‘the wanderer over the sea of fog’ caspar david friedrich
Regarding Burke’s “Obscurity:”
The conclusion of a paradox is unnecessary to interpret Burke’s understanding of the relation between fear and obscurity. Obscurity continues to exist and function after the identification of the object of fear. Both death and political despots are identifiable, and yet, are virtually unknowable.
While I agree with Arin that “death is the only certainty one can count on in this life,” I would argue that the uncertainty of death lies not in its happening, but in its details. On the one hand, we are certain that death comes inevitably and indiscriminately in our life; on the other hand, we cannot deny the uncertainty of its arrival time, of the feelings that accompany it, and of the events that come after it. It is death’s evasiveness from our full apprehension that inspires fear.
Fear preys on the deficiency of knowledge, and thus, the reliance on imagination. By minimizing the visibility of their real faces, despots create and project their terrifying images onto the public mind’s eye. For instance, in Batman Begins, a movie that also explores the relation between fear and obscurity, Ra’s al Ghul prompts Bruce Wayne to “become more than just a man in the mind of (his) opponent.” The criminal underworld knows the identity of their enemy – Batman, but the obscurity of his true identity, hidden under the cape, is the real dread: is he a superhuman? A ghost? A god? Likewise, knowing the identity of an object of fear is different from knowing the object itself. Rather than complete absence of knowledge, obscurity is imperfect vision or knowledge.
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