. . . damnation itself is an immediate form of salvation — of salvation from
the ennui of modern life, because it at last gives some significance to
This comes via Tony D'Ambra and his films noir web site. Its application to film noir is perhaps obvious, but it has a profound relevance to the modern age in general. Without knowing the quote, I wrote something similar in a previous post on this site, WHORES: A VALENTINE'S DAY MEDITATION, about Baudelaire's obsession with prostitutes. Eliot's observation comes from an essay on Baudelaire and it sheds a terrifying light on many otherwise baffling phenomena of our time. It explains why middle-class American teens sometimes go ballistic and murder their schoolmates, then kill themselves. It explains why hopeless Palestinian kids strap on bombs and martyr themselves in order to kill Israeli civilians.
Our culture values survival and comfort above all other considerations, and denies the horrifying truth that life without meaning, without transcendent purpose, is worse than death. Anything that promises meaning, even if it's the meaning inherent in damnation, or in a spectacular pursuit of oblivion, is better than a life spent, as Blake puts it, “wailing on the margin of non-entity.”