages of the NY Times Book Review:
Posted by Samuel J. Howard at 11:00 PM