“Oh judgement! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason.”
(Shakespeare, Julius Ceasar, III.2)
Back in the 70s, at Indiana University, I took a class in symbolic logic. The professor I had for the class — let’s call him “Dr. C” for the simple reason that I can’t remember how to spell his long Italian surname — was an odd sort. An ex-Navy man, he sported a 17th century goatee and mustache, had his hair permed in an afro, and carried a good number of tattoos. He also had a bit of a reputation. Something to do with dating one of his graduate students, a no-no back in those days, there was a bit of a scandal — well let’s just leave it at that.
He also had a brain like a steel trap that I very much admired. And he didn’t try to hide it with false modesty. He was what I would later call a “confrontational” instructor. “Think!” he would yell at us across the classroom. We would kind of fidget at our desks, embarrassed. As well we should be. Thinking — thinking correctly — is never easy. Not happy with my grade at the end of the semester, not happy with having not learned enough in the class, I was to take the very same class with Dr. C two years later. I only did slightly better. Yes, not easy to learn to think.
Perhaps the chief lesson I learned from him is something that he would drill into our heads the entire semester: “Never forget” he would shout, “anything and everything follows from a false proposition!” If proposition A is false, then conclusion B or C that follows from it may be false or may be true — the problem is that there was no real way of knowing.
No real way of knowing. And for a logician, that is like a deep dark well. It is darkness and death. It is not rational.
Having to deal with chronic free-floating anxiety since my 20s, how well and how many times have I gone back to Dr. C and his much stated sentence. Medication is certainly available to fight anxiety. But it is usually partially effective and almost always a double-edged sword that causes a flip-side reaction that creates depression. Logic and rationality, for me at least, has been more beneficial. No, don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that people that suffer from anxiety should simply pull themselves up by their bootstraps. I’m just saying that as a therapeutic adjunct that in my case logic has been very beneficial.
Perhaps that is one reason why the state of our current culture bothers me so much. And why I have to spend so much of my time hiding from it. Looking outward, I see accusations, ill-defined terms, lies and deceits, gossip and imagined states of affairs posing as truth. I see that deep dark well, I am saddened by it and I want to yell “Just stop!”
So much talking, and talking about talking — including this post unfortunately. And I fear that also. Jesus of Nazareth said not to throw stones — but only he was qualified to say it. And so I reach out to words here, words that open up into the Universe, very carefully. As much as I respect Jacques Derrida, as much as I am prone to my own anxiety-launched deconstructions, I know that they can only be personal, and that the interpreter, as Umberto Eco said, is “a free detonator of what he himself produces.”
But what I do feel safe in saying is that I fear that besides a return to the Nihilism of the 1930s, that we have entered into what Eco called the Kabbalistic Drift (one might as well say the Godless Kabbalistic Drift):
“Mallarme’s idea of a context made up by empty and white spaces can recall the rabbinical idea of a scroll where even the white spaces are to be read as letters, but this time there is no God to warrant (and to be named by) the combinatory game: The Book is not conceived by God to speak of Himself. On the contrary, the Book…only speaks of its infinite combinatorial possibilities.”
Interestingly, there is another area which deals in infinite possibilities — metaphysics. But if our current deconstruction of meaning — all the words, all the talking — is tied to the metaphysics of Nihilism, then we are, essentially, saying nothing. I leave it to each of you to decide whether or not that is the current case.
All I can say is that in the practice of charity, in mercy, compassion, and love, words are not really necessary. And it was not me that said that, of course. A being far greater than any said those things.
I read an interesting quote the other day by Jorge Luis Borges: “I am not sure that I exist, actually. I am all the writers that I have ever read, all the people that I have met, all the women that I have loved.” How certainly I have felt that over the past years. I am barely solid, so much of me is insubstantial, like a spirit on Prospero’s Island. Both sinner and saint, I flutter around in the storm as best I can.
And so this Christmas I would like to thank all those friends and family who have given me laughter, who have taught me, who have given me their hand when needed. And to you all I wish you this Holiday a peace that the world cannot give; I wish you Anything not dark; and Everything excellent that God may ordain.