Thursday, February 16, 2012

Moral Certainty


There is a growing need for you to understand something about understanding something.  This is of particular importance because, once again, you have been appointed a professor somewhere, and professors profess, right?  And even when you are not a professor, you profess, right?

The thing to understand is that the weight of importance falls on what you do not understand as opposed to what you think you understand, what you believe to be so, and what you practice as a result of your belief that what you believe is at the least workable.

How much better it is to set off talking about something you do not know, rather than the hurried, impatient sense of wanting to correct someone who has views that differ from yours.  It maybe of equal frustration for you, when you hear someone who expresses more or less the same views as yours.  If you do not know this person, he or she has introduced a ghost in the machine.  You already knew that bit of information.  In all probability, you knew it even better, although it is essentially the same.  This, of course, is vanity carried upward to exponential heights.  If you know that 2 x 2 equals four, you might be surprised to learn there are those who do not think so.  You would certainly be suspicious of such a person.  Someone propounding the product of two times two as four begins to rankle because it is boring.  Your knowledge of the fact of two times two equaling four becomes proprietary.  You are even better able to appreciate the connection between two times two and two plus two.  Thus comes arrogance, which is the trampoline to moral superiority.

We need to discuss  the things we do not know, are not certain of, or want some prodding about.  From such discussions, we may approach the state of a kind of agreement where we may each of us sneak off to the privacy of the personal work area the better to test out this new working hypothesis.

If we work at it with enough passion and the energy gleaned from impatience, we might approximate art, which is to say some form of divine failure, some momentary sense of having seen the shimmer of an ideal before the vision begins to blur into reality.

Understanding is not art, it is the temporary presence of delusion.  Understanding is the catch-22 of reality; it cannot fulfill itself until it produces some significant doubt about the ability to understand its behavior.  It is the dog who, chasing its tail and catching it, believes he has solved the problem of the tail.  Were he to hang onto the tail, he would surely languish from thirst or hunger or both because who ever heard of a dog being able to eat or drink with a mouth filled with tail?

For any number of years, you were convinced you might come across a book somewhere, in a library, in a bookstore, in a thrift shop or that remarkable shelf you recall in the motel in Ashland, Oregon, where, on your way to see non-Shakespearean plays, you saw books you’d always wanted to read.  One book, fiction, essay, poetry, perhaps even a recipe book, would somehow make clear to you all the things you were hoping to codify in order to put to work creating a body of fiction at once coherent and illustrative of splendid ways to write and live. When you realized the impossibility of that task and stopped looking, it became immediately clear to you that you no longer had to place such a burden on every book you read nor, indeed, on every piece you wrote.

You are not attempting to write yourself away from learning much less into stupidity.  You will distance yourself from learning in direct proportion to the way learning seems to draw you toward it the way Odysseus’ sailors were drawn by the Sirens.

More catch-22 there.  Any learning you pick up will be the equivalent of a knock-off made on the cheap in a Third World country.  Perhaps there is a possible solution:  if you try to write your way into learning until you die, stupidity will not have a chance to catch up with you.  It will be like the holding patterns of airplanes waiting to land at O’Hare and LAX.

What was on that scrap of paper you threw away at the coffee shop?  Was there anything to have been learned from it?  Would it have stupid to save it?  Would it have been better not to write anything on it in the first place?



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