If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.
Tuesday 25 December 2012
Read gnomica 1-200 here!
I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma,
a harmless enigma that is made terrible by
our own mad attempt to interpret it as
though it had an underlying truth.
Umberto Eco (5 Jan 1932 – )
Eco, famous for his novel (1980) The Name of the Rose that was later made into a movie (1986) starring Sean Connery (aka James Bond), is no doubt equally famous as an academician, a professor of literature, philosophy and semiotics — the latter a field about which, to the minimal extent that I possess any clarity at all regarding its opaque objectives and murky methods, I confess that I am pretty much in the dark. But in the latter decades of the last century it was a very influential theory in a number of humanities disciplines, especially literature.
Not to sniff my nose at something I don’t really understand and never in any sense ‘used’ in my own work, I cite Eco here not to launch into a discussion of semiotics but to riff on the content of the epigraph he authored. For while, as just noted, I’m not all that interested in semiotics, Eco’s belief is one that I don’t believe you have to be a semiotician to embrace. As I in fact am not and in fact do.
If I may generalize just from personal experience over the decades: youth is a time of certainties, often rigid certainties about the way the world and its works ‘work’; age leeches from that benighted state the impregnable confidence and indestructible convictions by which those certainties were once so serenely sustained. (A generalization of this transformative operation is alleged – apparently wrongly – to have been made by Winston Churchill in a specific context as follows: “If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.”)
So much that once seemed so crystal clear — so blindingly obvious, so self-evident, so beyond doubt — gradually over the years attenuates into an etiolated image of what it once was, and those once sharply limned contours blur and finally disappear. As the Buddhist phrase has it, “it is what it is”.
If one could only just accept that reality!
But no, one’s epistemic obsessions drive one to efforts as maddening as they are fruitless somehow to comprehend, to know why it is what it is. As though there were some kind of tacit contract — to which you have somehow become signatory — to the effect that if you could just understand, then all would be well. But there is no understanding, nothing to understand; there is only just what is. To come at last to so bleak a realization about the indeterminate nature of things, and likewise to accept that desolate finality, could perhaps be seen as a species of relief. But then something within us, pressing us with an obdurate insistence, compels us to think that surely there must be more, something more here to ponder and ‘understand’…
But, of course, there is nothing ‘more’ here – no “underlying truth” — to ponder: it just is.
Merry Christmas to you and yours!