33 items found for ""
- Beckoning of a Log
Seldom do logs call attention to themselves, but it was clear to Moorsh that this log wanted them. Around them was a wall of shimmering ferns, wavering in the whatever drops of golden light that managed to seep through the forest’s canopy. Moorish felt this light inside of themselves, shimmering in its reverberations throughout their limbs. Obviously they couldn’t see, for that faculty made little sense in their structure, but the intuited environment overtook their consciousness in other ways. For the most part Moorsh tasted their way through the world. The spot where they grounded themselves was earthy, as all forest is, but had the pinch of alkalinity that lingered. They craved this pinch for reasons they didn’t quite understand. The log called Moorsh by means of this flavor—Moorsh tasted an intoxicating squeeze from a fallen chunk of the log, and its reverberations rattled Moorsh in a heavenly way. It felt almost as though their body vibrated in the direction of the log. Moorsh trusted this forest, the only earth they’d ever known, and the beckoning calls have been a staple of their life since their nucleation. Navigation came forth to them through these sensory tugs and never did them any harm. The log, too, emanated a sweet scent. Its rich cedar fragrance, ripe with decay, entered Moorsh’s body and soaked into them. Little droplets, like tiny needles, enraptured their consciousness each time they took a pause to attend to it. They allowed the needles to fall inside of them, and one nestled in their folds, these needles seemed to weave their senses into a soothing massage. So heavy and delicate was the scent that Moorsh had no doubt that the log was perfect for them. Energy would be spent, of course, moving from here to there—but that would be energy well spent, and well renewed once the goal was reached. For several days Moorsh dedicated their body to moving closer to the log. Each day was spent gathering the nutrients to inch themselves ever so closer to the beckoning sweetness. And, after iterations of gathering and motion, Moorsh finally made contact with the source of the scent. They drank in their position. The flavor of the log turned out to only have an initial hint of alkalinity. After the pinch, the flavor deepened into a silky, rich fluidity. Moorsh felt their innards, like little semi-circular wheels, turn over, rolling slowly with the current of the log’s chemicals. The curved parts faced down and they felt clean, at ease. Warmth flooded their vessels and deepened the comfort. Lingering in the kind flavor, Moorsh continued eating, eating, eating, filling themselves up more and more with the soothing fluidity. Something turned sharp. The alkalinity of the forest earth returned, overwhelming the tenderness of the taste. The alkalinity grew sharper and sharper, even after Moorsh stopped eating, and Moorsh felt it cut into their relaxed innards. They stopped eating in hopes that the sensation would subside. It ended, but not by fading—the alkalinity sliced through them. Out poured their contained being; strings loosened and tightened, snapping and collidizing depending on their energy, and Moorsh no longer contained themselves. For once they looked. Their body rested below them. Nothing seemed particularly odd about it. It was shaped fine, healthy—dwelling on a log, resting, sustaining. But the fact of looking meant that what was inside them was now, instead, floating about in the world. No longer did they ingest the world. They corresponded to a liberated consciousness. With a brief glance downward they realized how far away their body was. It was low. They were high. Upon seeing—how beautiful, the novelty of sight—the gap between themselves and the earth, they felt an itch nestle inside them. How could Moorsh be so far from the only substrate they dwelled in? What allowed them to live? The log was rotten. They didn’t acknowledge this fact because, for their whole lives, they had been the rotter. Eating away at dead flesh fueled their life. Driving for life, they fueled and perpetuated the terrible fact of time—that most will decay, fade rather than burn, and pass unceremoniously into another life. That life, that wonderful gift that allowed them to experience beauty, necessitated the consumptive destruction of other beings. And Moorsh was not just a receptacle in life’s destruction. They were the agent. Life’s drive was infact a manifestation of Moorsh’s own drive for death. Their thirst for annhilation preyed down on the fallen and pushed them further into the dirt just so they could enjoy some good flavors. Guilt overwhelmed Moorsh, but their guilt was meaningless. A guilt that exists because of the mere fact of life paralyzes the guilty. Paralysis helps nobody. The processes go on, no pain is alleviated, and, in crystallizing them in evil, decay preys upon the guilty. No longer would Moorsh subscribe to paralyzing guilt. Instead they shifted their gaze to the point of contact between their body and the log. Upon closer inspection, they found this point of contact wasn’t discrete. There was no specific nexus between them. Was there pain in this transaction? How could Moorsh regard the suffering of the log properly, given that the two were inseparable? A surge rushed up through Moorsh’s innards—they could see the fluid course up through the spilled strings—and Moorsh’s perception shot up higher. Feeling a bit more ease, they descended their gaze back to where they were before. There was no search for the nexus; instead, Moorsh rested their looking at the log-body relationship as a whole. Connection was obvious. The bodies rested upon each other. Invigoration, Moorsh knew, came from the tree. The surge came from an increase in fluid pressure in the log, which Moorsh collected to grow. Force was pain to the log alone, and with proper regard, Moorsh received it, alleviated it, and grew. With the burden of harnessing and enacting death, Moorsh felt ease once more. They had their place. They had the face of kindness with delivery. Resting in the force of the tree, Moorsh began to descend back down into their body. Once lodged back into their innards they felt a pulse. The innards, once spilled and looked down upon, carried an energy. Moorsh lingered in the scent of the woods once more—but rather than rattle from the poginancy, or indulge in the sweet cedar, they felt a rhythm bowing up and down as though they breathed with the forest. Their limbs went fluid once more. Dissipation was all they focused on, and further they tread from where they once were. Moorsh came down, but didn’t stop with their body or the ground. Out they went. Thank you, Moorsh said, but there was nobody to receive it.
- Disgruntled Airport Dispatch
Dispatch: I’ve been at the airport for the last 6 hours. Deployed by chance and convenience—or more aptly, by my non-desire to take trains for three hours or force another ride. There’s much to report but little to remember. Fact: You can assess how cool someone is based on their shoe choices. Human feet rub against the world more than any other part of the body. Shoes mediate the contact between the foot and earth. To choose to make this a statement in terms of fashion asserts one’s desire to perform their own aesthetic, an aesthetic choice which already depicts what one cares about. The Sketcher wearers of the world are practical, wanting to buffer their contact as much as possible. Nikes feign this comfort while operating as a statement of broad conformity—with Jordans this treads on the surface of fashion, but fails to make genuine contact. Some Europeans wear weird European things and, like all other European things, remain incomprehensible to me. There are boots. The steel wall of the boot sole declares a grand hierarchy between the leg and the land. Running shoes, Converses, Vans, flats; I understand these as a reluctant acknowledgement of the fact that one must wear shoes. And then there are slides. Slides, too, make this acknowledgement, but in an act of rebellious freedom strive to liberate the toes to air. By virtue of having soles they are shoes; by virtue of exposing feet they are free. Yet its freedom remains confined to the shape of the foot and the structure of the foot-land hierarchy, a freedom in a cage, a creative freedom which is farcical in the face of agency. Most people wear slides or running shoes. The Dunkin’ (no longer donuts, just DD) line ebbs and flows by the exhaustion of the service workers. You have to feel for them. Imagine waking up at 6 AM consistently to tend to domesticated animals which each possess an air of self-importance, to whom you are a mediator for bare life. At 6 AM this line snakes around the two black rope barriers that shape it, creeping into the wide linoleum walkway. Imagine waking up at 6 AM with the whole world of possibility at your feet, surrounded by food in every direction—and you choose to consume the generic starch and beans of a replicable fluorescent storefront in an exchange that satisfies neither giver nor gifted. It makes sense in the structure of routine. This can be one’s life, or a facet of the diamond that constitutes home. An airport, though, is likely not a part of one’s life. But it makes sense, I think, if the liminal space is filled with oneself and all that one strives to do in them is create an image of home. Perhaps the liminal space is where self expression comes to the fore. The performance is for an amorphous social being, one which takes on no face and has no reality in one’s life. The amorphous being dwells within each individual who comes here and they present themselves in response to their creation of it. What people wear, where they sit, how they treat others—in liminal spaces, where the others are never to be seen again, everything done is for oneself. You can see more of people here than by talking to them. Why would one ever travel in a suit? Not only are suits dreadfully uncomfortable, they seldom look good on people. If the public is a sphere to either extend the private (and strive for comfort) or be the best you can (perform oneself as an artful act for the gaze), then the suit is a failed set of clothing. It strives for the public, sacrificing the private, but in striving for the public relegates itself to a material that says absolutely nothing. Its artfulness dissolves in its genericism, and a misshapen shirt drags one’s body down to the ground beneath them. I don’t understand.
- Why I Want to Learn Arabic (or My Relationship to God)
The Q’uran reads, “So if you are in doubt of what We have revealed to you, then ask those who (have been) reading the Book before you. Verily, has come to you the truth from your Lord, so (do) not be among the doubters (10:94).” Youth was godless for me. My mother’s mom lived in our house for a quarter of each year until she died, but I remember her through the eyes of a seven year old. She was a tender woman in every sense. Her hair, long and pleated, rested upon her shoulder as she glided through her Maxi. Movement from her was slow but graceful, initiated with a weight of meditation. She’d help my mom with several house tasks—among them caring for me. Her cooking reminisced my own mothers, or my mother’s cooking longed for hers; sometimes I catch wafts of it in my own renderings of my mother’s recipes. She spoke little English and I little Bengali. Her illegibility elevated her to a purely embodied figure in my mind. The grace, the softness of her skin, the glint of the crinkles which crowned her eyes—each of these made her more divine than human. It was only right that I could barely talk to her. I know none of her stories, only those through the childish mind of my mother. She carried within her everything I couldn’t comprehend about where I came from in a tantalizingly clear image, saturating each of her actions, and yet, despite her immediacy, her proximity, there was nothing I could do to touch her. I slept with her, in the same bed, for when I was young and she was old neither of us liked sleeping alone. When dreams wrested me from sleep I’d cling to her tenderness and fall back out of myself. When I wanted sweets she’d draw flan out of thin air. She could do everything besides communicate with me. Of course this is a bit of an exaggeration. We communicated in broken Benglish. My Bengali has never been better than it was then, for I was constantly crushing thoughts into its forms, receiving immanent feedback, refining my sculpture, and trying again. Our broken language held her at a distance as someone with whom I could only speak to instrumentally. She answered my prayers but she could never be my confidant. I was seven, anyways, so no thoughts were worthy of that yet. But I never stopped looking at her with the eyes of a seven year old. Never did I treat her as a human being with history, with emotional depth, with the perils of life beneath her skin—for me she was a receptor, an angel, the grace of divinity. One thing about her was that she was incredibly religious. I didn’t know why. I didn’t know what it meant. Nobody else embodied religion in my family. My mother declared it evil. My father declared it incomprehensible. My education declared it as a contradiction to liberal sciences. So there was no religion in my home, except in her. She wore a headdress whenever anyone outside of our home was present. She prayed five times a day, and for her I always know my cardinal directions. In any trouble she turned West, for there Allah waited for her—if she couldn’t pull a miracle, He was her last resort. Her departure from the rest of my home elevated religion into the realm of beings which constituted my history that I couldn’t grasp. There was Bangladesh; there was the 1971 war; there was poverty; there was overt racism; there was culture shock; there was loneliness; there was Islam—each of these things dripping through the seams of the house into my life, scenting the air, referring to memories I never had but that each of the adults mediated their presents with. Only in her was this scent so flagrantly embodied—it was more difficult for a seven-year-old me to see my mother’s atheism as a response to 1971 than it was to see my grandmother’s Islam as a response to growing up in a Muslim country. So when she passed away, as angels go to heaven, Islam remained on its pedestal. It didn’t become a human practice or imperative. It fluttered on with the rest of the memories that affected everyone but me. For the longest time, her death was the same; it was the cessation of divine normalcy more than the passing of a close relative. I didn’t know how to understand her, so I didn’t. My mother felt her death. She clutched back onto Islam in the face of it. She began praying daily, something she only did on Eid, and began wearing a headdress sometimes. On the couch where my grandmother used to sit she’d recount bright stories about her with a youthful melancholy that felt alien. “I am going to pray for you,” she would tell me sometimes when I needed help. I’d never seen her turn to anyone else before. My grandmother always supported her. By turning to Allah, she was turning back to her. Stuffing clothes into boxes, preparing to go to boarding school, my mother once declared one of those proclamations of prayer. I asked her if she believed she was Muslim. No, she told me. I asked her how not. She said something along the lines that to be Muslim would be to organize herself in a doctrine, to ascribe to some bigger group with codified principles. Her faith didn’t reflect that. No, her Allah was the one of the Q’uran and her mother, not the one of the imams, so she was not Muslim. I bought this, in the same vein that I understood that group dogma was dangerous. She sought her mother through Allah—nothing more. Anything else would lead her to lose her self-possession. I had no reason to seek my grandmother. Divinity flowed through her body, but her absence left me with no longing. She was gone and Allah was gone and that was that. I had nothing to miss; only a seven-year-old, one who fell away long ago, could recall her. On I went in secularity. There were no more glimpses of anything higher. Boarding school was an aggressively liberal and scientistic land, a Paris amidst the Bible Belt. There the only God lay in the unfolding of natural laws which I memorized and codified and enacted in my practicing of science. I first encountered spiritual movement when flasks of chemical reactions tugged my eyes. My chest felt light when I watched spinning liquid change colors, when vacuums sucked their organic moisture to make beautiful purple crystals, when my theory failed with avail yet something magical remained. I attributed this aestheticism to science and magic and moved on. I arrived at Deep Springs with a scientific mind. Early on, in my first Summer Seminar, we read Martin Buber. The essay was called The Way of Man and in it Buber describes the act of heart-searching. In contrast to the secular existentialist move of declaring oneself as a commitment to projects which reify the human, Buber describes a spiritual tug upon the unified soul, one invoked by the hand of God, which one must learn to listen to in order to find their way. We were discussing it on the front lawn of the Main Building. Green overwhelmed me in scent and sight. Grass cradled my body and I felt its pollen keep my mouth shut. A bunny was zig-zagging back and forth nearby and I wondered about how I could maybe catch it. Maybe it was something I could eat one day. The windows before me felt like weary eyes. In the realm of words, a classmate of mine decreed this text the perfect description of human life. She had nothing to criticize. Breaking out of my generally silent indifference to religious texts, I lashed back at her saying that nothing in the text resonated with me, for the human soul is a spiritual fantasy of the incomprehensible, non-physically reducible mind. The soul cannot be tugged, I said, because the soul cannot be unified—it can never be fully formed as a whole, for human agency rests in projecting this unification. God couldn’t tug on the unified soul; He would merely grasp air. Nobody replied to me because what I said was ridiculous. My mind wasn’t present. I believed my words, though. I didn’t believe in the soul. I didn’t know what it could mean so I negated its existence. I knew that I knew very little about my own direction and that there were few signs that could aid me in finding it and that any choice I made was ultimately arbitrary and could be rationalized, either logically or religiously, so there was no point in trying to ‘listen.’ Buber failed to make contact then. The next semester I read Kierkegaard’s Either/Or. This book is my best friend. The striking of great art occurs in a harmony between inspiration and occasion, as A taught me, and I was an open banquet waiting for the brilliance of Heremita to vibrate my air forever. I remember my first feelings reading it, with A describing the motions of restlessness and boredom, of aesthetic affinity, of the miraculous images of sorry, the Diapsalmata echoing through my mind. The Unhappiest One punctuated my troubled relationship with religion: in it suffering is not aesthetically celebrated but religiously rejoiced. Rotation of Crops succinctly characterized the way that I went about my interests, hovering between friendships and hobbies, dwelling in them only as long as I could transfix them, fleeing the moment I had to commit. I felt understood—then the Seducer’s Diary disgusted me. In a paradoxically similar move to the crop rotator I was horrified by the perverse self-portrait that Johannes offered. I hated looking at myself through the text. Johannes sought to manipulate every situation, and his love, to fashion the perfect sorrowful memory. Never did he last in the present—the present was mediated through his desire to create it or recollect it. By doing so, he failed to recognize his own agency or the humanity of his beloved Cordelia. He breaks her and relishes in it. This piece was so obviously bad, yet so intentionally beautifully written. He rewrote tragedy as an agential play. And some desire that. If Part I of Either/Or was a diagnosis, then Part II was a prescription. Wilhelm, the pseudonym behind the two letters, confronts A in the way he perpetually flees. He accuses him of lacking concretion and history. Only through God, he argues, and repentance, can one form themselves as legible, consistent, and real—one is only human through a dutiful relationship to earth which grounds their direct reporting to God. When I read this it made little sense to me. Stuck in my anti-Buberian rationality, I didn’t comprehend the necessity of God in self-coherence. Why did he consummate the responsibility that one held to others? How did he metaphysically unfold in physical relations? I was with Wilhelm, in the sense that consistency and responsibility to others reified one’s humanity and connected them to the universal human being. But this human was within me, was necessarily personable—God did not need to touch him. I finished Either/Or disgusted with myself, committed to the idea of commitment, and perplexed about God. Shortly thereafter I began laboring as a feedman on the ranch. 5:30 AM alarms, daily, no avail. Feed calves. Hay horses. Save chicks. Coddle chickens. Water pigs. Six hours pass. Do it again. Six hours. Again. Mornings—I’d drive with the sunrise, feeling the air crisp into the day with the sun’s warmth. My buggy roared and the differential was messed up but I took enough care of it to keep it moving. The animals learned me by signs; I unfolded as the gift of life in the desert of death to them, so they’d generally change their mental states when I was around. I wouldn’t call it excitement. Maybe animation. I’d often sit with them. I liked to hang out with the pigs. They played with me. Sprinting around their tree, rolling in mud, shuffling up their bedding, chewing on my shoes—they welcomed me as a part of their life, and I enjoyed their company. I’d sit on a bale of hay I threw in to protect them from wind and wonder about what it’d be like to have children. Hopefully like pigs—grateful and full of life. Chickens occupied me as well, primarily through disgust and fear. They seemed to act as binary operators. If peckable then peck; else, squawk. The decision about whether or not something was peckable ruled their lives. Unfortunately they often deemed each other quite peckable. Most of the chickens, broody black sexlinks, lacked feathers on their back, chest, and upper wings. The worst were naked and named, and the best were merely barebacked. Once I found one with a hole deep in its upper wing, bleeding and refusing to enter the coop at night. I froze because I never had felt responsible for blood before. Connie, who used to butcher everything and loved animals, calmed me down enough to transport it into an isolated pen. After three weeks alone it recovered—a process opposite to that of humans. Once I got a set of chicks. They took two extra days in the mail to ship. Upon arrival over half of them were dead. After two days a quarter remained, the rest too weak to go on. Three weeks after their birth a king snake entered their pen and took two for a meal. On the seventh week we killed them and for weeks later we ate them. I got another set of chicks. These ones were intended to live longer and lay eggs. I already had grief associated with the tiny specks of fluff. Yet those I knew were immoral death sentences and raising them was an instrumental use of my body. These would last—in them, a relationship to humans would be established in which I would represent all of the apes. I wanted them to love my hands—to see me, the source of food and water and heat and light, as their sun; I wanted to physically embody the Good to them. Five times a day I’d check on them. With my eyes I’d assess their dispersion and adjust the heat lamps; with my fingers I’d coddle them and pretend to train them; with my arms I meticulously packed and repacked their bedding. I tried to be as present as possible to make their lives as good as possible. A crisp morning, just as any other, brought me to them. Their brooding pen was empty. I searched everywhere around the barn for any trace of them. Maybe the walls of their enclosure were loose and they waddled out; but why last night and never before? Maybe someone played a prank on me. Maybe they were hiding somewhere I couldn’t see. Maybe this discombobulated body I found on the windowsill had nothing to do with it. Maybe they were still alive. They weren’t. I found two more bodies but the other 80 vanished. Failure washed onto me again. In my buggy I carried my guilt. These chicks only stuck out because everything else was well. I fed calves and cows and horses and pigs and turkeys and trees and everything else that needed human regularity. They ate, they grew, they maintained, and we learned some sort of uncommunicated love. I knew how to understand their body language. When I needed comfort they stayed with me and I felt understood, even if we couldn’t talk, because I didn’t think words were any better than space. I’d never spent time with animals before. These creatures weren’t pets, either. I didn’t have a baby-like affection for them. I held no responsibility for their behavior. Sitting with Baby, a calf I’d hand-fed since the death of his mother, and watching him snuffle through the flakes of hay I gave him, I felt like I had friends who needed me. That ground, the tiny little chute through which we’d load cattle into trucks, the angled boards he called home, felt like it had a lot of weight. It was our world. I couldn’t conceive of myself without it. Responsibility was beautiful, but the days were long. Longer days meant that I had more time for my eyes to look. This I’m grateful for. I never quite exceeded the context of the first time I’d seen the mountains by Deep Springs. Gargantuan rotund lumps—they struck me as pebbles which God dropped, left to stack on top of one another. The lack of precipitation left the stones mostly intact. It was hard to believe that Earth allegedly burped them out, so neatly did they fit into one another as they crawled towards the sky. These rocks were nearby to the east. To the north, west, and south, the land said very little. Modest erections of fertility littered the floor, their densities mimicking something about the soils. These bushes were similar in shape to the trees which adorned the mountains after a certain height. Scraggly and domed, maximizing the surface area for light while shallowly yet longingly branching out beneath the soil to clutch any drop of moisture that penetrates the hydrophobic sand. The microflora tucked beneath the bushes had the same shape, leaching from whatever its caretaker let seep through. I’m not sure if the valley floor was particularly eventful. It crystallized death and defecation. Fossilized cow patties could be found from every viewpoint, as could bleached bones, old or new, of all animals. By the end of my time at Deep Springs, I collected 8 cow skulls, 1 bull skull, 2 calf skulls, 1 horse skull, 1 ram skull, 2 coyote skulls, 1 badger skull, 1 bobcat skull, and 1 deer skull with 6-pointed antlers. And these were only the ones I could take home. The desert didn’t seem to process what happened above it—it staged life and death, allowing them to penetrate into one another. Such staging, too, felt unearthly. In the east the ground was a cannibal, consuming and giving birth to itself in flamboyant cycles. Everything here was left. Though the lack of such a process might seem godless, it felt divine to me. The stage gave way to the curtains of distant mountains, folds which, from a distance, felt smooth—yet up close were pebbles as well, sheerer, more daunting, and less human. The south end of the valley was dark. These black mountains were a part of the original thermal upwelling that formed the mountains around Deep Springs. They unfolded as sheets to me, and I never got close enough to understand them well. Every time I did I came across jagged black stones that felt igneous and I took it as a sign to stay away. Lava warns you well. The mountains to the east and west were all artifacts of the tectonic stretching of the basin and range, while the mountains on the west had an added dash of a much later thermal upwelling further complicating its geologic structures. The far away, western mountains had stones with veins in them. Walking through canyons revealed a myriad of bizarre minerals, “crystals” as they’re affectionately called, littered everywhere. Cubic nucleations erected from the towers, macroscopically depicting the fight earth made with itself for our sight. As one got higher, for these stones reached 14,000 feet, the ground came less from below and more from above. Grassier, greener, and lusher with wildflowers, the mountains we affectionately called “cow camp,” for that was their summer grazing, turned into the greatest show of pebbles. Boulders hundreds of feet tall stacked on top of one another in grand spires. The architecture of the land was alien, unparalleled—I doubt Mars, or any other planet, could really compete. I was grateful for work for it made the days longer. I spent more time dwelling in something unfathomably good. Through work and land, I embodied a form of religious duty, that which Kierkegaard wrote of in Part II. I reified myself in my relations to those which sustained me, those animals which I kept alive. I could clearly see Allah in my everyday life. My eyes told me everything I needed to know about His presence. Scientific explanations never falter—for theory is impenetrable until data stretches it—but the motions of beauty elate in a way that chemicals and physics could never comprehend. At this time in Deep Springs, I felt Allah pulse through my consciousness. Yet I had no relation to Him. I could not communicate with Him. I had no language for Him. I didn’t understand Arabic, I didn’t speak it, I couldn’t read it, and I had no mediation to comprehend it. Even mediation would falter—already I held him in mediation, so comprehending him through the double-translated; in the English words of another human; would be even more removed. I failed to see His motions, for He reveals himself only in signs, stitched together to make immediacy coherent. Though I couldn’t pray properly, I think I lived as a prayer. My heart was with Him as I conducted life. My body had faith. My spirit remained lost. During my second year of Deep Springs, after I’d done feed, I dated a girl. She was Muslim. And I loved her sincerely. We'd read little bits of the Q’uran together every night for a while. We never made it past Al-Baqarah—life always caught up to us—but together we tried to restore our lost relationships to faith. She had a more troubled one than I did, with the name of Islam lurking behind the most vile acts of violence she’d seen. She knew of Allah, knew of her imperative towards Him—but she remained troubled by the force He gave to some. So she treaded lightly in this territory. She became my other commitment. I would do many things in a day but I came to her whenever time allowed me. Home was rooted in her. She comforted me, took care of me, was kind to me, and talked to me. There was little more I could have wanted from life than what she offered me. I felt nurtured. As the form of goodness became so tangible to me, I grew dependent on it. I needed her in my life. Without her I failed to sustain, because the external world became a reference to her. I saw her in everything and everything had to be her. Couches were meaningless if not steeped in memories with her. Why speak if not with her, she who understood me without words? Contemplating beauty itself, outside, felt hollow if not graced by her touch beside me. Through her I mediated my understanding of goodness. She elevated earth and stabilized the bad. Nothing was complete without her, and with her it was all perfect. She also possessed the divine language. She’d read the Arabic to me, complaining about how the translations were off, clarifying what we were to get from bits. I listened to her talk to her family in that tongue. The syllables seem to me, a mere English speaker, to slide off of one another—sharp and smooth, flowing. Listening to her felt like watching a rushing creek. When she didn’t want anyone to understand her writing she’d move her pen from right to left with artful curves adorning the page. I didn’t realize this at the time, but I wanted the articulation she had. She could communicate with Allah because she had His language, difficult as the relationship was. The potential existed for her and didn’t for me. Through her, then, I sought to articulate myself towards Allah. Thus we read together; thus I maintained a faithful commitment to her and my work; thus I strove to embody religious ideals in the world as much as I could. Dating her brought me to desire God. She demonstrated the beauty of the form of communication to him. She depicted his goodness in everyday life through the perfection of the world through her. When we broke up these structures fell. The world no longer enfolded goodness, for its faithful messenger turned out to be tainted. The Arabic language no longer existed in my life as a potential; the aroma of its beauty left with her, and it was no longer present in my life. I could no longer articulate myself to God through her. I resented the world for this. I’d grown accustomed to seeing the world as a set of signifiers for the relation I had towards her. We broke up when I was in Fish Lake Valley, living out of a trailer in a land she’d never been to doing work I seldom did with her. That didn’t stop my mind from converting riding horses into riding with her, or cooking into cooking with her, or my clothes and books and letters and decorations and everything from feeling soaked in her. This richness was once sweet. The breakup made it suffocating, intoxicating, and maddening. The present hid behind the opaque shroud of history and I never looked behind the veil. I still desired God but the position he placed me in felt inescapable. The breakup stranded me on an island of guilt. I had this thing, this failure, this terrible thing that I did that I could not speak to anyone about. We broke up over this. When I thought of her, I was brought back, not to my act, but to the depth of guilt. Guilt is less of a feeling or idea than it is a force. It squeezes your throat and chest, holds your eyes open, glaring at the back of your skull, and pulses your neck with vibrations begging, “why? why? why?” Kierkegaard writes that guilt is the mechanism that forces us to repent to God, thereby ensuring our legibility to Him. Heidegger wrote that guilt was the way that we understood whether or not we were being authentic to ourselves. But for both of these men, guilt was self-contained—one was guilty because of an unfaithfulness to themselves, which they needed to set right in order to address it. Guilt was inescapable, they agreed, but it spurred us to do the right thing to alleviate it. My guilt didn’t feel agential. I couldn’t really do anything about what I’d done. I accepted what I did. I asked for forgiveness, from her and from Allah. I promised myself to do better and become better. I think I did that. But none of those motions alleviated the guilt. Nobody and nothing can do that. Eventually it eases up, but it occurs so gradually that you never notice its fading, never notice that you can begin to breathe again. I don’t know if I can breathe steady yet, but I can at least breathe a bit more than then. Then, I was alone and suffocating. I repented and repented, took accountability for more and more, for things I hadn’t done—I let her back into me to strike me in various ways; forgiveness is not something you can ask for, you know; in an attempt to make up for it. Failed narcotics and cycles of abuse—a tale as old as time. I wanted to learn Arabic after we broke up in order to establish an unmediated relationship to Allah with language. Language, too, is mediation—of this I had no doubt. Speaking to Allah bears no witnesses, though. Language grows its mediation through performativity, which gains weight through the eyes of others. The more you speak before, the more you speak towards them and away from yourself. Allah is not such a witness. He is within you, within me, and articulation with him is the closest we can get to unmediated reflectivity. Why Arabic and not English, or even Bangla? I couldn’t tell you with truth, because I still don’t know the language. The closest I’ll get to truth is the Q’uran, which states that truth comes from the Lord. The Q’uran is His book and he chose Arabic as His tongue. Beyond the bare fact, Arabic’s suitability for this task is clear through the blatant beauty of the language. Only such an artfulness can strive to appropriate the divine. The poetry, the calligraphy, the musicality of the words all point vertically towards a grand consummation. Surahs and the Adhan reverberate inside their listeners with the floating tones of its speakers, leading them through a spiritual journey alongside those written in the Q’uran. The letters and written word can mold towards any form in physical space. This allows for a great wealth of household art, but also demonstrates how even in sight the language can fill any visual experience of the world. It recreates experience with faithfulness allowing for a repetition of stories, stories which aim to draw out the universal humanity in every individual. The form and the content of Arabic strive towards harmony, only possible through the sublimity of the language itself. Promptly after leaving the desert I downloaded Duolingo to begin my journey. I quickly encountered the same problem with the babbling owl as I did with the rest of the world. It brought me back to her. In my mind at the time, Arabic was still her tongue and not His. I was stuck in the memories of her speech, beautiful as it was to me, which kept me bound to finite moments in time. These remained inescapable, just as my position was. My love for the world, I realized, was conflated with my love for her. After she was gone I couldn’t separate the two from each other. Worldhood and her remained intertwined. The world enfolded goodness and she unfolded it; without her unfolding, I lost sight of its goodness. The Duolingo owl would teach me to work on my pronunciation. I emitted a sound I’d learned from some conglomeration of her and her brothers. Then I felt myself in the archives, in her atmosphere, suffocating. As quickly as I downloaded Duolingo I deleted it. Without language, without Deep Springs, and without routine, I found myself in a suspended relationship to Allah. The movements of prayer and history fell as structure did. I no longer woke up at dawn without avail, nor did I report to my lover every few hours. Animals didn’t need me. They had someone else. The days didn’t either. Time was frozen, anyways, for I was stuck in the motions of history, and all the present did was chant back the same thoughts I’d already had. I forgot about my project towards Allah for a while since we had no worldly tie beckoning me towards Him. Any reaching up felt like it was born of necessity, a perversion of a relationship. Yet I still needed Him, so I still prayed, and I still conducted Ramadan, and I still tried to speak with Him in English. In looking to Him for hope, I hoped that He could drag my present out of the past and towards a gaze in the future. Eventually this happened and I don’t know how. I think He might have answered my prayers. I don’t find myself thinking about the past much anymore. Nor do I think much about the present, or the future, really. Instead I find myself suspended, like a child in the womb, reaching in various directions to latch onto possibility. The possibility which, for me, feels most urgent again is to grasp Allah. I hope to learn Arabic to consummate that goal, or at least begin through the way of language. If words are those which clear the Open for the emergence of truth, then I probably ought to read without doubt.
- Feedman's Day
Incessantly idyllic, the labor pillar seems to stick with pretty much every Deep Springer. The Trustees visited campus for the first time in a few years; my one bonding point with three of them was that we each did feed. Mark Taylor (DS62) told me that, in his day, he did feed with two burros and a wagon pulling hay. We don’t have any burros anymore. I drive a glorified golf cart. Regardless, Mark’s comments got me interested in the genealogy of labor positions and how the content of jobs has shifted throughout time, but I then realized that we have little beyond passovers (which only reflect the last year) and oral tradition to carry portraits of each labor position. Rather than trace a genealogical tree, I seek to offer a mere leaf. These are my meager observations and reflections from two terms of listening to the buzzing animals of the desert. By no means do I know animals. I only hear. The desert is full of death. Land holds back its warmth as it beckons me to the start of the day. I put the same work clothes on for the fifth day straight; it’s too dark, too cold, too lifeless to think about things like clothing. I have to do my job, do it well--can’t let animals starve, can’t have Tim yell at me (though he will regardless). Once I make it out of my room, I’m encountered by a deafening silence. It’s still dark, so there’s little to see. Touch overwhelms me. The air slices the surface of my face. The tingle drags me out of sleep; now I’m awake. It feels like I might be the only one. I hop in the feed buggy. It takes some coaxing to start, some more to get moving, but it goes. The feed buggy is the icon of every feedman. I don’t notice it much as I use it, but the vehicle quickly reflects who the feedman is. The red cart tells any passerby where I am. It’s littered with random things of mine; torn gloves, a Hemingway book (for when I fill up water tanks), headlamps, knives, bones, feathers, beans. The buggy and I melt into one another as we zip to the museum to grab pig slop. It only has one gear which roars from beneath the backseat, bare and agonized. It makes everyone think I go much faster than the 20 miles-per-hour which caps my gas pedal. We stop under the handicapped parking sign by the PUNIT, next to where the milk cart should be. I scour the museum’s leftovers fridge for food that nobody’s touched in a few days. There’s plenty: cornbread, slaw, beans, failed attempts at baked goods, and some old roast beef for good measure. I mix it in with food scraps left from the night before, melt back into my buggy. Off to the pigs. At the rumble of the buggy, the pigs dash from their morning slumber puddle to the feed trough. I don’t feel special; they think every vehicle that drives by signifies food, but in reality I’m the only ice cream truck for them. I hop out and turn on a hose to wet their wallow, since mud is their sweat and heat will eventually come, and dump their slop as evenly as possible. All eight pigs (Sam, Amin, Hannah, Martin, Anna, Antón, Connie, and Francesca) jump right into the trough. They lap up whatever remains in their mouth. Their lips are awfully inefficient; Amin drops a half-eaten piece of stale bread and Hannah pounces on it, only to drop another half for Martin to clean up. Antón, uninterested in the antics of others, hops out of the trough and goes to the Pork Maker™ to get his breakfast of pellets. The pigs honk at me. I’m not sure what they strive to communicate; they seem to snort only when I’m nearby, regardless of whether or not they have food. They are louder when hungry, I figure, but I don’t understand the sounds that emerge when they eat. I throw in bedding, which Sam and Amin think is food. They bite the old rye for a minute until they realize that, once more, I’m insulating their napping spot with food. They dash back to the trough. On to the haystacks. I make it to the lower ranch, where hay awaits the sun to dry the outside just a bit more. The recent cuts are still green. They gradiate to the southernmost stack of Field 3’s winter rye, which silently shines a muted gold. I grab what I need for the bulls. The Herefords love Rye and the Anguses love alfalfa, and luckily I need to finish both of those stacks. I stack the four bales on the buggy, the most I can put on the back when I load from the ground. The bed is too small to carry anything meaningful. Eight bulls only eat four bales anyways, so it works. I drive off from the haystacks to the horse barn, where true challenges await me. Water trough. Horses need some water; I turn it on and set a timer. Can’t flood a trough--the guilt would be too much. The sun seems to be creeping up. I can turn off my headlights. I walk through the two doors of the horse barn, where chirping greets me. Starlings flee upon my first step. First non-pig-or-machine sounds I’ve heard all day. The chirping changes pitch. I pray, as I walk to the stall where my chicks are, that none are dead this morning. The cloud of chirping is a good sign; many mornings ago, I walked in and there was no chirping. All the chicks vanished. I found two decapitated about a day later. I stick my head into the cloud. They seem a bit cold, but the day will only get warmer, so I leave their heat lamps for now and make a mental note to come back soon to turn one off. I step in to scatter them. The cloud disperses; some float over to food, while others flock to water. One seems to be getting trampled. I pick her up. Her head is turned around, like she’s been punched in the face so hard she can’t turn back. She can walk, which is good, but she seems uninterested in drinking. I build her an isolated pen to protect her from trampling. I can’t take losing another bird. Timer goes off--the chicks freak out--but their food and water is fine, and they’ll be warm. Off goes the trough; on I go to the horses. Badger awaits food; like a cow, his stomach is a ceaseless pit. He fears no human or fence. His head sticks two feet out from the top of the top bar, as if his mere presence there will cause hay to fall from the sky. Mick and Starbuck see me coming and skip to the closest feeder, near enough that I can throw them hay, but far enough to flee me if I tried to touch them. I cut the two bales I left there yesterday afternoon and toss them some grass. Lefty runs to eat beside Mick. Maybe he thinks Mick will protect him from acquiring more bite marks; poor Lefty is littered. Tex shoves Tuscarora out of the way to alfalfa, but Tusc fights back and they go on a minor run together. A bit romantic. Pancho waits alone at the last trough, knowing he needs to get the bite in first or he’ll never eat. I hop in and give Gus a hug. He looks lonely; his buddy Utah’s out this morning. He offers his neck. Human over food. The calves start mooing, though, and I have to get going. The haytuation awaits. We make it to the large pen where the weaning calves loiter. Half are in the back chewing cud. Half offer me a death stare. Luke’s here to help. I inspect the trough. I can’t have any calves eating alfalfa dust and bloating themselves, and I don’t want to fill their trough up with inedible weeds. There are crests and valleys, corresponding to the quality of the round bale that each trough section is filled with. Mountains of weeds occupy one spot where calves stand longingly. I clear out the bad troughs and the sun breaks over the Inyos. Its harsh yellow beams end the slicing of my skin. I drop two jackets off. The dust mirrors the sun into my eyes. Its golden glimmer grows blinding. I cough as I clean, a true janitor. Luke and I finish clearing and we each take a side to begin loading up the trough with fresh hay. The cows, magnetized, begin to cluster around the forkfuls of food. I comb my bale. Coaxing as much hay onto a scoop, I stack. Their stomachs are Tartarus, truly; even when I fill a section, I look back and half of it is gone. I fill it up again. They have to get warm for winter. The calves have no notion of personal space. They poop on each other and desire only what my hands move. The hay is right in front of them, and still they snuff the ground. It’s almost disrespectful. Luke and I eventually feel like we’ve done our job, so we call it a morning and head out. Off to the next job. Feed is a series of many small tasks. One task feels like an eternity if it takes longer than twenty minutes, like feeding calves or changing chick bedding. I’m leaving out a great deal; chickens, bulls, other horses, other calves, other cows--but each task offers its own meditations. Feed juxtaposes the life-spirit of the desert against the backdrop of daily death. I got to roleplay that spirit, just like many before me.
- Regarding Free Will
Flashes ground the mind’s narratives. It was a horribly cold night, my parents went out for dinner. I had a car, my silver 04 Camry (this era is one of benign-looking cars). I called my parents. “I’m going to a friends house, I’ll drive.” I didn’t have a license. My family approved nonetheless. I’d driven illegally for about a year at this point, so there was no reason to worry. Near my house there are two roundabouts that I had to cross to get to the highway. I’d driven through them at least a hundred times. American civil engineers can’t design anything efficiently–I bet the guy who built that terrible road system takes pride in his stupidity, thinking any difference is innovation. Engineers…I digress. Anyways, I had to go through these two roundabouts to get to the highway. These roads were mine–they were soaked with familiarity, I’ve lived here my whole life, nobody knows them better than me. I turned towards the roundabout. I slowed down before entering. There was a car to my left. I drove. I was jolted. I drove on. He followed me. I pulled over, sobbing. The benign Camry was dented. The BMW had its bumper bent. I was 15. The cops came. The wind blew, it didn’t stop. My hands froze. I wore a gray sweater. Nothing happened, really, and my parents forgave me. The cop was kind. Just a fine. I didn’t get a license for years. This is the first moment where I grew terrified of myself. I knew what I should’ve done. I should’ve yielded to the oncoming vehicle for it had the right of way. I was entering the line of traffic. Yet I moved–in some sense I chose to get into its way, but none of my will willed the choice. I realized, then, that I have a great capacity for evil–that the motions of the body are not mine, that something impels beyond the will. I’ll deduce the point I’m trying to make. First, some terms. An account of an action is an explanation which answers the question: “what is the purpose of this action?” Anytime one gives an account of what is done, the account serves to justify their moves. Think of tragedies: the account of the tragic act, of the hero’s downfall, stems from a circumstantial explanation–their hands were tied so they had to kill their father, they had to lose their daughter. Augustine gives an account of his life to justify his moment of conversion, murderers give an account of their emotions to justify their slaughter, and so on. Willing impels choice–it always leads to one; one wills, and then one chooses. Choice consists in deciding to act, and choices are either free or unfree. By act I mean doing anything. By free I mean unpredictable, for the predictable is determined. Willing leads to choosing which leads to acting; but not all choosing is born of will. What can be accounted for is what is rational. As long as something justifies a move, it is rational. It doesn’t matter if the reasons are insufficient or wrong. If a good-faith actor was put in the exact same circumstances–situation, knowledge, foresight–and do what was done, then the act is rational. The rational is universal; it’s what anyone would do. Anyone would sacrifice their daughter to seize Troy, put in Agamemnon’s shoes. Now, some claims. Willing always has an account. Nobody wills what they cannot justify. Even if the justification is perverse–you hate rolly-pollies, or, worse yet, ants, and seek to do nothing but destroy them–you can still give an account of your despotic slaughter–you hate ants. An account rests beneath any willing. Since willing always has an account, it is always rational. Because willing is rational and leads to choices, willing causes rational choices. A rational choice is a choice with an account. If we can predict accounts and the choices they lead to, we can know the direction of one’s willing. By knowing the direction of willing, we can predict rational choices. We do not know whether or not rational choices are free, because we cannot understand the weight of circumstances on the will; that is to say, we don’t know if we can predict accounts. Willing & thereby rational choices, then, may be unfree, depending on whether or not we can predict accounts. We don’t know for sure. A choice is non-rational if it cannot be accounted for, or that a given account is incommensurable with the rationality of the choice. When I drove the car into the accident, I made a choice I cannot account for. I have no justification for doing what I did. I wanted to get to where I was going, but that doesn’t mean I had to go right then. I could say that I wanted to get hit–but this account makes no sense, because I have no justification for wanting to get hit that I knew of at the time. The non-rational choice is not subject to willing. The only demonstrably free choice is the non-rational choice, because I cannot give an account for it. Rational choices may be unfree–they may be predictable by virtue of their account–but none can predict a choice that lacks an account. The non-rational choice does not correspond to willing; seemingly, it corresponds to nothing. Yet it occurs and, to us, causes the free, unpredictable act. Abraham made a non-rational choice in deciding to sacrifice Isaac. He could not give an account of what he had done–for this he walks up Mount Moriah in silence; for this he has faith, in an inexplicable devotion to God. Yet he understood himself. I made a non-rational choice in driving my car into the accident. I cannot say I drove in inexplicable devotion–for I reflect upon my action rationally, universally, ethically, and have no understanding of myself. My non-rational choice transcends me–there is no account to be found for anyone. There isn’t an absolute relation, a fundamental mysticism in the common non-rational choice. It simply happens, and nobody knows how. I am terrified of myself because I am free. I act in ways I don’t understand. When I cut Hannah off in SB last week, I was riddled with guilt. In fact, I feel this most SBs. When I snapped at Nathan, retorted at Annie, and a couple other moments–I did something I did not feel or will. Afterwards I couldn’t give an account of these moments. My emotions failed to explain–I didn’t feel angry, upset, caged; I felt absent, watching myself from a third eye; if they were moods, I could give an account of the problem and change my actions accordingly; but divorced from my mouth and heart, I acted. The same holds maniacally–I cannot account for the care I offer, the overwhelming love I hold for the SB, for the longing I hold for those I’d never known. These are inexplicable choices. Nobody can change the free act, and that is precisely its danger–nobody knows it. The storm of mood drags behind the incessant articulation that one offers to oneself. Articulation falters when the account, the atmosphere which conquers every mood, the narrative one gives about their ethical self, crumbles. Flashes blind, yet one can hear nothing but their fading. In the fallen atmosphere, the storm operates beyond the realm of will. Its moves follow no pattern; it can bring one to faith, to demons, or to love, and no rationality will affect it. One cannot rationally choose to be like Abraham, Jesus, or Don Giovanni. Stripped from articulate flashes, it descends upon you in freedom.
- The Problem of Empathy and a Life of Service
I don’t speak generally. When I do speak, I tend to criticize. Thus I will provide the only criticism that they want to hear: a diagnosis. Please allow me to create a disease so I can give them more medicines. Their disease is their medicine, their narcotic; or rather, they all have an addiction. They’re addicted to themselves. That is their disease. Weil wrote, “the I is the only thing one can offer.” They are promiscuous. They put their “I” into anything. They think they’re right. Dostoevsky wrote that we can never love our neighbor. He was right. We cannot. We cannot look at our neighbor in the face, in his asymmetrical, bloody face and tell him that he’s beautiful. The only way we could is if we, like they do, whored our “I” into his face, if we transformed him into a mirror for ourselves, or, in essence, if he became “I” by “I” occupying him. To love their neighbors, they colonize them, putting their “I’s” inside of them. That is what “if I were you” means: love through their neighbors to love themselves more, or, in short, empathy. Empathy is colonization. It feeds the whorish “I” so much fodder that it grows beyond its own body and takes on mankind. They create man in their image. They become God. In this one way, by making man, they become the only one who can love their neighbor, further affirming their divine status—only Jesus could love his neighbor. Now they can too. By taking another’s mind, we do not “offer” the “I.” We colonize the other, we create him, and we expand the “I.” “I’s” promiscuity is nucleation. We love, loving as an addiction to our own nucleation, to our “I” which we cannot give up. There is no service in empathy, only conquest. Offering the “I” is the narcaine to their morphine overdoses, to their addiction to themselves, to their empathy. We can offer the “I” in two ways: like Weil and like Achilles. I don’t know much about Weil, but I read 24 books about Achilles. I can talk about him with greater faith and detail. Achilles stood by the ships, as war raged, for 18 books. He watched the earth swallow the bodies of his neighbors, swallow the walls sheltering his people. He watched Skamandros run red with blood. He simply watched, living in the wrath of being shamed by Agamemnon, leader of men. In Book 9 of the Iliad, an entire embassy came to convince Achilles to save the falling Greeks. Odysseus offers him wealth, gifts, honor, which Achilles ignores because such recompense falters before the shame he suffers. The value of his pain cannot be reckoned with by another. Phoinix tells him a story of salvation, about Meleagros, whose heart, stirred by the burning walls of the city, led him to save men from destruction, begging Achilles to do the same. Achilles ignores him, for saving the walls would plead to defend the unjust Agamemnon who commands the barrier. Achilles does what no empathetic person would do: ignore the honor in conquering a people who needs you by aiding them. And yet, in Book 16, when Patroklos, the man who stood by Achilles’ wrath watching from the ships, the man through whom Achilles communicates with the world, comes to his doorstep, shedding black tears down his rocky face, he yields. Patroklos stirs Achilles, not by invoking Achilles as a Greek, not by alluding to the city walls, but by offering Achilles a vessel to save the Greeks that does not give up his “I,” but merely his armor. Achilles sends Patroklos, his lover, his communicator, his caretaker, his Patroklos, dressed in Achilles’s very own armor, to his death. Patroklos perished. His death entirely severs Achilles from mankind. Achilles is unleashed. He can no longer communicate with or act alongside men. Achilles, to his divine mother, says that Patroklos perished in need of his protection, so to hell with everything else, to hell with shame, honor, or empathy; Achilles becomes only duty, the duty of protection, the duty of resentment, the duty of vengeance. Achilles finds divine rage in mankind’s horror, and here, only here, does he save mankind. His “I” is offered to the Greeks the moment he puts on divine armor, because he kills every earthly tether he has, stirred only from the duty of divine vengeance. Achilles does not need man, but man, so brutal, so terrible, needs him so badly that he kills Patroklos and bursts the seals of duty which constrain Achilles. So Achilles, like a god, descends upon grotesque mankind. This is service to humanity.
- In Praise of Ideas
We are not worthy of ideas. We live in our heads, and sometimes some cool things pop into them. I make observations sometimes, based on the things that pop in my head, and they can be pretty neat and I’ll write those neat observations down on my notes app. I used to keep a journal where I poetically wrote the thoughts I had based on my observations, because all I really heard was the echoing, echoing, echoing of these beautiful words, both grounded in and removed from reality, tugging me to the pen. These thoughts provoked by life are the things I call ideas. After writing ideas, I would sit and read, and feel, sometimes, something, something I can’t put my finger on. This feeling offered me a question which has lived in my head for a while since: what do we read for? Do we get anything new out of reading, and learn something, or do we, like the narrator in Swann’s Way, just want someone to say the things we think in a way we haven’t already heard them, for someone to articulate me to myself? This led me to the realization that I want ideas. Ideas both ground and propel my mind. Ideas are the world in which I live, and I want the biggest world possible. But I’m not worthy of ideas. They’re too great for me, and I can never touch them the way I ought to, I can’t see them like I should. Ideas should be left away from me, for someone better to contemplate. I’ll now prove this fact more rigorously. Would you like to come with me on a feed run? Please let me know. Would you? I hope you like me. You and I will submit our bodies to this buggy. We shall move in harmony together, with little effort--the only sound we shall feel will be the engine’s groan (the differential fluid is leaking) and the occasional eagle cry. Let the barrier of your world melt into mine, let us share this sight, let us bear these sounds, let us be with one another. Shall we go? The engine’s running already, I warmed it up. It feels like we’re moving. Now we’re above ground on this hard seat, and our view is framed by the two bars which gesture towards the lack of a windshield. We feel the wind tug our cheeks back. We float above the earth. Thanks for joining me. Let us be with one another. We are. We’ll go over there, to where we feed the coyotes, beyond the boundaries of the lower ranch. I’ve got a bunch of dead chicks in the back for their feed. They’re the secret feasters--they don’t like to show their face. If you look around, though, you’ll see nothing but signs of death. Gaze upon the valley floor--most of the sagebrush is dead, the rocks are minerals from crushed bones, there are skeletons constituting the grain of each step. Where death is obscured, there’s another sign of it--the departure of humans, human waste; plastic and metal clinging onto the earth, longing for an eternal embrace--an embrace that eternally comes. Human paraphernalia is everywhere, but human life is sparse. We’re at the dead animal dump; the death is merely more naked and fragrant here. Let us feed the coyotes, for we are not, and we are only destined to not be. Our time here, for now, is done, so let us get back to the lower ranch. I’ll turn the buggy around and we’ll stream down this hill, like an uprooted plant striving to spread its seeds from its aerial grave. The fences close in on us, but don’t fret; they’re meant to keep cows in, and cows are different from humans because if they wore sunglasses, it wouldn’t be creepy because we’d still know where they look. Humans, on the other hand, are creepy with sunglasses on. If these fences were made for humans, they’d feel a lot more claustrophobic, but one word, “fence,” refers to a million different structures--they’re just a pseudobarrier specified for one species; in this case, not us. I’m shutting the engine down so we glide more easily; I’m slumping back and letting go of the wheel, but don’t worry. I do concede that I am about to cry, because no amount of imagery will paint the sight I see, no amount of photographs will color in the lines, nothing will invoke the grandeur of our immersion in this dead, dry sea, in this sight of fences, in this levitation above the earth, in this wind which tugs and the freedom of inertia pulling you along effortlessly, nothing will grasp this feeling because the world is vast, ravenous cave and all anyone can offer through any art, including language, is a starving tunnel. Even us, moving, together, thrown, even we are mediators in our own lives, our ideas interpreting the world, and all we have are these interpretations. The world is refracted through the mind, and this refracted light is the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, and, well, we’ve hit the bottom of the hill, but still, we are not worthy. Thank God the hill ended. The hill ended, and we hit the bottom, but we keep falling nonetheless. We’ll end up in New York City, I think, which is a city just like a Woolf novel--dense everywhere, overtly interconnected, and simultaneously moving very little while saying a lot. Our buggy looks a bit out of place on the Brooklyn Bridge, because it fails to subscribe to the general rule of all cars. Cars come in eras, and each era has a distinctive emotion: the early 2000’s are boxy and somber, with Toyotas having muted smiles; cars from the 80’s look like frightened animals; from 2008-2015 cars looked like they were beginning to bodybuild; modern vehicles all look particularly angry. I like to think these designs reflect the general psyche of engineers. Anyways, the Feed Buggy fits into none of these trends, so we’re timeless. We’re still wearing clothes in this buggy, and both of us know that clothes are the invention which caused alienation and loneliness because they removed the utilitarian aspect of cuddling, namely, bodily warmth to stay alive. So we drive to the nearest porta-potty in New York, to reach a toilet, where you and I strip, individually, alone, for the toilet the one place where we could be alone with ourselves without the pressure of effortful, non-relieving production. There’s music, because it’s New York, but I could never pay attention to it--and when you think of music, you hear one line repeating, over and over, because it’s the fundamental background, the epitome of the world, the stage for all your thoughts, keeping some of them out and letting other ones in. In silence you never stop hearing music, in sound you only hear music. When you step out of the porta-potty, I realize that I am not you, and because of that, I am--I cannot get out of my head, and once more I falter before the ocean of death, the desert, the world, the links, the ideas--we are not worthy.
- Goodbye Deep Springs
Biennial flowers root superficially, seldom penetrating a foot in depth. Perhaps this is just a me problem, but every time I’ve been alone in the desert for prolonged periods of time I think that I am on the brink of death. I mean, death is all around me. Everything is still and most of the outside of plants are dead, the rocks are dead, the bones are dead. On top of all that, I am completely alone—nobody would find me if I were hurt, there’s no food or water anywhere, I’m subsisting on exclusively CLIF bars. It feels like being unrooted, floating, sailing, I might say—a weightlessness of rubbing against the eternity of death. The isolation ground rule negates the DNA ground rule because isolation operates like a drug. It changes the texture of your being, one might say. When one stands upon the Druid at the edge of isolation, one can turn their head in one of two directions. In one, the green patch fixes one’s gaze, and you stare into the distant eyes of every Deep Springer. In the other, you turn away from all eyes, into a sea which swallows up humanity, and you become a lens with nobody looking through it. Isolation is two-fold: it fixates one either on the community or on the utter lack of it, depending on the gaze and where you are. Last year, during Term 4, we were thrown off the top of the Druid. I landed in North Carolina, surprisingly enough. Biennial plants follow the flood to lower elevations. I got super high for about a week straight with some of my best friends in a cabin in the woods. One of my friends, Simone, was going through something akin to a breakup at the time. I don’t remember the details. One night, she stepped out of the house, concentrated with the aromas of smoke and fresh wood, into clear air where her tears flowed. I paused my Rocket League bender to talk to her. We sat in two rocking chairs, moving trees, looking into the forest in the dead of winter. Rot was everywhere—leaves decaying, logs eaten; death was alive. She told me that her boyfriend didn’t understand her, that it felt like they were having the same conversations on repeat, because they knew each other so well that they had nothing more to say. Except jokes. Fair enough. The voice of the desert negates speech and never repeats itself. I was alone in the desert about 7 weeks ago. Eureka Valley, trying to get back to Deep Springs. Rocks everywhere. Massive. Larger than any building on campus. Water failed to crack these ones down. No sense of direction—the desert is a sea insofar as everything is a morphless, repetitive blob. I fell at some point, trying to get somewhere. My quad refused to have life. I figured I would eventually too. Biennial plants give up after two years. Isolation is the only reason Deep Springs is anything special. By fixing our gaze upon either looking out, into the desert, or looking towards, into the eyes of each one of us, we form ourselves as a community. All of us know what it’s like to look out here—and we form the other object of everyone else’s sight. Since we only look two ways, there is no need for us to repeat conversations, or for us to explain ourselves. Our words already have that bedrock. Everyone’s already in everyone’s eyes and shoes. Deep Springs is a language game. So much goes without saying. The aura of the Handbook, the mist of history, the flavor of everyday events, fills into our noses, clouds our eyes, covers our tongues and we feel everything through its tint. We understand the pillars intuitively, we understand the schedule, we understand how to reject the question, what seminar is like, the fundamental tensions intrinsic to life here, the blurred public/private, we all understand almost everything about the context we bear to one another. Everyday life carries the immanence of Deep Springs which we can only experience and never remember. If we look down from a distance at what each of us do and say, all of us are pretty much the same person. The ground beneath us slips with each step. Footprints leave depressions sculpted by wind days later. Trudging through the silent sea, skimming its surface, we fail to feel the geologic disturbances that erected the boundaries of the cup in which we live. Biennial plants are always ready to ride down a wash when the rain falls. The Deep Springs language game rests upon two basic words born of the gaze of the Druid–that of looking at the community; We; and that of looking away from oneself and into the sea; You. We fill these two words, We and You, with the shared context of Deep Springs. Everything beneath these two words is unsaid; we already understand it. The one word we negate, the only one outside of the Deep Springs language game, is “I.” We give speeches to fill up the “I.” Our conversations dwell in the main circle, within the We and You—they play on the fact that we understand life here. The “I,” at Deep Springs, can only come forth in monologue at the podium. Isolation is a drug; we cannot converse outside of the main circle. Alone in the cabin, rocking, back on forth, I pondered the substance of the mesh between the community. My face was somber, I was sober. When I figured it out, I started twitching. I called Deep Springs and I let them know, “Hey, I want to let you know that you have another interview…yeah you’re in!” I was alone in the desert 7 weeks ago. I was incredibly high, I was thinking all these thoughts about the valley. Simone was there with me, as were all of my friends. We were lost in the largest buildings I’d ever seen, boulders that threatened to bring us to their level—to use force, turning us into objects. I was high on isolation. Deep Springs begs us to turn towards one another through isolation. To resist is to plant roots where they cannot stay, to ground oneself in a sea. We cannot stop loving one another—by which I mean we are too close to each other to look outside of each other. To do “politics,” in the traditional sense of the term, is to feign distance—to pretend that we are not, from the moment we fall into this Beyblade arena, constantly bumping into one another, moved by each other. Our ground is in each other, not in the land itself. My roots are in everyone in this room, and I’ll carry your soil for the rest of my life.
- Reflections on Being Mean
A genial flow streamed through Deep Springs in early July. Just hours after my beloved second-years left the valley for the last time, the bells tolling as they crossed the cattle guard, I became a second-year myself. The flow carried children, who were deposited like sediment at the green bank of the main circle. Handed from one set of nurturing hands to another, the children exchanged parents before me. We went into the dorms. As a second-year, I was an architect of their new parenthood. I was to create the environment which would sustain their growth for an entire year, to reconstruct eternity and history in their eyes. Yet, when I first saw these young faces, I couldn’t grasp that I was responsible for rebuilding something which I, a child just a few hours ago, thought had always existed. A year before, I arrived at Deep Springs. It was ready-made; there were pre-existing norms about seminar, how to treat one another, and what giving to the community looked like. I inherited my landscape, a child taking in the world constructed by their parents. I figured that the Deep Springs I knew was the Deep Springs that would always be. After spending a year destroying myself to become a Deep Springer, I felt that I was to guard the institution that I was thrown into, not rebuild it as an architect. When I first saw their faces, I did not see children—instead I saw the ghosts of my second-years, those great people who created Deep Springs, behind their eyes. In these ghosts before me I found emptiness, cultural artifacts of a world alien to this valley. Their language, not yet code-switched for our incessant academic jargon, consisted of “vibes” rather than “sentiment.” Nuance and dichotomy were as yet unknown. They wore what I thought of as clown suits rather than Carhartts. AirPods, anime, and timidity entered the landscape. To me, these foreigners resisted instantaneous cultural adaptation, trying to change a place that existed for over a hundred years. I found in their very existence a challenge to the institution I was to defend. They were the ghosts of my second-years, as Deep Springers, but dressed in a perverted inversion of what the institution stood for. My resentment for them came out in Summer Seminar. Academics were my bastion, and I knew what class ought to look like—I was acting as the Curriculum Committee Chair at the time, and just edited the Letter on Seminar which gave form to class. When I first entered class and heard their words, I failed to respect them. They didn’t do class the way I wrote about it in the Letter. They approached texts from themselves rather than from the text. Obviously they didn’t read close enough, and why would I tell them that they didn’t? They should’ve known. I couldn’t stand to listen to their superficial takes—I didn’t even find them worthy of engagement. I didn’t challenge them, I didn’t even speak towards them. I simply made reactionary faces and jotted down angry notes in the margins of my notebook, writing “A says nothing worth listening to,” or “I can’t stand B’s voice.” I had completely failed as a student, a second-year, and, most importantly, as a nurturing architect of the Deep Springs experience. This term constituted the most embarrassing conduct of my life. The first-years were afraid of me, and, since I was a second-year who represented the philosophy of Deep Springs, afraid of Deep Springs. One, who I’ll call G, found my notebook after class one day. She read through my angry marginal notes, every last one of them, and told others about them. I found out about it a few days later. We agreed to go on a walk. The scent of summer sage, a scent which lingers from my first year, filled our noses as she told me of the fears and difficulties she had with adjusting to Deep Springs, especially in class. I was humbled by her openness, grateful to hear from her. She and I had similarly difficult transitions into the valley—nobody to talk to, intimidated by the long-winded obscurity of others’ words, and a general sense of not-belonging. My notebook, she said, gave substance to her previously abstract insecurities. The words I kept private, and the silent reactions I made public, together, were one of the greatest barriers to her feeling like she belonged. I felt ashamed to be a barrier to her adjustment. Sitting by the reservoir, we talked for hours. Kierkegaard, her interests in art, her family, how I could be constructive in seminar—these were among the many things we talked about. I apologized to her and listened generously to what she was willing to share. G, who I had yet to intellectually respect, had taught me far more about my conduct in a few hours than I learned in several months of mental preparation for my second-year. I realized that my position was one of nourishment, not punishment; parent, not guard. Even more, I realized that interpersonal resentment is born almost entirely of ignorance, of an inability to empathize with the humanity of the resented person. As we talked, the veil of disrespect faded, and I grew a fondness for her being before me. To disrespect someone comes from neglecting their personhood, not from the rationalized disdain I held. Such a disdain can only flourish in the absence of another’s humanity. After our conversation, I intentionally shifted my behavior in class to be guided more by curiosity than judgment. I fought my instinctual reaction to comments, asking for clarification when I disagreed with something rather than disengaging and writing angry notes. Unsurprisingly, I began to learn in class. People talked; I talked; conversation stimulated fertility in my mind. Later that term, I wrote cards to every student about what I appreciated about them, seeking to begin repairing the relationship I had begun with resentment. I couldn’t repair every relationship, but I spent the rest of the year trying. I committed to having conversations with others, listening to where they are coming from, especially when I felt frustrated by their actions. This practice allowed their humanity to come before me again—problems resolved with conversation. My pent-up frustration and defensiveness cooled as I continued these practices. G and I became good friends after I gave her the space to forgive me. I came to appreciate the minds of others more over time—I learned to love them. I wish I had realized that I was an architect sooner, that my sphere of influence extended much further than I had ever thought it could, that I could transform the institution from one which annihilated me into one which welcomed others. I wish I treated others with the generosity of humanity rather than the resentment of ghastliness; that I wondered where they were coming from rather than think they are not here. I wish I talked sooner, for with words, I found, resentment dissipates. The year could have been spent growing with others rather than healing. As I healed the wounds, I noticed how easy destruction could be. In trying to reach others, though, my arms of empathy grew.
- The Voice of the Desert
In the Grey Book, L.L. Nunn urges his disciples to listen to the voice of the desert. This voice, he writes, is the echo through which God speaks; His guidance enables us to comprehend and enact the moral order of the universe. I spent two years in the desert with my ears open wide. I once went on a hike alone. I walked through Soldier Pass into Eureka Valley, then back over the mountain ridges to Deep Springs again. The entire land was still. With a pause, nothing stirred. Silence came upon me like a suffocating fluid. It percolated through my skin and turned me inside out. I recall, then, walking, walking on, shuffling the ground beneath my feet. No being, I thought to myself, had done this before. This land is for me. Where would I find myself in the absence of life? The deserted sea, the fluid—this land was a hostile land. It was for me, yet wanted me dead; it offered me no water, no food, no paths, no orientation. What would I hear in utter silence? I, I could only hear strange repetitions, loops. My mind ran circles, my feet shuffled in the same patterns that carried me on. Narratives went on in my head; music played loops in the background behind the little voice’s words. I kept thinking, thinking of myself—I kept dissipating life into myself, drawing upon my own body to sustain thought. The sea of sand, from the pass and valley, turned into a sea of boulders as I turned upon the ridge. The land refused to be land. It wanted to throw me away. As I scrambled through thousands of feet of elevation, suffocated by silence and drowned in gray, all I could hear was myself. Where was I? Over the summer I lived out of a trailer. 20,000 acres of the southern half of Fish Lake Valley were my responsibility. 240 animal lives were in my hands as well—mostly cattle, with a few horses and a couple people. My days began before sunrise and ended with the sunset. My gaze would rest upon a soft repetition each morning—rocky soil, winterfat; disturbed area, Russian thistle; salty soil, saltbush; flood plain, greasewood; watering spot, cattle. As quiet as the desert was, its land offered a rhythm to settle in through the life it sustained. My job was to ensure harmony between the life dependent on me and the motions of the desert. But balance is difficult to find. The cattle eliminated the invasive thistle, opening habitat for native saltbush to fill back in. Yet when floods came pouring through the mountains, blossoming the saltbush and the greasewood, the canyons in the valley floor filled with water. The ground swallowed up 7 cattle, which fell into mud holes. 20 hour days passed as my fellow cowboy Aubryn and I dug the sunken cows out of the earth, while driving others far away from hostile ground. We hauled hay and water for miles on our backs every day; we nursed these 7 back to life with our sweat. In the meantime, the winterfat by the watering areas were decimated by the other cattle we neglected. The shrub fell below healthy grazing levels. 5 calves fell sick and died in the extreme heat, despite our best efforts to doctor them; 2 bulls starved to death though we drove them to feed every day. Life slipped away beneath my hands two times. The body fluttered from warm to cold, the eyes rolled back with the last excrements sliding out of every possible hole. How could I hold so much death? The land was poor, the cattle poor too; how could I call this work harmonious when all fell into disarray? I sought the voice, but I heard deeper silence still. I continued to wake up at dawn. I live in Colorado now. I seldom find myself alone; I do often find myself enclosed. This land is technically a desert but it teems with life. There’s an incessant buzz near the cities, where trees abound; as one goes up, the trees and roads give way to deer and elk. Those creatures bugle at you, and when you hike by them, or by the insects, there’s a constant buzz that keeps you aware of their presence. With each step you invade their home—the land doesn’t mind you, but your neighbors do. You keep thinking about how you’re unwanted by living beasts. In Colorado, there is little aloneness to be had. I drive to work in a car, alone, everyday. Thousands make the commute with me. We fill out the lanes of the highway. None of us are alone, but each of us are anonymous. Metal wheel boxes keep us orderly. Most of us probably hate commuting; I constantly wonder what I’m doing in my car. I feel confused. The land feels like abstract space, gridded out and used, used every day to serve so many people, but we still wonder what for. In Heidegger’s words, we are surrounded by the they, and for the they we continue to drive—because it is what we ought to do. We are seldom alone; we are always together; we are enclosed; we wonder why. The desert is unique. It is silent. It offers a dead hostility—or rather a dead indifference. Contained in this indifference, though, is a special thing: solitude. The desert speaks through solitude. In Eureka Valley, the land attacked and I sought only to save myself. My mind ran loops—my mind, the divine element in humanity, the one thing I was left with, the one thing I couldn’t escape, the one thing I had to save me. I sought solitude but instead found restlessness. In Fish Lake Valley, I was not alone, but I lived in solitude. I sustained a relationship with the land—and though I could only do so much for it, the sustained relationship alone constituted harmony. We tried to take care of each other. No matter how much it wanted me gone, the earth still nourished my skin when I laid down in brush or ate little leaves just to taste something. I lived in solitude—which means that, alone, I stopped asking myself why. The question ‘who am I’ ceased to exist. This is what the desert told me.
- On Time
Thank you for your time. I mean this sincerely, and I’m saying this for two reasons. The first is that I’ve spent the last two semesters studying time in a billion different ways. It’s everywhere. Every book treats time, regardless of the topic intended. The second is that I’m about to leave Deep Springs. This is the first of the last three speeches I give—the last three times I get to hold your time. For many of you, this is the last of two. Everything feels pressingly finite. There’s an urge to do all the things I should have done in the last two years here. The hikes, the rides, the chats, the crafting, the photography, there’s so many things I wanted to do here which I never did and never will do. I’ve got less than three months of utopia left (for Deep Springs is a utopia, but just for students), and this brings out the paradox of time to me most clearly. Time is always a problem. We naturally strive to escape it, so we don’t think about it until it descends on us. The beauty of Deep Springs is that nothing ever feels like an event. You can run into someone at any time and chat with them—it’s unplanned, yet elsewhere, such an encounter would be something you plan for and deliberately do. We easily slip through the motions of everyday life here, because within the scope of everyday life, we can do pretty much anything. All of life is within a stroll—the shops are an arm’s length away, as are boojs, friends, and food. Nothing needs to be calculated. It’s easy to escape time, one way or another. When we say “I don’t have time” to do something, we mean that there is something within us—some activity we “have” time “for”—which beckons our whole selves. There’s such a draw to doing what we “have time” for that we can’t break. We pay attention to time primarily through means of the string constituting the draw—by considering what we have time for. The string only appears to us when we are immediately faced with a task, something to do—do I study or hike? I’ll call this string, the substance allowing for an instantaneous draw, the moment. Time appears to us as the moment. We don’t see it in other ways. The moment appears to us in one of three ways. The three ways are distinct by the way they relate to eternity. By eternity, I mean the escape from time. For the first, eternity is sempiternal—every instantaneous moment adds up to the totality of time. I’ll call this the normal moment. For the second, eternity is accessed and constantly appears in each repetition of the moment. If you do the same things everyday as if they are new, like moving a wheel line or going to class with the fervor of the first time, you escape the way that time seems to add up. In this sense, each moment feels afresh—the past and future become a big blob of the now, indistinguishable from one another, and all time is the same. Time stops progressing so we step outside of it. I’ll call this second kind of moment the repetitive moment. The third is where eternity is a point emanating through each moment, such that each moment can be the end of time—every moment feels like the final moment. Consciousness of the end is constant, so every moment feels like it could step out of time; as an end, it feels like nobody else can possess this moment the way you do. This is to do everything as if it completes you, just you. I’ll call this the final moment. At Deep Springs time is fundamentally in a tension between the repetitive moment and the final moment. We’re always escaping time in one of these two ways. We repeat—go through everyday life, do the same things each day, and never let anything else crowd out our obligations. We maintain. This temptation is the easiest, the one most of us slip into unwillingly. Alternatively, we give birth—everything feels like a project which needs commitment until it completes us—until we are satisfied. This is the Deep Springer who hikes when they need it, who takes time for themselves, who reads on their own, who, in essence, creates by doing something new rather than maintains. We tend away from this currently, as demonstrated by our reluctance to do anything outside of the motions of what must get done, but some individuals and Deep Springs classes dwell in it. The tension can be drawn out as being the institution or being oneself—being a set of roles which infinitely get refilled through time, with each class or asserting individuality while neglecting repetition. Eternity is either in maintenance or creation. Obviously each of us fulfill these two forms of the moment to different extents. We do our obligations and we take time for ourselves. But for me, the balance was skewed. I’m giving this speech so that the mistakes I made don’t get repeated. You don’t have to listen to me, but I hope it helps. Before I talk about the balance, a slight aside: as a general maxim, one can only tell if time is used well retrospectively. You can’t predict the worth of a moment, for each moment affects you differently—they all unfold eternity and escape time in a slightly different way. Even cooking the same lunch one day is nothing like cooking it another, since each moment affects the next, varying the penetration of eternity into it. There’s no real use in calculating what will be the best use of time, or what you “have time” for. Only the moment itself reveals this to you—and the moment is seen once it becomes a part of you, once it has passed. My current speculation on balancing repetitive and final moments is that the repetitive moment ought to become final. In repetition, each deed is done as if it were the first time, but in this, the same action is done indefinitely. It loses the character of being a project, for its goal is precisely in not being your own, but in being something much greater than you. Instead of pure repetition, making repetitive time final means to imbue the institution with oneself. Concretely, this means doing your boring task with the aim of something possessing you in the same day. You can move your wheel line, sure, but because you have fulfilled your outer duty, you ensure that in the same day you’ve done some other task that only you can do as a fulfillment of inner duty. You could build your shelf—you could weed your field—you could hike—you could have a genuine conversation with someone—each of these belong to you alone, and you can only do them after taking the repose of repetition. The balance is struck once the day feels like it’s your own, one nobody else could live, and that you could live every day just like this one, but just because of that you won’t. Too often we live either inside ourselves or outside. Leaving a piece of the inside on the outside is what I wished I had done. There’s another eternity to be held in leaving a handprint on a foundation. Thank you for your time.
- What Does Use Illuminate About Language?
Children, like adults, are puzzled by language. They are simply more transparent about it. Unlike adults, they have yet to grasp how to use words. Their failures unfold quite clearly in the eyes of the perplexed schoolteacher, struggling to comprehend how a child could write the sentence “You and we going to eat the reds” with a conviction of its sense. Wittgenstein, towards the beginning of his Philosophical Investigations, writes, “For a large class of cases of the employment of the word ‘meaning’ — though not for all — this word can be explained in this way: the meaning of a word is its use in the language.” The difference between the puzzled child and the puzzled adult is that the adult can both use and describe language, while the inner workings of the child struggle to do both. The adult philosophizes—the child stumbles. But why does the meaning of most words consist in their use? What does that mean? Wittgenstein spends the rest of his late work, in both the Philosophical Investigations and On Certainty, to illuminate this question. He discusses “hinge propositions,” which are judgements that give meaning to other statements. These judgements cannot be doubted and form our background and world-picture. Yet which judgements form our background depend upon what ‘makes sense’ in communication. By socially shifting what ‘makes sense,’ men can shape each other’s world picture, changing the indubitable. In using a word, or any statement, one must understand how a word operates—one must see both the word and its background and how the two fit together. The use of a word determines its meaning, not because words mean whatever we say they mean, but because the way we use a word both reveals and shapes the way the world appears to us. We shall use the sentence “white tulips rustle in the wind” as an example of a statement which makes sense. It tells us something that we can understand and know, verifying it against experience. Wittgenstein clarifies why this sentence makes sense by describing the structure of language. For him, there are judgements at the “rock-bottom” of everything we can know. He writes, “At the foundation of well-founded belief lies a belief that is not well-founded.” There are judgements which are not subject to doubt. Wittgenstein writes, “the questions that we raise and our doubts depend on the fact that some propositions are exempt from doubt, are as it were like hinges on which those turn.” In order for doubt to make sense at all, there must be some judgements against which doubt can have meaning. Doubt cannot penetrate these judgements, for doubt would lose its own basis. In writing, “My life consists in my being content to accept many things,” Wittgenstein claims that life itself needs these indubitable judgements to “consist.” To verify our experience of white tulips rustling in the wind, we must admit of Newtonian mechanics, the existence of tulips and wind, the content of the color white, and many other systematic judgements which allow the sentence to have sense. We can call the view arising from this set of judgements our “world-picture,” since we understand the world through these judgements. We can verify whether or not tulips rustle because of these systematic judgements; we can see they do not rustle in the wind, while other things do. We cannot, however, doubt Newtonian mechanics, as this would fundamentally shift our world-picture. We cannot imagine going about our world without Newtonian mechanics, so we do not doubt it. Doubting we have two hands, however, is an example of a statement which does not make sense. For Wittgenstein, we (two people with two hands, presumably) cannot meaningfully doubt whether or not we have two hands. He writes: “All testing, all confirmation and disconfirmation of a hypothesis takes place already within a system. And this system…belongs to the essence of what we call an argument. The system is…[where] arguments have their life.” Our sentence about tulips makes sense because it is contained within the system of our physical world. It operates as a hypothesis in a particular context. “I doubt I have two hands,” however, lacks a system in which it has life. Under what conceivable system can we doubt our two hands? We could doubt the entire external world, or our own body, but this system lacks the ability for confirmation and disconfirmation. Wittgenstein writes, “If someone says ‘I have a body’, he can be asked: ‘Who is speaking here with this mouth?’” One cannot answer this question without calling into question the existence of the body. The doubt penetrates a judgement too close to our world for us to doubt it. It fails to enable verifiability, so this system is no system at all. Our “doubt” is doubt only in name. On the basis of our indubitable judgements, we communicate. Wittgenstein writes, “It is not only agreement in definitions, but also (odd as it may sound) agreement in judgements that is required for communication by means of language.” When I say “white tulips rustle in the wind,” another person can understand me because we both agree about Newtonian mechanics, the existence of the world, whiteness, etc. Unsaid, indubitable, systematic judgements form the “background” of life, creating the world-picture through which we make sense of the world. They are the rules of the language game; that is, they form the system in which communication has meaning. Communication needs a shared background to make sense. The background is indubitable, allowing for certainty in other judgements to have sense. But the background itself is uncertain. Though it forms the “rock bottom” of our convictions, Wittgenstein clarifies that “one might almost say that these foundation-walls are carried by the whole house.”2 Somehow, the statements made on the foundation of the background carry it, make it stable. This is because our background does not belong to us alone. For instance, we cannot doubt that we have two hands, “but it isn’t just that I believe in this way that I have two hands, but that every reasonable person does.” The agreement of what makes sense determines the stable, systematic judgements used by each individual. Wittgenstein writes, “What men consider reasonable or unreasonable alters.” Men, not one man, determines the system under which we assert that some statement is ‘reasonable’ or not. There can, eventually, be a system in which we doubt we have two hands, because men consider this doubt reasonable. We would then go about communicating with one another, taking the whole system that gives life to that doubt for granted when we speak. We currently lack such a system, so this doubt makes no sense—yet it could. Backgrounds create the rules of a language game, but “a language-game does change with time,” and men can initiate this change. Through a shift in the imagination—the conceivability of doubt—we can change our background. We find ourselves in a vicious circle. On the one hand, all of our statements about the world rest on indubitable judgements that allow us to have certainty, doubt, and communication. On the other hand, these indubitable judgements are socially contingent, determined by what is said. What comes first: the shared background or communication? Before we address this circle, we must first clarify the difference between knowing and understanding a word. Wittgenstein writes: ‘I know’ has a primitive meaning similar to and related to ‘I see…’ ‘I know’ is supposed to express a relation…between me and a fact…This would give us a picture of knowing as the perception of an outer event through visual rays which project it as it is into the eye and the consciousness…And this picture does indeed show how our imagination presents knowledge, but not what lies at the bottom of this presentation. “Knowing” expresses a relation between me and a fact. A fact, like “white tulips rustle in the wind,” can be verified against the background. To know is to have acquired a fact, a loose statement without a background. Knowledge needs the background, but does not offer it. For Wittgenstein, ‘knowing’ something like the tulips rustling presupposes a picture with an assumption of how light enters the eye, creating consciousness. The picture depicts the mechanism through which our ‘knowledge’ makes sense. I could imagine a different mechanism, like that my eye projects light out and illuminates everything that I see. Nothing would change about how I fundamentally deal with the world. The ‘picture’ which knowledge needs merely describes the mechanism, a mechanism which makes sense because of the background which goes unsaid. That “what I see is there” is a tacit judgement underlying knowledge, which a fact does not give. Understanding, on the other hand, contains the background. Wittgenstein writes, “[When he understands] he can ‘fill out the picture’ in this way. (And this ability is part of understanding what I tell him).” Understanding ‘fills in’ the world picture—it includes the background. When we understand a word, we grasp its role and the background against which it has meaning. We can see the puzzle piece along with the entire puzzle. Knowing points out the ‘fact’ against a background. It does not acknowledge the background. Understanding takes the fact in, with the background, and makes it meaningful enough to use. We must understand what we are communicating in order to communicate. This goes for both words and sentences. We can ‘know’ a word or statement by a definition: for instance, that tulip is white—in other words, white is an aspect of that tulip. But only when a child points out multiple tulips, all of which are white, and calls them white; then points at a white wall and calls it white; then points at a blue bottle, and declares it to not be white; only when one demonstrates their understanding through use do we say that one understands what white is. The same child may not be able to describe white, or define it in any way, but he can make use of it. “From a child up I learnt to judge; this I got to know as judgement,” writes Wittgenstein. By refusing to state how judgement develops from childhood, Wittgenstein points out that the reader can recognize ‘this.’ We know what it is to judge—for we have grown from childhood and speak to others. In speaking, we have already learned judgement. We show it through use. Using a word demonstrates the understanding which makes a word meaningful. Analyzing the use of a word tells us all we need to know about it. The use gestures towards the background that gives the word sense and the context where its definition is applied. By declaring the meaning of the word to consist in its use, Wittgenstein tells us that understanding arises socially. Using a word needs one to have both the background and to communicate. One knows the meaning of a word through use—by seeing multiple moves in the language game the word operates, one sees the rules of the game, thereby understanding the word. Use brings the background forth. Though the background must exist before one uses a word—the rules must be set before the game is played—different uses of a word can change the rules. An illegal move can become legal. Use, then, shapes the background by demonstrating what is permitted. The background cannot be doubted, but it can be brought forth differently, shaped by the way a word is used. The limits of what makes sense in communication fundamentally shapes the limits of human imagination. For example, by stating that “mankind has landed on the moon,” and this making sense, we have fundamentally altered the range of what we can doubt. Before this made sense, we could not conceive of mankind landing on the moon—our systematic judgements and understandings of physics did not allow for this. Wittgenstein, writing before man has landed on the moon, claims that we cannot conceive of how one could get on the moon. But now this idea makes sense—we can conceive of it happening with a big rocket—so now we can doubt whether or not we’ve been near earth our entire lives. This doubt may not have much fodder, given other aspects of our background (like us being poor, non-astronauts), but the doubt makes sense when it did not before. Through communication with others, one comes to understand a word. Understanding the word draws out the background in which the use of words makes sense. Our systematic judgements, the indubitable, gains meaning from the very things that it gives meaning to. What can be known must be known against a background, for that is what gives knowledge life. Yet what is drawn from the background rests on what is said. Wittgenstein asks us to look at the use of a word to understand it because use reveals the word’s background and its particular roles within the background. It is not that a word can change use however anyone would like, but rather that a word, through its use, unveils the whole background against which it has sense. By looking at one word, one can see all the tacit judgements needed to make it meaningful in its immediate use.