Darko R. SUVIN
DS started writing “non-scholarly,” imaginative and/or meditative prose rather late, in Canada in the 80s (except for one early, unpublished short story in Croatoserbian in the 50s).
PART 1: UTA STORIES:
HOW POEMS CAME TO BE WRITTEN
- Here We Sit Talking
When we were in our twenties, & the kalpa was young, we frequently gathered in the tiny one-room house of a writer-friend of ours, in the old part of the city, on a hill-slope like an incongruously glued bird-nest. One entered by way of a flat roof, stepping onto it from a door set in the wall that bounded the zigzagging uphill pathway & as a rule well hidden under large posters and announcements. One then descended from the roof by a thoughtfully provided ladder to find oneself facing the front door. In the back part of the large room, behind an improvised cooking corner, slept the writer’s baby and puppy bulldogs; the air quality can be imagined. We played cards, gossiped, joked, improvised little charades or pieces of writing, flirted, & not surprisingly stayed often until the dawn had begun to whiten the mild night.
One boring day’s evening four of us sat there: Cosmas the host, his sister Anne who was a remarkable painter, an as remarkable young woman called Evergreen who later became a famous teacher, & myself. We were telling each other anecdotes, mainly about the fugitive nature of relationships between sexes. We got to be quite melancholy and slipped into considering the swift Heraclitean flow of all things, flowing forever on but without regard to any of the ephemeral droplets, flowing away from the individuals. At this point Cosmas composed:
Here we sit talking
While life the quick flows away.
O how I would like
That in this bittersweet flow
My shapes be pleasing to you.
We all had tears in our eyes, & Evergreen wept quietly. We were young and sensitive, perhaps self-hypnotized, people tho’t us strange.
- So, in This Life Here
When we were young, we were also naïve. Ardently we believed in honesty, love, friendship, straight dealing between people, & a better universe to be built up with our help. I would not lose such a youth.
In our company, we had the usual share of happy, unhappy or dull loves, of tiffs and reconciliations. As far as sentiments went, Cosmas was perhaps the most fantastical of the group. Out of maximalism, or possibly out of fear of deeper commitments to other people, he always fell for the most complex and wayward situations. One Summer on the seaside, when I was staying with Cosmas in his family home on the island of Short, he met a red-haired woman with green eyes, a foreigner whose skin could not bear the slightest touch of the sun. At the same occasion I met another young woman from the same tourist group disembarked at Short, so that our stories proceeded parallel, before they diverged. I followed his flirtation: it led to a Winter meeting in the Alps, where skiing went on as much in bed at night as on the slopes by day. He later confessed to me that for the first time he was overwhelmed by passion, & he thought she was too. But his beloved (let us call her Susannah) had played her cards close to her creamy chest, except for one unexplained tear-burst at parting.
Now Susannah was not only from another country, that country was also dominated by the ironclad market universe, & its horizons were incompatible with those of our idealistic group. She turned out to be the perfect — charming and ruthless — go-getter and busybody of a world where everything, everybody’s time and lives, are bought and sold. Eventually they broke up in bitter recrimination (and she ended up with a very good career in the yellow press of her rich nation, a rich husband and jealous mother-in-law, & a hobby for shooting red deer). Cosmas was deeply hurt, & wrote a number of poems where for the first time he hit off his characteristic blend of sarcasm and elegy, in order to exorcize her. Even so, he was fond of remembering how more than a year later, when he saw in front of a Bond Street shop-window the back of a petite red-haired figure, his heart skipped beats, until he realized it was not her…
Thirty years later I met Susannah again in her country, at that common friend’s from the far-off golden Summer on the seaside, with whom I myself had had a less stormy encounter and a more lasting if farther-off friendship. Susannah was more beautiful and cruel than ever. Cosmas was dead by then (of cancer), the first to disappear from our group, & I realized that their relationship (that all such relationships) had had to fail in this life: & yet not in every conceivable life. For, in another universe, where she (and perhaps I too?) could have been socialized differently, she and Cosmas, also I and the other stranger woman, might have been able to follow our bodies, who indeed thought we fit well, tightly. The ancient Japanese, I learned, allotted to the first beloved the role of giving her or his hand to support a newly deceased person across the threefold underground river, into the realm of the dead. Thinking over such heartbreaking events, I went back retrospectively to the perspective of our naïve youth, & composed a summing up for both pairs:
So, in this life here
You have left me. Who will then
Help me thru the deeps
& shallows of shadowy
Lives by giving me her hand?
- Poetry and the Past Future
We were reading a book of Japanese uta-stories about how poems came to be written. Two stories especially struck us.
The first one related how Emperor Yozei was for a time violently in love with a court lady called Musashi. During that brief while, & especially while waiting for him to visit her, she wrote her best poems. Soon, his thoughts turned away from her and from all deeper involvement with people. He withdrew from sight and failed to answer her numerous letters, gifts and poems. Musashi then wrote, in farewell but still with a faint hope:
My brief and wasting
Body was washed by evening
Dew, like to white jade.
It sparkled in the setting
Sun; now it turns dull and dry.
Yozei read it and said: “What admirably artful verse!” Soon, he became a monk, & Musashi only a pale memory, preserved in the Gossenshû anthology.
In the second story the genders were reversed. It spoke of Prince Muneyoki, governor of Ukiyo. He wrote the following poem:
Thru passing nights and
Shining days I loved you; quick
Went the while of our
Togetherness, like a brief
Dream of day in the Summer night.
He sent it to his beloved, the court lady Ghemu, in the hope the verses would touch her heart, now closed to him. When she received them, she scanned them briefly, smiled gently and said: “What is this? What use is sending this to me?”
Muneyoki heard nothing from her, but he heard about her response and understood that he was a better prophet than he wanted to be. In the years thereafter, he often wondered would it have made a difference if he had written an upbeat instead of an elegiac poem. Having met lady Ghemu again by engineering to visit her native province, when she conversed with him as with an old, half-forgotten friend, he concluded it would not have made a difference to her. Yet, for him and for other future readers, the poem would have been — no doubt — different.
After we read the stories, we looked at each other. Almost everybody in our company had had a similar wrench in their lives. How similar were, centrally, the fates of people so far away and long ago to our fates! Different in particulars, of course, but yet similar in kind. The long duration of class history breeds a certain kind of loves and disappointments, pinned fast by poems and stories like butterflies, or preserved by them like mayflies in amber. Luckless for the little creatures, the examples were useful for later creatures. They were even imitated in artefacts, themselves too pinned like little brooches on a female shoulder, or like rough girdle-clasps or saber-guards on warriors. Was it from this strange combination of different mortalities that these tales and their shapes drew their bittersweet strength, we wondered? Was that why all the unwilling prophets we remember, Cassandra or Yeremiyahu, had to be poets? A god, daimon or kami gave them to say what we shall suffer. The saying made the suffering understandable, thus bearable; or almost such. More for us than for them, we speculated: in a way, they were the guinea-pigs of humanity.
Does the ongoing experiment work? The jury is still out. But at least (we concluded) we are allowed to hope. In fact: we have no other alternative.
PART 2: A HOAX
Siberian Husky Journal of Developmental Resemanticization (2000), 10, 295-299. Printed in Yakutskii
(C) 2001 The Yakutskii Domesticated Mammals Society
A QUINE-SCHRŐDINGERIAN DESEMANTICIZATION OF DOMESTICATED MAMMALS AS WAVE-PACKAGE: CROSS-DISCIPLINARY PROPAGATIONS
Nivus, R.D., Schwanenseiler, S.J., & Lemowski S. [the latter a sufficiently remunerated graduate assistant who may be omitted]
Dept. of Cross-Disciplinary Non-Aristotelianism, Popocatepetl University, Flores DF, Tierra de Mexico
A vast amount of extant if conceptually scattered research has given us some contributions toward a possible cross-disciplinary hypothesis on a phenomenon involving radical shape-changes, including the extreme & therefore ontologically crucial case of development toward zero or disappearance (Ulan Bator & Vernewsky, 1986; Timbuctu, Kafkiewicz & Malmö, 1986; Camoxbridge [MA & CB] 1971; Chelyabinsk & Skryabin 1956 [compiled in 1935]; all superseded by Quine, 1987, but here adduced anyway so you can see we have done our homework). Different experimental methods (case studies, feature weighting, category judgements & most prominently fieldwork descriptions) have been employed in the study of mammal metamorphicity, providing a basis upon which it is now perhaps possible to make inferences about the underlying cognitive problematics & conceptual formalization (phono-semantically equivalent). They are all, naturally, based on the accepted framework by virtue of which the most economic & encompassing explanation for this metamorphicity (at least in the case of domesticated mammals) is one of desemanticization.
A crucial case is the one known as “Felis castrensis Dodgsonii” (vulgo “Cheshire Cat”, Carrollius 1868). It has been precisely observed that its disappearance proceeds in the form of a wave-motion from one extremity of the subject studied to the other. Two described peculiarities have so far not been investigated in this celebrated case-study. First, the wave-motion is in the form of an asymptote tending toward zero but never reaching it, since it leaves the residue called “a grin”. This has led to bold speculations of its being a special case of the so-called “Double Helix of Thermodynamics”, the well-known proceeding by which the three laws of thermodynamics are twisted through semantic spacetime (or chronotope, Quine & Einsetain, 1914; Bakhtin, Ukhtomskii & Minkowski, 1919) so that the Second Law (constant tendency toward zero energy) & Third Law (Nernst’s theorem, final unreachability of absolute zero-energy level) remain within the enantiomorphic universe while the first law (the obviously counter-intuitive “Conservation of Energy”, falsified equally by rural, urban & élite populations) is helicoidally twisted out into its enantiodromic counter-universe & can therefore for all practical purposes be neglected. Though conclusive data for elevating this speculation or Gedankenexperiment into a full-fledged theory are lacking, since they would cost as much as one nuclear submarine engine, our present study is based on the syntactically formal presupposition that it is operationally valid. The Carrollius-Quine Hypothesis entails not only that there is a valid energy basis for semantic derealization but also solves the unresolved proton pseudos noted already by Locke (1714) that this derealization can itself be described in semantic terms. If energy is not conserved, obviously there are no problems in desemanticizing being followed by resemanticizing (to be strictly distinguished from its sub-category & indeed paradoxical limit-case of romanticizing). E contrario, if energy were conservable, our discipline would collapse & we cannot allow that! Q.E.D.
The second peculiarity lies not in the direction but in the intervening territory covered by the sinusoidal disappearance: technically speaking, in its (multiple) localization rather than in its orientation. As noted in the path-breaking conundrum of Newcastle, Owlinski & Athens (1925), the observations of Carrollius would (to put it prudently) be quite consonant with “Felis castrensis Dodgsonii” being structurally analogical to “Felis domestica Linné”. Carrollius presents unambiguously a fully witnessed observation by which the desemanticization (& therefore optical derealization) begins from the Cat’s “tail”, & proceeds through various segments, members & aspects of this relatively clear-cut Cat’s “body” (in this case, obviously a dead metaphor or catachresis which in no way impairs the scientificity of that experimental observation) in a “characteristic-to-defining shift”, ending finally up at its “head” (semantically borrowed here, as Agar-agar & Brasilia, 1955, have shown by phonemic analysis, from the macro-thesaurus entry of “a fish smells from its HEAD” with the obvious link of culinary kinship between the nominal kind “Cat” [even the Castrensis species] & “Fish”.) Such a full structural congruency opens up two complementary possibilities related by Chi, Phi & Khi (1976) to one’s level of expertise in a given domain: either (a) that this homology is functional; or (b) that it is substantial (Snark & Snark, 1981). While this dilemma cannot be resolved on present observational data (unfortunately no Felis castrensis, much less one Dodgsonii, has been studied since), & its horns have therefore so far been considered mutually exclusive, it is, we submit, semantically indifferent. Until more expensive computer space is made available to us by the various foot-dragging funding bodies for three-dimensional graphic metamorphic experiments, we are in the position to staunchly maintain, i.e., that both lemmata are, in the state where derealization is the filter for desemanticization, optically equivalent, & thus reduced to the same, merely enantiodromic (plus vs. minus) lemma. We propose the Nivus Solution, to wit: There is no dilemma left, only a monolemma covered by the Double Helix Principle of Quine (which not only because of the well-deserved NewBell Prize in Twisting Semantics but because of its intrinsic elegance & bow-tie principle provides the essential dynamics of the field under scrutiny).
While recent research has provided some further documentation of developmental shift in such desemanticizations from those based on the “characteristic” wave-form motion to those organized more on sudden “quantum package” jumps into another shape (including, obviously, zero-shape, cf. N’yamena, Walker & Blade Runner 1989), it has not provided an encompassing hypothesis for this shift. We propose now to incorporate all such lexicalized concepts into the semantic spread running between the two ends of the wave-corpuscle spectrum (Melbourne, Swinburne, Eyeburn & Ewburn, 1948, might be thought to have preceded this argument of ours, but given their insistence on using the discredited Plank Forms of Vanishing Interview Sheets, today recognized as themselves resemanticized & thus importing into the conclusion the very premise that is to be tested, their work has been deservedly forgotten). In particular, Melbourne et al. (as well as Sydney, Bidney & Weal-Kidney, 1949, in direct continuation from them, & Adelaide, Adeline, & Sapporo, 1949, in imperfect opposition to them) crucially failed to differentiate between semanticization & semioticization (which they quaintly call “semiologization” on a fallacious analogy with homologization, which in this case alters radically following the degree of representational change & thus cannot obtain, especially in rural conditions where you shit as you eat). It seems clear that no mammal, domesticated or otherwise, can ever be fully desemiotized, as evidenced even in their proto-semantic definition as “semiotizing animals” (cf. Ecolinsky, Bologna & Lotnam, 1961), while their possibility & indeed propensity to be desemanticized is the fundament of our field since the famous paper by H. James, W. James & Jameson, 1888 (see also Jamestown, Ogalalla & Pawlett-Heckard’s successful formalizing of the James Cube Intuition by means of symbolic logic, 1955, as well as Stein’s earlier Identity Corollary, 1937, usually formulated as “a rose is a rose is a rose”, & directly cited by Ecolinsky et al., p. ix, as a nominating agency).
In the present report, it remains to fit under this particular pattern of conceptualizing semantics & its dynamic developments two more cases of mammal metamorphosis, after which we may rest our case. The first one is akin to Carrollius in being reported by an early as well as single researcher (we postulate both of them may have been gentlemen of independent means without wife & children, & thus not forced to collaborate with other colleagues). This is, of course, the equally well-known “Felis evanescens Schroedingerii” (Schrödinger, 1923) where the principle of enantiodromy might be said to have for the first time been applied as a dilemma resolving itself onto a lemma (as argued above). Our whole argument on straightening out dilemmas may be applied to this case, which is merely on the “particulate” or “lumping it” pole of the wavicle spread. The exploding into existence vs. non-existence of Felis evanescens is thus THE quintessential case of semantic indeterminacy which by virtue of being not only desemanticized but then also resemanticized has proved heuristically a most fertile clincher for our hypothesis. (At least, we hope it will prove fertile: but this remains to be determined by the funding agencies.) It demonstrates how & why conceptual development is insensitive to enantiodromy of the environment, so that the process ceases once the rule-governed representation has been achieved, with no discernible alteration in each enantiodromic universe, except in familiar static concepts (e.g. the Second & Third Law of Thermodynamics).
The second & final remaining case-study significantly widens the extension (though not the already demonstrated intension or indeed intention) of our hypothesis by subsuming under it a new genus, namely that of Canis. It is the Case of Canis phosphorescens Baskervillensis (Conan, Doylensis & Barberian 1919). This fills in our spectrum by occupying the middle ground between the wave of Felis castrensis (Carrollius) & the particle of Felis evanescens (Schrödinger): it is in some aspects, more precisely in its macro-aspects & overall structure, particulate (i.e. a hound), whereas it is (simultaneously in both synchrony & diachrony, we stress!) in some other, more textural aspects wave-like or sinusoidal (i.e. in its shift toward a chord-like visual spectrum, vulgo phosphorescence–German schillern, from its first observer, though in a non-domesticated (Felis tigris tigris) instance, Friedrich v. Schiller ). The two aspects are, as a key interpretive observation, not discrete but consubstantial & irrevocably fixed. The continual developmental exchange between them was portrayed by De Camp, De Broglie & Delany (1977) as a “complex dialectical process, characterized by long duration adherence, even development of appearance functions…qualitative saprophitism of one form upon another, intertwining of wave and particle, & adaptive resemanticization” (DeCamp et al, p. 3). The original interpretation of the wavicle by Conan et al. as non-qualitative, non-adaptive & above all non-intertwining was thereby decisively modified, as a direct result of a better understanding of the Kondratieff mega-wavicle represented by the Russian Revolution (which, as is well-known, Conan himself refused to acknowledge, while DeCamp treated it with cognitive imperviousness).
With this example we are in the vicinity of (if we do not already partly impinge upon) the other major corpus of sightings in our literature, that of the were-beasts. However, since this paper treats only of domesticated mammals, the were-beasts (which can be defined as doubly non-domesticated mammals, “were” & “beast”) will not be treated here. We can only proleptically announce that they will not only confirm our Nivus Solution of the Enantiodromic Helix Principle but raise it to a new explicative potency, since it will probably become apparent that it is a principle extending to all mammals, including ourselves as semanticizing mammals. If so, it is necessarily present in all our works. In other words, our Principle is not simply interpretive or epistemological but constitutive or ontological, even semantico-economical as well as self-reflexive and Gordian. Only due scientific prudence & humility, as well as the expectation of a new generation of computerized graphics & of private financing of highly probable patent-cum-copyright derivations therefrom, prevents us at the moment from claiming cosmological scope for it, i.e. its applicability for all possible desemanticized & resemanticized (but, as noted above, not romanticized) species, genera & worlds.
This research was supported by a grant from the Faculty of Semantic Fractals, University of Weisswas, New South Bavaria. We wish to thank Dona Wolfstaple & Luther D. Chartwidge for their invaluable assistance with the hypothesis testing. Dr Nivus is grateful to Chang Hueikeng & Tsuzuki Hatsumi for their counsels how to circumvent the various bureaucracies making life miserable & this paper difficult. As to those, & various other people who did their best to prevent us from thinking, their listing would take too much space, just let it be clear that we cannot be responsible for the greater part of our failings (if any).
(Will be appended later.)
Rec’d Aug. 6, 1999; revised version rec’d Aug. 5, 2,001; a new
version for post-publication is being targeted
for Aug. 4, 2001 (if we get
the grant from NSERC,
which the readers
of this paper
_(TRANSCRIBED UNDER OATH November 8, 2001 BY DARKO R. SUVIN,_
__NOTARY PUBLIC, IN SIGN WHEREOF WE HAVE AFFIXED OUR SEAL:___
_________”Per falsificabilia ad verificabilia”)_________
PART 3: SUNDRY PROSE (1987-98)
3.1. In These Times: Notes for a Future Biographer
GEFUNDEN: EINE NEUE GESCHICHTE VOM HERRN K.
Herr K. traf einige Studienkollegen nach 30 Jahren. Sie sprachen zu ihm nostalgisch von den schönen Tagen ihrer Jugendbemühungen und fragten ihm ob es nicht heute, da die Welt offensichtlich schief geht, aussah dass diese umsonst gewesen seien. Herr K. wurde böse. Erstens spielten sich diese Bemühungen nicht in schönen Tagen ab sondern machten die Tage schön. Zweitens kann eine Warte, von dessen Höhe man noch heute sehen kann dass die Welt schief ginge, nicht umsonst erklommen sein. “Freilich,” fügte Herr K. hinzu verschmitzt lächelnd, “sollte man aus der sozusagen Anti-Warte unseren heutigen Tiefstandes auch nachprüfen ob alles so eindeutig schön gewesen sei, ob wir uns z.B. den kürzesten Weg fälschlich als einen geraden vorstellten. Wenn man auf ein grosses Sumpf trifft, ist vielleicht ein langer Umweg der kürzeste Weg. Der Umweg wird natürlich auch die Sicht der sogenannten schönen Tage in eine neue Perspektive rücken.”
TRANSLATION (BY D. SUVIN):
A NEW “STORY OF MR K.” BY MR. B.B. HAS BEEN FOUND
After 30 years, Mr K. met one day some colleagues from his student days. They spoke to him about the beautiful old days of their youthful efforts, & they asked him whether today, when the world was obviously going to hell in a hand-basket, it did not seem that all these efforts had been in vain. Mr K. grew angry. First of all, these efforts did not take place in beautiful days but they made those days beautiful. Second, a peak from whose heights one can even today see that the world is going to hell cannot have been climbed in vain. “Of course,” added Mr K., smiling slyly, “we should also, from the depths in which we seem to be today, verify whether in those days everything had really been so beautiful, whether we did not (for example) wrongly assume that the shortest way must be a straight line. If one encounters a huge swamp, a long detour is perhaps the shortest way. The detour will, naturally, also put the view of those so-called beautiful days into a new perspective.”
3.2. On Reading the Chan Masters, 900 Years Later
Before I had studied Master Da-li-en I saw mountains as mountains & water as water. After 30 years, with deeper knowledge, I saw mountains are not mountains & water is not water. But now that I’ve got the very substance I am at rest: for I see mountains again as mountains & water again as water–but I see that I see them, & I see with Master Ka-meh that I am the present crossroads of many people, past & future.
This crossroad meeting is founded in exertion or praxis: Each person’s exertion is the seed of all Bodhisattvas, compassioning & creating humanity. Thus my exertion too, small & humble in one way, is one thru which the exertions of all Bodhisattvas in past, present, & future become reality. They make my exertion possible, & my exertion makes them possible. The merit of any exertion may be disclosed during the exertor’s lifetime, or it may lie hidden, remain unseen, unheard, unrealized. Yet depending on other exertions, mine may have, or may, become realized. Hidden tho they may be, they are latently available. Whether visible or invisible, tangible or intangible, they never fully disappear in the maelstrom of time.
My exertion might seem meaningless when faced with Nirvana, yet it is not. Without exertion, there would be no chance of anybody entering Nirvana. Nirvana may only be attained by purifying the whole of humanity. Without that the vicious wheel of class society would spin on. No less is needed as the cause & the goal of anybody’s exertion. Right now is the moment, the straight gate, upon which all the saviours, past & present & future, converge, & only thru which their compassion & creation may be realized. Of course, this now is non-synchronous for each of us–including all the people who make up “I.”
At this moment a flower blooms, a revolution breaks out; a poem is written, a love affair breaks down; a bridge is finished, a child is conceived. Everything is exertion & praxis between people, even zero-exertion & alienation. & this is why the exertion of seeing mountains & seeing water is real: the seeing is real right now in my mind & yours, the mountains are real crumbling in a mere million years, the water is real flowing by me. You who read me writing this are real too, created by this reading as a reader, really, at this moment.
I wanders thru time
by some of real you
3.3. Teach */
Of the three evils, ignorance can be dispelled if teacher & pupil desire to cooperate. Poverty can be overcome if they live in a community where teacher & pupil have also the means to cooperate. Envy can be uprooted if knowledge & security prevail in a society where groups with particular interests have an overriding interest in common–that of cooperatively furthering a self-governing community where security & knowledge develop apace.
Authorities are indispensable in teaching. They flow out of knowledge, security & friendliness–in that order. Even in the worst society, there is no teaching without some knowledge. A minimally tolerable community will allow teachers to have & transmit also security–the insertion of separate data & techniques into a rich system of material relationships between people by way of communally accepted signs & significations. A good, classless society will allow teaching to be organized as a friendly practice–a community of people & things.
It is indispensable to have a number of authorities. One may be overriding. In a bad society it seems to be necessary for one to be overriding, to focus the search for a way out. In a tolerable society, the limitations & therefore deficiencies of even the best authority will be partly remedied by adjoining to it subsidiary authorities. Kong Fu learned from Tan Zi, Chang Hong, Shi Hsiang & Lao Dan, but mostly from people around him; he said, “Out of any three men, I can learn from one”. Karl Marx learned from Hegel, Feuerbach, Ricardo & Balzac, but mostly from the oppressed people around him; as for the oppressors’ objections, he said, “Follow your course & let those people talk”. In a classless community, several authorities can not only clash but also stand side by side as equals; it will then again be possible, one presumes, to learn from every second person. For a particular limited purpose & time, it will still be necessary to choose one authority as first among equals.
It is a bad teacher who does not learn from pupils & junior people as well as from his seniors. Many truths are to be learned. Some people born before me have learned some old truths or dispelled untruths before me; but some people born after me have also learned some old or new truths, or dispelled old & new untruths, before me. As I seek the truth, it is irrelevant whether I may learn it from a senior or a junior in age or in a social scale of today. But mostly, a teacher learns from her or his times: from people relating to each other & to the universe. Whoever (or indeed whatever) knows & imparts a truth may be a teacher.
In the verbal arts, people nowadays think they must all be original. Nobody ever thought so before, outside the peculiar market cities of the last 300 years. Even today, physicians, musicians, physicists, artisans, painters or computer experts are not ashamed or worried to learn from each other. But the literati pretend to an impossible immaculate virgin birth of personal ideas, & therefore end up by rigidly following one authority or by eclectically contaminating incompatible authorities. Dogmatism burns out the immovable house; laxness makes the speeding car turn giddily round on the highways; flexibility in directions, wedded to firmness in final orientation, peoples the steady caravan & tribe.
- Looking at the Mirror
But what can be taken for truth? The world, the flesh or the daimon? Perhaps it is most modest, at a time of Babylonian confusion of tongues, for each one to start from oneself: unhappy consciousness, of any use only on condition one constantly bears in mind that the one is built up from & by the many, feeding back in more or less rich interaction.
Gnothi seauton: without the mirror one would not know even the first thing about oneself: how one really looks. No water-mirror, no glass-mirror: there remain the eyes. But to see oneself mirrorred in somebody’s eyes, one must get real close to the other & look steadily into her (his) eyes. Difficult. & then, each time one wanted to check up on oneself–has there been a change? changes? for better, for worse? which?–, one would have to come near again to the eyes. The same eyes? What if the eyes changed, how could one then compare?
From China & Japan to Rome & England, mirror stands for history & for exemplary behavior: The Great Mirror (Oh-kagami), The Mirror For Magistrates. Everywhere, too, the Moon is a mirror for this Earth: Earthly Paradise earlier, memento mori later. The writings, the shining sign in the sky, stood as records of how one better be (or not be). If they reflected, it was an anamorphosis, a refraction: they suggested & built up examples by contrast to what obtained here & now, “in” oneself or “among” ourselves.
But then, why does the mirror have to reflect in the sense of a one-to-one correspondence between the object/subject & its mirror? It seems normal to us today that it has to (i.e. does). But whence this norm? What about concave, convex, cylindric, parabolic, & so long time on, mirrors? Is a plane the only surface that can set up norms? & everything else is aberrant, at best good for fairground exoticism, at worst monstrous curse? What is the touchstone of believability? For choice?
Well now: the one-to-one or simple realism (in all senses) is necessary for some purposes. Let us not malign the donkey now that we have the railway & airplane (& alas, the car). It was patient, it cost little, it went where no one else could, it was useful. It still is. Realism is necessary, e.g., for surgery, when the mirror opens up to sight & intervention a sheltered bodily cavity. It says, Here are the limits. If you cut her, if you cut me here I shall bleed (a little, a lot, too much). Here is my bile, my heart, my stomach, my genitalia. If you prick me there, I die.
*/ „Teach 3“ was published in Social Discourse/ Discours social 1.2 (Spring 1988) [a Montreal periodical ed. by Marc Angenot, I was a collaborator and member of the Board]
3.4. An Ecologue
Messer gabel schere licht
Sind für kleine kinder nicht
–Should we take back Prometheus?
–But then, how can the daimonic fire be tamed, lest it destroy us all? How can we guarantee that it may be used only in productive or creative ways?
–Not by anything in nature outside people & their bandings together. The fire inside people will have to be channelled by insistent choice. We must speedily engage in long & bitter clashes, leading at the end to morally but also institutionally sanctioned norms. The norms will build our choice into any dealings with fire: no dealing ought to be even imaginable outside of an overriding framework of safety, of cost in lived human years & in other natural necessities. This framework must be chosen so as to be unquestionably valid for a whole historical epoch.
–Is it possible to find such a framework, both qualitative and quantitative?
–The bitter capitalist success in finding & enforcing the totally unnatural framework of money breeding money, of profit divorced from improvement of people’s lives, of quantity as a negative quality, assures us that we can also articulate a diametrically opposed parameter of entropy-increase. It would generate within any scientific hypothesis & device a felicific calculus much more stringent than, yet equally ruthlessly applied as, the capitalist bottom-line: What is it going to cost whom, who is it safe or unsafe for, & overridingly –is it safe for humanity? It should become as inalienable an element of the fire as oxygen. The absence of this element would then provoke as much horror as raping children or killing off entire nations: for it is the same.
–But for that purpose we have to break down the individualist stance within the world: each for himself & the devil take the hindmost (or all). We may need an analog to religious or magic dread. A new, thisworldly enchantment. Geared toward, looking forward to, life after & against capitalist devastation, rather than to life after death. After all, “Pro-metheos” means “The Forward-looker.”
–If we need that, then we need that. But on a Daoist or Quaker model: no popery, political or cosmical! Not even a vicarious Lion King.
–“I don’t seek to follow in the footsteps of people in the past, I seek the things they sought.” (Bashô)
–But I also know they sought those things. I know which things they sought. It would be false (& uneconomical) to pretend I didn’t. The things we seek today have been co-defined, which means modified, by the fact that they were sought–& partially found–by such-&-such people in the past in such-&-such ways. They were found AS such-&-such. These findings (of the things they sought) are the starting point for my seeking (for the things I seek).
Thus, I seek–also–the things sought by people in the past. I don’t only follow their footsteps. Of course, in part I may; & whenever I need to verify whether their things are still my things (such as in all learning that starts from the beginning), I must. But I certainly carry on from where their footsteps stopped. It is impious to believe I can be only self-generated –as if no culture had been handed down thru generations to my parents & teachers!
However, I sometimes find their things have in the meantime lifted anchor & changed. I find them somewhere else, AS something else (a distant cousin, say). Or at least: sometimes, as I seek the things sought by people in the past, I’m coming from a quite different direction: then they are walls instead of pillars & snakes. Or they have slipped wholly away & in their place is something that may not even be a distant cousin. But sometimes, as above, I carry on from wherever the past people stopped, from the white margins of their maps. The crucial puzzle is: how am I, how are people in my time as it becomes a new past, to find (out) things; what is the situation in each particular case.