What Usually Goes Under the Name Ambition

A quick thought from poet and author Christian Wiman, via his essay “God’s Truth in […]

David Zahl / 11.12.13

A quick thought from poet and author Christian Wiman, via his essay “God’s Truth in Life”, originally published in Image Journal, and collected in My Bright Abyss:

“I once believed in some notion of a pure ambition, which I defined as an ambition for the work rather than for oneself, but I’m not sure I believe in that anymore. If a poet’s ambition were truly for the work and nothing else, he would write under a pseudonym, which would not only preserve that pure space of making but free him from the distractions of trying to forge a name for himself in the world. No, all ambition has the reek of disease about it, the relentless smell of the self–except for that terrible, blissful feeling at the heart of creation itself, when all thought of your name is obliterated and all you want is the poem, to be the means wherein something of reality, perhaps even something of eternity, realizes itself. That is noble ambition. But all that comes after–the need for approval, publication, self-promotion–isn’t this what usually goes under the name of “ambition”? The effort is to make ourselves more real to ourselves, to feel that we have selves, though the deepest moments of creation tell us that, in some fundamental way, we don’t. (Souls are what those moments reveal, which are both inside and outside, both us and other.) So long as your ambition is to stamp your existence upon existence, your nature on nature, then your ambition is corrupt and you are pursuing a ghost.”


subscribe to the Mockingbird newsletter


2 responses to “What Usually Goes Under the Name Ambition”

  1. Jim McNeely says:

    The law crushes doesn’t it? Wow. If we didn’t know we were

    1. immensely loved
    2. eternally safe

    then how could we face such things? Every ambition, every notion that I can impress my existence upon existence, is not simply futile, it is selfish and evil! OUCH. I’m supposed to WANT to be nothing. I don’t think I can do that. I suppose I really am nothing except that to the One who made everything, I am truly something. In fact, I give up on knowing what that is, it is like a huge unopened present. I’ll let God impress my existence upon existence, I give up. Nothing I’ve seen in myself seems worth the trouble. I have to say I have my nose pressed into my great nothingness daily.

    Who wouldn’t go mad without the gospel?

  2. Matt Troupe says:

    Certainly selfish ambition is thick evil. But not all use of a name is selfish ambition. Maybe so for Wiman, but God’s law is enough and it doesn’t include the command “thou shalt use no by-lines.” The psalms have titles, after all.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *