Issue #51 April 2022
2022 04 26
An interesting little paradox to try out. On the one hand it is absolutely clear that describing things is difficult, and may even be impossible at the limits. There is always something of the ineffable in even the most mundane and unremarkable of experiences. On the other hand, it’s trivial to give names to things, to categorize, to spread out the infinitely creative powers of language and place a label on every nook and cranny. The opposition at the heart of this paradox is perhaps the most tragic of those human dualities. Being a noble spirit trapped in a fleshy body is not so bad, but to live in a flux of life and movement and activity and sensuous experience, all the while constantly talking, describing, relating, but yet always dogged by the feeling that this endless stream of language, of thought and intelligible idea, barely even touches the surface of our lives; and, when it does, slides right off, or, when it catches hold, it builds up in relation to only itself.
Tragic, like Midas. We hunger for knowledge, and through concepts and categories and symbols and words and talk we are all ‘epistemic virtuosi’. Infinitely dividing the world into a finer and finer grid, labeling and delimiting endless regions. Yet, life just rumbles there beneath it. Right in front of our faces. The very texture of our lives, what all this talk is about, slips our through fingers, leaving us with grains and blocks and bricks of words and concepts. It is for this reason, maybe, that there were always thinkers, artists, and poets, who pointed us towards those bizarre experiences, where something seems to seep through the cracks of the earth, and some subterranean movements become visible – even if just for a short glimpse. Those liminal experiences have a hard time finding a place in our systems of words and statements, precisely because of their nature. It seems nevertheless that in authentic works of thought – whatever that might mean – there is a trace of this tearing process, and which can be re-experienced in a genuine reading.
But you may think this impossible on the basis of an irony you have caught here – that philosophy might lament this state of affairs, when it is sustained so clearly by language’s ability to name and map the world to the n-thdegree, endless conceptual divisions, numbered propositions. Perhaps the artists and the mystics are all the guides we need. Their solemn silence being the final truth on the matter. But this is to miss the predicament: we can no more shrink from language than from oxygen. What is needful, therefore, are words that can bring us close to the jets of experience. In this movement we move. And even if on the peripheries, the frontiers of this movement, there is only an endless multiplication, a maddening babbling, these jets are the font of life, creativity, and thought itself. Into the bubbles we eternally descend, fellow creatures spun from words and pauses.