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Lost in the relativist jungle
" We sit here stranded, but we all do our best do deny it" (Bob Dylan)
You and I tend to disagree all the time and we are constantly arguing it seems. In this scenario, it becomes relevant to talk about truth - here we might have something to agree on, some kind of universality, yes? Because if we do not have a common understanding and base for what is truth, then how should we be able to understand and reasonably respond to the other's claims and arguments? And in today's rushing information society, with cascades of information from myriads of sources and streams, where everyone is expected to discern and sieve true from false, and meaningful from meaningless, it becomes even more important with some kind of foundation - a constitution perhaps?. But where to find such a structure in this fragmented jumble, and within duration.
Pondering and thinking. I dive into texts and videos. What is Truth? There are different theories for starters and one speaks also of different domains of truth; objective, social and personal and human.
The correspondence theory seems, at first glance, most sensible; a statement(or assertion) is true if it corresponds to something real in the world. So the statement 'The car is red' is true if it corresponds to a red car in reality. A perfect match between statement and fact apparently. It gets tricky though when concepts like perception and reality enters the discussion here; I experience this red car from my perspective (or from within it) and what can I know about the red car as it is, really, in reality outside myself? After all, I can't get out of my head (although it would have been preferable from time to time) to really see the car as it is. And then we have the correspondence itself, what does this flow consist of? And what is lost and distorted along the way?
And what about language then, this envoy of meaning and supposed truth, is it too poor to fully reproduce the experience? does it lack adequate bandwidth and luminosity? Tomas Tranströmer wrote;
"The language marches in step with the executioners
Therefore we must get a new language"
In conjunction with Tranströmer's Nobel Prize, the Nobel Committee wrote that Tranströmer's poems gives us "fresh access to reality". A bold statement to say the least but I can still agree on its accuracy.
Allen Ginsberg said of poetry that it is words that are so subjective that they are believed to represent an objective reality. The poets actually work for the dictionary one could say, few know about it, and they can take a "bewildered look at the familiar". But that raises the question what kind of truth do you encounter in a work of art? Can you palpate it beyond the language? Rather, what invites us into a work of art is its ability to open up a new horizon, it can for example illuminate a new perspective on ethics and so on. But does that make it true? Impossible for me to answer. But what if one can discern, through the artwork, traces of an independent truth outside of consciousness. The artist is, so to speak, via back roads almost, hot on the heels of an objective truth, and they have reached there via intuition and accidents.
Back to the language. According to Joseph Brodsky, language can be said to be a diluted aspect of matter. Or like this; language is the non-living's first line of information about itself secreted to the living.
And for Brodsky, the poet is someone who "negotiates" himself into real matter or real time (pure matter ... pure time). This seems a little bit too esoteric for me. I have to return the "car is red" statement and the correspondence theory.
As an analogy to the correspondence theory's correspondence between reality and assertion, one can see a translator's job of translating a poem from one language to another; again it is down to the question of what is being lost on the way? And what will be added and/or distorted? If we translate the following fragments from W.H Auden to Swedish, what will we get?;
Time that is intolerant
Of the brave and the innocent,
And indifferent in a week
To a beautiful physique,
Worships language and forgives
Everyone by whom it lives;
Every time I try I fall flat. I do not get to the same epic verve in Swedish as in the original language. Of course it can be because of my lack of talent as a translator in combination with inherent prosodic and melodic differences between english and swedish. In any case, one could still argue that some crucial experential data goes missing in the translation, in the correspondence.
Nothing is as I imagined. Theories that are more perspective-based are, for example, coherence theory and pragmatism. In the coherence theory one assertion is true if it is coherent and consistent with a system of sentences that are mutually coherent, like in a puzzle almost. It is akin to idealism and was like an old-fashioned response to correspondence theory. The idealists seems to tell me that "there is no real world just our inner system of representations", yes, but what is true then ?? Idealism here contrasts with realism. From my horizon, the coherence theory seems a bit inward and relativistic, but then again I am just a layman scrolling through wikipedia. Who are the authorities of truth? The Dogmatists think they are the ones. But are the coherence theorists way off? The questions pile up like the boats outside the resort in the summer. The coherence theorists mean, as mentioned, that we can only base one notion of belief with another; as an example, my belief that Olof Palme was murdered on February 28, 1986 must be based also on the belief that Wikipedia reproduces information correctly and do not present falsehoods.
Donald Davidson takes the word; "If coherence is a test of truth, then it is a direct link to epistemology, because we have reason to believe that many of our beliefs are coherent with others, and in that case we also have reason to assume that many of our beliefs are true ”(Davidson, 2000). A far-fetched analogy to Davidson's paragraph would be that one of those boats outside the resort town probably has truth on board.
Perhaps one should look through epistemology, the study of knowledge. I see epistemology and knowledge illustrated in a picture; two circles next to each other that partially overlap, truth is one circle and beliefs are the other and in the overlap area between the two there gleams "knowledge" in yellow. Idealistic almost. Beliefs are things that people have and they do not exist outside of consciousness, probably. Some philosophers believe that beliefs are like an outline, a psychological framework. That means that a person is inclined to behave in a way as if what they believe is true. A belief is a statement that a person accepts as a representation of what the world is like. Beliefs can be about false statements and thus be highly inaccurate since the person accepts them as being true. Critical distinction then; a statement can be true or false while beliefs can be about true and false statements even if the person always accepts them as true. Believe it or not but at random I look up a page in Comte-Sponville's "A small treatise on the Great Virtues" and read the underlining there; "knowledge, which applies to being, does not say anything about how one should be; knowledge does not judge, knowledge does not govern. The truth forces itself on everybody, of course, but it imposes nothing." (Translated from the Swedish version, so again some crucial nuance might be missing). Now I am a little confused and the only thing I come to think of is another Tranströmer quote: "There is rain above my ceilings and I'm a rain gutter for impressions." I wander backwards in Comte-Sponville's text and read the following on the same page (page 200); "For those who recognize that value and truth are two different orders (one related to knowledge, the other with desire), there is in this separation on the contrary an extra reason to be tolerant: even if we would have access to the absolute truth this would not actually force all people to respect the same values, and consequently it would not force them to live the same way ”.
Typical, too. I who thought I was on to something absolute. If anything could be easy. Again a Tranströmer quote is flickering past like a butterfly; "And the creature with glued eyes who wants to walk in the middle of the stream downstream throws himself straight ahead without trembling in a raging hunger for simplicity". This is starting to look like a collage of miscellaneous quotes. And poor Tranströmer, he is quoted ad nauseam by now. I have internalized his words and they often pop up for me in outings like these. Okay, here comes a promise; no more Tranströmer quotes in this wall of text.
Have we come closer to a common ground or have we distanced ourselves even more? Unknowingly I think of the motto or saying the more you learn the more you know that you don't know. Here we philosophize, which is to think without proof (otherwise it could not have been called philosophy), and see where we end up. So far, I could conclude that, after these investigations, I am a sensory agent who is trapped within my consciousness, and who cannot step outside of that consciousness and experience the world as it really is. But then I have not yet examined empiricism or rationalism or a plethora of other theories. This jungle seems immense and it keeps expanding.
Weary and giddy, I stop on the road with the Hedgehog and the Fox; Isaiah Berlin's famous essay ("The hedgehog and the Fox"). The point of departure in that text is a cryptic statement from the ancient greek poet Archilochos in which he states that "the hedgehog knows one big thing but the fox knows many small things". According to Berlin, the fox is one who is fascinated by the infinite variety of phenomena and things, the teeming individuality of objects, subjects and events... while those who relate everything to a central, all-encompassing system and boiling things down to a unifying whole are called hedgehogs. Rather schematic at first glance one could say. A coherent worldview is perhaps impossible for a fox; their experience is too kaleidoscopic and maybe even contradictory. They must align themselves with the boundaries. Isaiah Berlin tells us; “We are part of a larger whole than we can understand; we ourselves live in this whole and from it, and we are only wise to the extent that we make peace with it ”.
However, in this aspect, Berlin's hedgehog is more unforgiving and strives incessantly to give reality a unifying form, a universal explanatory principle. I come to think of Freud and Marx and Kant and their grand systems of thought. There's the one lense, roughly speaking, to filter everything through,"one ring to rule them all". I also ponder the fact that the world has been rather monoteistic and hence quite "hedgehoggy" for almost two-thousand years, most of the big religions have only one God (Christianity, Judaism, Islam etc) and is contrasting to the polytheistic worldview of Antiquity.
In his essay, Berlin mentions a lot of artists and philosophers who, in his estimation, are either foxes or hedgehogs, but he immerses himself in Leo Tolstoy because Berlin there finds a figure who initially evades categorization. Tolstoy was a deep sceptic of any theories that would try to explain the course and events of history and the social phenonema contained within it; he would ruthlessly debunk any synthesizing theory and explode doctrines contemptously and without difficulty. His "genius is devastatingly destructive". But at the same time he longed for that universal explanatory principle, "always hoping that the desperately-sought-for 'real' unity would presently emerge". So Berlin finds that Tolstoy was a fox who really wanted to be a hedgehog. Berlin argues that Tolstoy had "a bitter inner conflict....between the immediate data, which he was too honest and too intelligent to ignore, and the need for an interpretation of them which did not lead to the childish absurdities of all previous views". Tolstoy meant that history can't be explained through such entities as heroes, historic forces, moral forces, nationalism, reason.. and so on. There is something else at the core according to Tolstoy, some inexorable character - the march of events - and humans are basically to deeply ingrained in life to grasp it, the flow of life is too vast and cannot be sorted out because the proportion of "submerged" and uninspectable data is too high. Berlin points out that "a notion of inexorable laws which work themselves out whatever men may think of it is itself an oppressive myth". One could argue that Tolstoy, while debunking so many other theories and doctrines, himself, with his "inexorable laws" and so on, falls prey to irrationalism and obscurantism. He thinks of what occurs as a "thick, opaque, inextricably complex web of events, objects, characteristics, connected and divided by literally innumerable unidentifiable links- and gaps and sudden discontinuities too". I imagine Tolstoy getting up in the morning and looking out the window and thinking "wow, the world is simply mindboggling" and to him the social-, political, moral and spiritual worlds, in which we function, seemed permanently out of reach of acute scientific inquiry.
I leave the Hedgehog and the Fox and walk on. It feels like a side track, but it was enjoyable.
The questions seem to have multiplied since the beginning of this writing. The constant questioning can be associated with what is called skepticism, it comes from the Greek word skeptikos and means seeker or questioner. It's like a rather annoying dinner guest who doesn't settle for simple answers or catch-phrase dogmatics. "Walk like a snifferdog where the truth trampled" (I broke my promise and quoted Tranströmer again).
They are two well-traveled roads by now, empiricism and rationalism. And how much of these ways of thinking has over the years been incorporated into, or excluded from, what people call "common sense"?
In empiricism, sensory experience is considered to be the most reliable source of knowledge. The thinker use induction which is to derive conclusions from the experience that then leads to knowledge of the world. Rationalism instead says that reason is the most dependable source of knowledge; this includes ideas, deductive truths and mathematical truths all of which are reached through the use of reason itself .; simply put, one can say that the thinker concludes from the inside and out as opposed to empiricism which then, so to speak, goes from the outside and in. The dividing line in the dispute between empiricism and rationalism is thus about how dependent we are on the sensory experience when we gain knowledge. Hard materialism and the dream of the watertight bulkhead. How much and how often are these roads intermingled ? Looking further back we can find a similar divide in the contrast between Plato and Aristotle where Plato was convinced that truth lay in the immaterial world of ideas while Aristotle could be considered more down to earth and "here and now"; Aristotle believed that all knowledge came from studies of the physical world, was he then the first empiricist? Be that as it may and regardless if you are inclined towards Aristotle's way or Plato's inner world of ideas, the problems of perception still remain.
What does empiricist John Locke say about this? He talks about primary and secondary qualities. Primary qualities belong to the objects themselves and these are for example density, mass, weight, depth, figure, mobility and secondary qualities are color, taste, texture, sound, smell and political affiliation and so on. The distinction between primary and secondary qualities explains the disagreements we have regarding our perceptions of the outside world. Primary qualities are easy to agree on, but the squabble usually start with the secondary qualities. Or to quote Rene Gerard; taste is distaste for other people's taste.
But if we disagree on primary qualities then one of us must be wrong, because they are dealing with the object itself, it is not about you or me. Locke thinks that secondary qualities are not objectively real, they can only be experienced subjectively - here we open a box on the quiz walk that seem to pop up repeatedly and inside there is a note that says "the problem of perception".
George Berkeley objects that you cannot exclude one or the other; you can not only experience secondary qualities without primary included, and vice versa, so then Berkeley concludes that primary qualities are not real either, they are just what consciousness perceives. Berkeley even goes so far as to say that there is no matter, there are only perceptions. There are no objects just perceivers of objects. Oops. In Berkeley's world we seem to float around inside a huge tank of thoughts. Berkeley also believed in God, that is, he incorporated mysticism into his system of thought.
After many months of nothingness and not thinking about this subject I happen to bump into Hannah Arendt - the great distinction maker - and she differentiated between basically four kinds of truths: mathematical, scientific, philosophical and factual truths. A key claim is that truth is more or less durable depending on what kind of truth we are talking about: mathematical truth is, for example, being very durable (!), and factual truths are more vulnerable (in fact, Arendt claims that "Facts are fragile"). Arendt specifically made me pay attention to factual truths, truths that are concerned with human events, things that happen in the world, occurances. (Historical) "facts once lost or destroyed cannot be recovered" whereas mathematical truths are more or less always there, just waiting, so to speak, to be discovered.
She stops and points to the castles and the government buildings in the distance, where the kings and queens and the prime ministers are residing. "Remember, facts can be inconvenient to those in political power, and those in power often have a desire to conceal or destroy certain facts". This is dangerous terrain, many truth-seekers have had to pay dearly, sometimes with their lives. Hannah Arendt goes on to tell me that the real danger to facts aren't beliefs but rather organized lying, a coordinated and concerted effort to undermine the factual character of human events. Facts are like a check on the operations of power - steel bathing, invigorating and sometimes embarrassing and at times even destructive - but certain kinds of political power wants to push factuality out of existence.
Constant lying undermines the factual character of reality (and then we get 'Fake news'!). The goal of organized lying is to make the facts sound like opinions, and vice versa. It opens up a space for a slippery slope of relativism and then there is no factual account of reality, "nah, that is not a fact that's just like your opinion, man.". Reality becomes highly malleable and that plays into the hands of those politicians with a fascistic or otherwise despotic tendency: they want to shape the world, and the news, into whatever they want it to be. This is scary stuff because those kinds of governments treat facts as enemies and they can rewrite history and they become free to categorize specific groups of people - often minorities - as threats, and they do so without any shred of evidence.
Hannah Arendt lights another cigarette and concludes "And therefore, we have to speak up for the facts!".
When I am about to pay for my beer at the "Narrow mind" roadhouse I discover that my wallet is missing and on top of that I also get into an argument with the bartender. He accuse me of being a relativist. I answer him that I think I am a fallibilist but that assumption is of course open to challenge, revision and even dismissal.
-I have a belief about my belief that it might be wrong
- that sounds like epistemological skepticism and them nutjobs claiming that we can’t access any ‘genuine’ knowledge
A stately guy at the bar who is sifting through his purse for some lost item begins to speak to us. Sermon-like. Eyeballs focused as if piercing through the purse.
- .. I say there is a difference between knowing things as they are, on the one hand, and claiming absolute certainty of knowing in any special case, on the other. We as a community of inquirers, at this fine establishment, can function more effectively if we regard inquiry as a self-correcting enterprise which can put any claim in jeopardy... though(t) not all at once. That way we may encounter the real… you know that which sooner or later, information and reasoning would finally result in, and which is therefore independent of the vagaries of you and me…. even though the notion of reality involves the notion of a community…
The barman looks annoyed and a bit flabbergasted
- what do you mean, self-correcting?
- To say that inquiry is self-correcting is to say that a critical community of inquirers has the intellectual resources for self-correction…
Mister Purse finally picks up a worn-out coin from his purse. Holds it up for scrutiny. Dusting it off with a puff, and continues
- Maybe that wanderer isn’t a relativist after all, maybe he’s just a pragmatist… simply critical of the traditional quest for absolute certainty and of what Dewey called “the spectator theory of knowledge”… and more aiming for what is useful and practical in the community in which we are enmeshed... aiming for know-how and knowing-that s
- actually sir… I was just trying to pay for my beer
I say, interruptingly.
Mr Purse puts the coin on the bar counter and says
- Well, here you are then. It's on me
The barman examines the coin and then proclaims:
- your currency is of no use here !
I had no map, it disappeared with my wallet. I agreed on a future payment plan for the beer I bought at the Narrow Mind roadhouse and then I kept on walking. A comment from mr Purse kept echoing in my mind: "To make single individuals absolute judges of truth is most pernicious". I didn't know what to make of it.
The landscape looked barren and desolate. Eventually, after long time units of walking, I came to the edge of a forest. There was a man sitting at a table. He wiggled and twisted a bottle in all sorts of ways.
I asked him what he was doing and he replied flatly that he was trying to help the fly out of the bottle. I said okay. I asked the man with the bottle if he knew anything about the dark forest in front of us.
"it's the forest of pluralistic empiricism", said the man whose name was James Something. He continued:
- it is a turbid, muddled, gothic, sort of affair, without a sweeping outline, and with little pictorial nobility...
James Something became more enthusiastic and told me that he actually had been involved in the planting of the forest back in the day, many years ago, before it took on "a life of its own". James claimed that the forest was his response to dogmatic monism. I was puzzled. He talked with more fervor now:
- philosophers often have a deep impulse, a desire that wants something more orderly, more clean-cut and more systematic... but I thought, what the heck, I might try to cure philosophers of the craving for definitive order...and this forest is what grew out of it
- ...and did you succeed ?
He smiled, almost mysteriously.
- well, hard to tell, I might have succeeded in making some people angry but that's not the point... my view is that there is an irreducible plurality of visions out there... and we finite incomplete human beings can never reach a "God's eye" point of view...and besides that there's no room in monism for genuine freedom, chance, love and poetry..bu
Then my field of vision turned pitch black and I passed out and I was unconscious for God knows how long.
It turned out that I had been knocked unconscious by the objectivists' security service- OBS. The objectivists had annexed the land where James Something and I were walking and talking. After waking up I was taken to a claustrophobic courtroom and the judge pointed out in his closing statement that "either there is a fixed point, a foundation for our knowledge, either there is or there isn't and then we cannot avoid the madness of relativism and the intellectual and moral chaos that follows. And you, as a proponent of this unscientific mess, has to be kept restrained and hidden from the public". In accordance with the laws of the objectivists, I was convicted of "illegal relativism" and my punishment was to stay one year at Hostel Nowhere.
To pass the time at Hostel Nowhere I watched endless reruns of the TV-show "The X-files". Richard Rorty was often there on the couch in the poorly lit TV-room. He would comment on things happening on the screen but sometimes the commentary was tangential or about the charge of relativism:
- the charge of relativism is insignificant... relativism is the view that every belief on a certain topic, or perhaps any topic, is as good as every other. No one holds this view. So why are we here ?
"the truth is out there" I said jokingly, nodding to the TV-screen.
- truth cannot be out there - cannot exist independently of the human mind - because sentences cannot so exist, or be out there. The world is out there, but descriptions of the world are not. Only descriptions of the world can be true or false. The world on its own unaided by the describing activities of humans cannot...
There was a bit of awkward silence and then an unnamed third person responded dryly and parrot-like
- Ricky don't loose that number....
I had to step outside. Breathe some air on the prison yard. Blow off some steam. The prison guards had warned me about Rorty and said that he was the worst relativist of them all, and with "an engine of a brain".
During the break in the prison yard an angel of unidentifiable sex approached me and told me :" there is a way out....mr Purse's third way out". I was stunned and injected with hope. I didn't want to see any more x-files episodes, ever.
- there's a secret tunnel that avoids the extremes of intuitionism (the myth of the Given) and that of idealism (coherentism) ...it's a passage beyond the dichotomy of objectivism and relativism.
- I don't believe you, it seems too good to be true
The angel with the unidentifiable sex picked up a note from a pocket, unfolded the piece of paper and handed it to me. "Look". I immediately recognized mr Purse's handwriting. The note read:
"Experience is that determination of belief and cognition generally which the course of life has forced upon man. One may lie about it; but one cannot escape the fact that some things are forced upon his cognition. There's an element of brute force existing whether you opine it exists or not".
- yes, I recognize the brute force alright, the objectivists brought me here using brute force...
"I think" said the angel of unidentifiable sex, pausing to organize the thoughts:
- that what mr Purse is driving at is that the world does constrain our knowledge but this constraint is mediated through our perception and experiential judgments... we may be constrained to believe something but its epistemic authority may be challenged by further and prolonged inquiry
- That's a lot to take in, all at once
The face of the angel looked mild and professionally concerned. I wondered to myself if the angel was sent here by some opulent administrative deity.
- Yes, I know, but using these coordinates that are implicit and inherent in this document you should be able to find a way out of here... but ....there is a catch
- a catch ?
- yes, you have to take Richard Rorty with you through the tunnel. That's the deal.
One cold morning, after months of substantial preparation, Richard Rorty and I tried to sneak out of Hostel Nowhere using Mr Purse's secret tunnel. It was hard work waking Rorty up. He was sleeping in the bunk across the room and he was talking in his sleep:
- frameworks....zzz....vocabularies...paradigms....zzzz...contingency... irony..zzz....and solidarity
Tense and nervous, we passed through Mr Purse's tunnel. As we approached its end, the tunnel began to slope sharply downwards and we lost our footing and slid down into a river where we floated downstream clinging to a tree trunk. Unexpectedly, Rorty found a piece of rope floating in the water and we later managed to tie several tree trunks together and assembled the beginnings of a raft. Rorty kept shouting "Don't look for the meaning, look for the use!". We picked up floating spruce twigs, various sticks, cloth rags and shabby plastic paraphernalia and using these objects we were able to construct a rudimentary shelter.
We came to a delta where we frantically tried to paddle towards the beach that seemed inhabited but the current was too strong and we were slowly transported out to sea.
There were a few days of fog, gliding with the whims of the winds and the currents, eating seaweed and catching fish with hooks carved out of bright yellow plastic boxes and then the weather cleared only to transform into a storm. Our vessel was a plaything of destiny as the waves got bigger and bigger and the wind grew strong and we clung convulsively to the raft just hoping we would survive. When the wind calmed down, after a time period that felt like an eternity, and it became a new warm day with high blue skies, we lay knocked out on deck among the rags from the torn windbreak. Rorty was sweating profusely and talking in his sleep with some inner ghost : "nominalism ...and reductionism ... forms of a single error... the error goes back you see .... to the protean metaphysical urge... to transcend language".
I fell asleep and woke up much later when the raft rubbed against something. It was the beach of a tropical island. Rorty looked up from the raft and at the island towering in front of us. He mumbled something from the side of his mouth " the general form of a philosophical question is:I am lost, I can't find the way".
The island seemed lush and covered with tropical forest and a couple of foggy mountains but we could not get an overview of the whole enclave. We pulled up the raft on the beach and sat for a while looking out over the vast sea. The loud birdsong from the forest behind us was cheering us on. Wow, what a trip, but I thought also that we should not stop at wonder, we should seek a way out and it was likely that this wasn't our way out, maybe we were only in a transitional phase from one labyrinth to another. Had we, like the fly in the fly-bottle, managed to get out of one bottle only to then get stuck in a new one? I wondered what kind of island we were on.
Up at the edge of the forest there was a tree where someone had etched "to Live in one category and to Think in another", this was the rebellious mark of Fondane!, the critique hurled at speculative philosophy from the standpoint of authentic existential thought. A dizzying feeling of deja vu came and went and thoughts from different angles puzzled me: was all this pre-programmed and determined beforehand by an omniscient blogger? had Rorty lured me here for some opaque reason? but then again he could not be accused of being an existentialist. I didn't know what to make of it.
I hesitantly showed the existentialist etching to Rorty and he replied, after thinking for a while, that this is probably, or has been, the island of idealism and Benjamin Fondane, the metaphysical anarchist, is, or has been, engaged in guerrilla warfare in the forest, often directing sharp attacks at Hegel, the question is whether he's still around and whether this conflict is ongoing at the moment, we might be at the end of History.
After more searching and rummaging at the edge of the forest we found a wooden box and inside it there were some notes and an old boat ticket to Argentina. On one of the notes it said "for Kierkegaard, the absurd is not beneath but is rather beyond Reason". I don't know if this is so useful for us right now, said Rorty, I think we first must find some food.
A bumpy path meandered here and there under the green leaves of the jungle. So many trees, shrubs, and flowers that grew next to, or on top of, each other or that had been twisted around and mixed together in strange braids or that had nestled in some obscure nook. It looked ingeniously beautiful but at the same time I knew that the competition here was murderous.
I found more Fondane inscriptions carved into the trees. I didn't bother to tell Rorty about my findings because I didn't know if he was secretly a Hegelian or not, but I doubted, on the other hand, that Rorty was being that serious. On one tree I read :" Hegel neglects the rights of the existent: the finite, the dismembered, the wounded exists, no doubt, but they have no say in the matter". What matter?
The organic hodgepodge of the jungle made me think for a while of History as jungle-composed of misunderstandings, coverings-over, palimpsests: ideas, living words, reveal their viability by the unforeseeable deviations they give rise to.
Rorty was walking ahead of me, I saw him trudging forward on the partially overgrown path and I remembered something James Something had said that "philosophers are after all like poets, they are pathfinders who blaze new trails in the forest. They suggest a few formulas, a few technical conceptions, a few verbal pointers - which at least define the initial directions of the trail". But this trail that we walked on was not new and one could assume that at least some Hegelians, and also Fondane and his crew, had walked here before us.
We crossed small streams where the sunlight sparkled in the water and we trekked past minimal clearings and small rock formations and at one place we saw a flickering blue hologram. It depicted Birger Sjöberg trapped in a wistful loop :
"Sjunga. Kvittrar du för positioner
i en ärans svett
det blir dött rop i dina toner
och intet mer har skett"
For the same (unknown) reason that the Swedish word 'Lagom' does not have a satisfactory equivalent in the English dictionary, I judged it pointless to try to translate the paragraph into english.
- what's he saying? said Rorty, chewing a banana.
- it's of no use for us at this moment. But it is from his later and more difficult work I think. His earlier stuff was more accessible, when he still had high hopes of getting the girl.
Accompanied by chattering birdsong, we struggled through the damp and dense vegetation and finally we came to a more open place where a couple of straw huts were placed along a watercourse. No smoke came from the fireplace and there were no human beings in sight. The site looked abandoned.
Although it was risky, even though we risked being caught by hostile creatures returning to the village after sunset, we decided to spend the night there in one of the huts. Intuition and inference, no matter how altered, had led us to conclude that this was a safe bet.
I slept a restless sleep and dreamed I was having a nightly conversation with James in his log cabin high up in a fir tree somewhere in the northern forest of pluralistic empiricism. Fifty meters away or so, in a spruce below a large yellow moon, there sat an ominous and spying owl that made me unable to relax and that fueled my paranoia. The owl's pair of eyes and the moon formed a dimly lit triad in the deep blue night sky. James seemed unconcerned and jovial, talking about Hegel: "he was a naively observant man who plants himself in the empirical flux of things and gets the impression of what happens.... the only thing that is certain though is that whatever you may say of Hegel's procedure, someone will accuse you of misunderstanding it..". He paused and I could not stop thinking about the owl. Its glowing eyes burned in me somehow. Suddenly it set out on a sweeping flight in the direction towards us and I felt the fear grip my heart and throat, I was sure I was about to die, that I would be swallowed whole by the category of negation. But I woke up. And I had someone else's words on my lips:
"In thinking I am free
because I am in no other
the conceptual is unbounded
there is nothing outside it"
Had Hegel infiltrated me through the dream? Was such an impact in fact inevitable here on "his" island? Could Fondane come to the rescue? Or was he out of the picture long ago?
I imagined Hegel thinking that the "conceptual realm is unbounded and (that) does not cut us off from reality, on the contrary, it is precisely because of this unboundedness that we can achieve knowledge and access to a reality that is independent of us".
I felt uneasy and I had to get up and go outside and trudge about in the village for a while. Borrowing Rorty's handy little flashlight I stepped out into the darkness where the crickets chirped and trilled a monotonous timeless rhyme, a soundtrack to a joke I will never understand.
Behind one of the huts stood some kind of storage shed and behind this, in the bushes, half sunk in the ground, I saw a couple of Kantian gas tanks where "rationality operates freely in its own sphere". One might wonder if this was waste material from previous settlements, when Kant ruled, some time before the Hegelians took over the island - if they had done so, this was not crystal clear. Whether the Hegelians had any use of the gas tanks was also beyond my comprehension, but it was reasonable to assume that the Hegelians probably thought that Kant had left them in a shitty seat when he introduced a categorical dichotomy between the realm of nature and the realm of freedom.
In the storage shed were some shovels, buckles and skewers as well as a brown briefcase that seemed to want to remain closed. I suspected that Hegel advocated a kind of organic relationship between the subject and the object, intelligence and the world and that he was critical of dualisms and the seesaw of fixed dichotomies: mind versus body, nature versus experience and so on (A voracious raccoon I had seen on TV squeezed into my mind and said: "to be a subject is to be an object that is inaccessible to itself").
So, was Hegel's island really the final and intended destination for Mr Purse's tunnel? At the same time, however, it seemed to me as if randomness itself had brought us here.
Mr Purse was similar to Hegel in that he seemed to think that we are not cut off from the reality we seek to know, we can achieve knowledge of reality, but we cannot reach absolute certainty either. I remembered a phone call I made from Hostel Nowhere to Cheryl Misak, Mr Purse's confidant, where we talked about truth and about the coordinates that would show us the way to the tunnel, and Misak had reformulated something and said that " a true belief is one that would withstand doubt, were we to inquire as far as we fruitfully could on the matter...".
I felt trapped and entangled in too many threads. There were so many thinkers' versions of the concept of truth and I had so little time. Maybe I should abandon the "truth" and instead try to investigate "reality".
Without noticing it, I had reached the edge of the village where the very dark jungle took over. The crickets grinded on and some cackling bird inside the foliage insisted on some specific and unknown message. Rorty's flashlight was offering a brittle cone of light in the darkness.
I went back to the hut. Rorty was awake and a little bothered because I took his flashlight without asking, "we should develop a social practice and some rules over the use of the flashlight," he said. I agreed with him.
The next day, which was foggy and raw, we continued to explore the village and in one of the huts we found some necessities and useful things: a sack of grain, a bag of rice, matches, kitchen utensils, cloth bags with nuts and spices and a pair of night vision goggles and some kind of electronic device, we guessed that it was an old Hegel detector, the text under the lights and buttons were in german; "aufhebung" , "Geist" and so on.
As we walked around between the huts and the nooks and crannies, I felt incredulity towards Rorty's narrative, and why did this strike me only now: where had Rorty gotten hold of the flashlight and how could it have survived the tumultuous journey across the sea? and why was it not used on the raft, why had it only begun to be used now, here on Hegel's island? No, Rorty withheld something, there were strange gaps in the story.
We had lunch - rice and mashed avocados - took a siesta and then we met up again at the fireplace that served as the village square and meeting place and from there we continued our search.
One centrally located hut had two dingy doors, on one door it said "W1" and on the other "W2". Inside the W1 door was a room full of slides symmetrically hung with clothespins on sewing threads. The place testified to an obsession with precision. I was thinking of my friend with asperger's. The pictures themselves were quite mundane and straightforward: plants, fruits, tools, animals and people who made different grimaces. Altogether, the lines with slides formed a word: "image". The W2 room was furnished as the wheelhouse of a locomotive full of handles that at first glance looked more or less the same but one handle was a crank that could be moved continuously, another was the handle of a switch with two positions, a third, which was impact sensitive, went to a brake and a fourth went to a pump and so on. I went out on the lawn and told Rorty about my findings. He was peeling an orange-like fruit. The sun broke through the clouds and shone on Rorty's face, it was difficult to determine if he was smiling or squinting.
- What you can not talk about, you must refrain from talking about, said Rorty and took a slice of orange-like fruit.
A kind of sabotaging boredom and desolation came over me. It was as if I felt the presence of a spirit being, immensely intelligent but non-empathetic and also the worst nitpicking fusspot imaginable.
The village seemed to me poor and barren, the lack of electricity and books certainly contributed to my judgement. I had a bout of homesickness and a feeling that my whole life was the fruit of a big slip and that matter itself was the fruit of a scandal at the core of nothingness.
I longed for a purpose, an aim and a meaning, but I knew that those yearnings were also dangerous, because now in my fragile state I could easily fall into some ideological trap. In that way, it was good that Rorty was with me, he was, even though he was according to some the worst relativist, at least democrat and humanist, he would at least be open to dialogue, conversation, conference and discussion. He agreed with Dewey that "the task of democracy is forever that of creation of a freer and more humane experience in which all share and to which all contribute", I hoped that our life in the village, no matter how weird, would be democratic.
The jungle path was now sloping downward and was crossed by moss-covered bearded vines and lianas, further ahead large parasol-like leaves arched over the trail and spear-shaped rays of sunlight shone down through the gaps in the foliage high above us, but the general theme of green murkiness seemed to persist. A grumpy and scientifically minded donkey, Alper Kropp, who we found tied to a pole inside the village, carried our baggage and our necessities on his back. Alper was reticent, but from time to time he could angrily exclaim "pseudo-scientific!".
- I thought you noticed it but I could not say anything, said Rorty and spooned out the inside of a kiwi fruit. He continued:
- I found surveillance cameras and hidden microphones everywhere in the village, that was why I wanted us to get away from the village and that was the reason I communicated so enigmatically at lunch. Another thing I did not tell you was that the village was most likely a former dispatch center for linguistic philosophers. I saw traces of Carnap, Sellars, Davidson, Austin, Bergmann and Quine and Wittgenstein...
- where did they go? have they been chased away by Hegelians or even become converts?
- They most likely split up due to internal disagreements, their philosophy worked on philosophical problems by trying to reform the language or by understanding more about the language we use. In Bergmann's way, you can describe it as if linguistic philosophers talk about the world by means of talking about a suitable language, and then they disagree on what constitutes 'a language' and on what makes it suitable.
- every blockhead, from Bacon to Fritz M, has criticized language!... and being interested in language is like polishing glasses, Alper snorted
Bewildered, distracted, I tapped on the Hegel-detector. It didn't seem to respond. I recalled a picture from the W1-room which depicted a little boy and an elderly man who both sat down on a prayer rug and who seemed to be involved in a praying activity. For the boy, the prayer was probably only the pronouncing of words, mechanical almost, but for the older man, the prayer had been loaded with a lifetime of conditions, experiences, hopes and crises. Or so I thought.
All around me it was crowded with species, flora and fauna, exhibiting myriads of movements, topologies and sounds and smells, the jungle was a full-scribbled green flipchart of soil, metamorphosis and chlorophyll in a blissful mixture. Nevertheless, for the time being I had the same feeling as when I surfed through the thousands of job advertisements on the employment service's website: there is nothing for me here, I am alone in the world.
I heard Alper somewhere higher up on the trail, he was ranting that "a theory must be able to be falsified ... nothing can be fully proven....however something can be fully disproved .... and we must become better at distinguishing science from non-science". Rorty sounded sleepy and somewhat indifferent:
- I think it is more important to distinguish between hidden and open meaninglessness ...
After a while of walking, the trail flattened out a bit and the vegetation changed and became more digital and text-based at the same time as the correspondence between the active entities increased, and so did its speed. It all looked like a big and intricate pinball game where transmitters wrote short text messages to which other users responded by sending red little hearts and "refeets" and by writing new text messages and this activity in some way strengthened the transmitters, especially when users also started to follow them. Everyone can be a transmitter and everyone can follow suit. It was communication that became a public performance and some text messages became "viral", got a lot of red little hearts and "refeets", and every moral and emotional word used in a transmission increased its virality by twenty percent (Alper could quickly figure that out). The users used moral talk to increase their prestige and often when a user reacted maliciously to a text message, nuance and truth were the first casualties, so it seemed to me. It rapidly developed into a competition where users wanted to gain the audience's approval and where the context collapsed and the transmitter's original intention was ignored. We hurried through the undergrowth so as not to get involved in any cultural war or nasty smear campaigns, but it was relatively easy to avoid because we did not seem to have any followers.
The lizards scampered off, in quick succession, as we struggled up a bushy slope. Rorty and I pushed Alper up the path, as kindly as we could, and soon we arrived at a small plateau where we stood for a while and looked out over the lush landscape.
"A journey is a suite of helpless disappearances," said the poet, but sometimes things are discovered and we had made a macabre find on our side: laying in front of us in the tall grass, below a huge oak, just before the hill began to slope down again towards the jungle, there was a skeleton, dressed in an army jacket and baggy jeans. Next to the skeleton was a leathery shoulder bag. After an initial shock, I searched the bag and found cigarettes, a compass, antique protein supplements, a pen and a minimal moss-green notepad. In the inside pocket of the jacket we found an Identification Card: "Clarice Vingbygge". It was hard to imagine the woman in the photo ending up as a skeleton. I skimmed through the notepad and found lots of Fondane quotes and other related bits: "Hegels idea was that History is not made for man, but just the opposite: man was made for History" , " the search for the possible beyond all logical possibility".
- Could she have been the one walking around writing all those Fondane snippets on the trees? I wondered.
- the traces seem appalling, muttered Alper.
On the huge oak tree I found another Fondane quote, a longer passage that seemed to me more fateful and final than the previous fragments:
"Side with Reason OR Existence.....
The whole human being cries out for wild freedom
freedom from the constraint of rational necessity
the laws of reason"
Even though we were amazed and a little paralyzed by the situation, we still decided to give Clarice some kind of funeral. We dug a pit, lowered the body and belongings, covered it with soil, and then laid flowers on top. No one seemed to want to say anything but in the end Rorty said something about chatter that falls silent before the seriousness of history.
When we got down into the crooked and winding jungle and my mood felt lighter, we began to speculate about the fate of Clarice. Had she been a fiction writer who became too didactic and preachy while zealously trying to incorporate a comprehensive picture of Hegel's philosophy into her work, and had she then lost her mind in the process. Or had she been a regular Hegelian who was converted by Fondane and later joined his guerrilla troops or had Clarice been bitten by a poisonous snake while she was on a butterfly safari along these flowery slopes. Was she, in any case, consumed by Hegel's absolute idea, the idea that thinks (for) itself?
Only the whole is true, everything partial can only be partially true according to Hegel: no fragment of the whole has any viable reality or meaning in itself. And I could not see the whole, just shattered shards here and there, at the same time I had a vague suspicion that Hegel's Absolute controlled us from the depths, pulled the strings behind the scenes, it was either Hegel or the omniscient blogger or some unknown third alternative.
- You shouldn't worry too much about Hegel, after all he thought that history had reached its final stage with the Prussian state in the 19th century ... he was a bit off on that one ... said Rorty and slowly swept away one large palm leaf.
Alper trotted slow yet resolutely on the path. The hanging kitchen utensils clicked and clanked against his durable donkey body, creating a crestfallen unsynchronized percussion symphony. He muttered sourly, almost to himself:
- such pride and arrogance .... to believe one being able to establish laws for historical development ... to believe one being able to create a fully-fledged system ... utopian principles that must not be criticized .... ridiculous pseudoscience!...
Whatever Clarice intended to accomplish with her life and work, we could not know what it was about and we had buried the notebook and other clues with her body six feet into the ground, we thought it was a good gesture. Hegelian or Fondanian ultimately did not matter, she deserved a dignified treatment, in any case.
We could not reach the truth about Clarice, and me, Rorty and Alper all had different temperaments, intuitions and inclinations, and these would lie beneath and influence and motivate many of our disputes about truth, justification, realism, and objectivity. The jungle was also a temperament one could say, and what was allowed to grow here and what remained suppressed?
Small streams had formed over the path due to the heavy rainfall and we tried to zigzag and jump over runnels and puddles. On Alper's body we had set up an umbrella device made of sticks and stiff palm leaves. He was unenthusiastic and complained about the poor working conditions. This was 'wetexperience'.
Out there in the jungle, there was a potential myriad of different nervous systems existing and consequently, in and out of these entities, a plethora of varied and exotic experiences would blossom and I was wondering as we walked through the mud, what kind of beings are watching us right now?. Speaking of experience, I knew from previous conversation that Rorty dismissed the very word 'experience', "we're better off dropping any reference to it" he commented and he thought it was too vague and confusing and that it had a whole jungle of different definitions and meanings to different people, yes it was to Rorty as vague as 'truth' and 'language'. In any case, there was in my perception of 'experience' a central element of surprise that was its crucial point: the shock of surprise, which was related to Mr Purse's 'bruteness', produced a new cognitive scheme but it was also the case that 'experience' was an experience of negation: something was no longer as we assumed it would be. But my theory had some kind of fly in the ointment I couldn't pinpoint - and I knew it would be difficult to convince the objectivists of this theory, I could not hammer it home with hard facts, the construction was a kind of speculative balloon - and I suspected also that at bottom of 'experience', there twinkled Hegel's idea of contradiction as the moving principle of the world.
There is always an otherness, both in myself and vis-à-vis the world, and the shock of experience breaks through, is exposing 'the new', through different senses and mediated by conceptual clashes, the shock is where the 'transaction' takes place: it is also the 'transaction ', this is the one that makes us enter into a relationship with the world and the otherness within ourselves. I vented this to Rorty and we got into another discussion where he claimed that this talk about 'transactions' sounded like the metaphysical side of Dewey:
- He wanted phrases like "transaction with the environment" and "adaptions to conditions" to be simultaneously naturalistic and transcendental... So he blew up "transaction" and "situation" until they sounded as mysterious as "prime matter" or "thing-in-itself".
Splashing through the jungle's gurgling sink, we later stopped by a large cobweb. Water droplets lingered on the threads and the occasional animal and whatnot had become irreversibly entangled in the network: a bee resembling a red harring, miniature scapegoats, ants, leaves, incommensurable vocabularies and the shredded remains of an iridescent beetle.
'Language' was absent in my theory of experience and I had also neglected the experience of being a body, there was Alper Kropp for example, only he, and other similar donkeys, could describe this particular "donkeyness" from the inside and with the unique sensations and signifiers it entailed (if they as such existed), but then again it seemed to me as if Alper didn't want to be a donkey at all, he didn't want to be "donkeyfied" and alienated. In fact I think that Alper only wanted to be an autonomous being and not associated with any particular kind of animal, but on the other hand it was really hard, at least for me, to ignore his bitter-pilled mule-like presence. I guess Alper, if he had the resources, would engage himself in some kind of corrective surgery, so that he could mold himself into something that was corresponding with his inner being or with an image thereof.
I got a sting of bad conscience, we had not been nice to Alper, we took advantage of his labor and gave him only edible plants and our companionship in return. I thought then and there that the only reasonable thing to do was to set him free.
It was difficult to see where the cobweb began and where it ended and the spider, the manager of the building, was absent, but you could feel that it was lurking somewhere nearby and that it was watching us from the shadows, right at that moment. Eerily, something sprung to my mind like a whisper through smoke: " there are more things in experience, than are dreamt of in your philosophy"...
At night I woke up under the windshield, a distant rumbling sound rolled across the starry sky. I looked up between the treetops and saw an airplane that seemed to be traveling downwards towards the island in an easterly direction. An airstrip on the island would indicate that there was still some form of human activity here, or even civilization. I felt hopeful and permeated by a restless longing for food, bathrooms, showers, decent lighting and to be allowed to sit in a cafe with an espresso while scrolling through the social media feed on my cellphone.
I was too excited, I could not fall asleep again and my brain was like a jukebox that played pictures; chords and melodies of scenarios; lining up little tunes of details, sequences, fragments, impressions...: the quail that flew into an overly polished window in the office building; broken discarded umbrellas thrown next to the bus stop; a cross spider that gently sinks into our nocturnal camp on the vehicle of a smooth thread; the quiet dusty life of a video game controller between game sessions; a secret masturbation moment in a secluded toilet somewhere in the company's huge building; crispy dog candy in the dog yard; a turquoise scent of detergent in the old stairwell; foster parent maturely looks through letters from the tax office and scratches his sparse hair; the mercury-like in her laughter that escaped linguistic precision. And so on. Scatterbrain. I didn't know what to make of it.
Some people have an enormous sense of detail, at the expense of the whole and the synthesis. For Hegel, it seemed almost like the opposite, it was as if Hegel claimed that a piece of a puzzle had no meaning or significance until the whole puzzle had been put together. The empiricist, on the other hand, acknowledges that each piece has its own significance, which otherwise might have led to one never wanting to start solving the puzzle at all. It was probably as pipe-smoking Sir Bertrand Russell had said: that rationalism relates to empiricism as a puzzle of inseparable pieces does to (with?) an isolated piece. But the analogy seemed to me somewhat slender and two-dimensional: because to this I wanted to add a third dimension: what is the factual usefulness and social practice we can extract from this puzzle?
My friend had a sharp logical intellect but still could not see the "ripples in the water" socially: he was oblivious to the effect his blunt and often times rude comments had on people he communicated with, it seemed as if he could not create mental representations and ideas of the other's state of mind in his brain. His mom used to take out paper and pencil and draw and explain the process in a few picture frames, as factually as she could: "When you say or do X to me, I feel Y, I would like you to say Z instead ...". He had to be supported in putting the relational and social puzzles together, so to speak, but at the same time he was brilliant at solving physical wooden puzzles and complex mathematical problems.
There was something dubious here in these mindsets, and I thought of unscrupulous people in society who somehow saw people as means in their scheming puzzles, in their nets for personal gain. They saw people as means, not as ends in themselves. I thought again of what Fondane had wrote: "Hegel's idea was that History is not made for man; but just the opposite; man is made for History". Hegel's idea of History is like the unscrupulous, it sees man as a mean and not as end in himself.
The plane had passed by, the rumbling roar died out. The glistening night sky was a mute witness. I heard the chirping scissor music of the crickets, each member of the ensemble produced his or her sound by rubbing two textured wings together. In my mind I heard Fondane's voice again: the howl of existentialism, a voice crying in the wilderness, a protest against the "system" and his question remained unanswered like a nocturnal phone call that faded out into the darkness:
"should we ask what knowledge thinks about the existent or what the existent thinks about knowledge?"
I glanced at the other two persons in the caravan, they seemed to be sleeping heavily. Rorty talked in his sleep as usual: " the arts and the sciences....unforced flowers of life... the charges of relativism and irrationalism against Dewey ..... mindless defensive reflexes from the tradition he critized..". I borrowed Rorty's flashlight and got up, eager to search further, because something was out of focus. It seemed to me that Fondane, his spirit, had led us to a philosophical crossroads, on one street came the philosophy of knowledge and on the crossing street there came the philosophy of existence, and it seemed to me that they had long ago lost touch with each other, like two old friends who both had become too greedy in their respective directions, "a huge gulf separates the two".
That dead end feeling came over me. The burst of inspiration had died as quickly as it started. Had Hegel set up all these lines of thought in advance and led us here to a blind alley, without us being able to reach the synthesis? I suddenly remembered the voracious Raccoon I saw on TV who had said that Hegel never even used the word synthesis, it was a retrospective construction by his followers and interpreters, it was as if Jesus never came up with the words "church", "catholic" or "protestant".
A spider ran jerkily over the sticks. The wind rocked the tall treetops, ever so gently. Rorty continued to mumble in his sleep: "this essay is one more attempt at reformulating my views in a form that may be a bit less vulnerable to Bernstein's objections..."
It seemed to me as if Hegel was not interested in reestablishing symmetry, balance or harmony or anything like that, no, the goal was rather to recognize in one pole (knowledge) the symtom of the failure of the other (existence): something neglected in our selves, in our tradition, reappear, embodied, as an antagonistic force. And the first step forward is to make a wrong choice, and then the wrong choice opens up a space for the good choice. I saw his paradox moving: an act of error is an act that leads us right.
The trail meandered through a mosaic field of vines and epiphytes and beautiful orchids that flaunted along softly moss-covered tree trunks. In curlicue-shaped bushes and trees sat green, red, yellow and blue ancient birds, cackling briskly while feasting on nuts and all kinds of seeds and leaves. A red ragged parrot that seemed to have a particularly long working memory repeatedly proclaimed: "my wandering uterus is constantly giving birth to inappropriate metaphors".
In the end, our little party traveled through an arch lined with climbing plants and foliage and we arrived at a seaside house complex with a terrace. Beyond the house a small sandy bay unfolded. The house seemed deserted. The truck that stood a bit up on the dirt road had punctures and dented doors. In the grass lay the remains of the analytical-synthetic dichotomy, probably mortally wounded by arrows shot by Quine in 1951 but its relative, the fact-value dichotomy, was still very much alive, no one had yet been able to close that gap but Hilary Putnam had made a serious attempt on one of his expeditions: he would scandalously assert that "value and normativity permeate all of experience.."
Along the shed were packing boxes and oak barrels and along the wall on shelves behind locked glass doors were a number of rum bottles: pineapple rum, amber-colored vanilla rum, honey yellow rum and transparent white cane rum. After more snooping, we concluded that we were dealing with an abandoned rum distillery that also had made fruit juice. The name of the place seemed to be "Trioca rum haven". Maybe this was the synthesis.
Rorty and I slipped in through an unlocked window in the back and ended up in what looked like a lab. There were stainless steel tanks, copper-colored pipes; plastic buckets; hydrometers and thermometers; burners and scales and pipettes and various kitchen-like utensils. A pair of white lab coats and goggles hung on hooks by the door. It looked neat and tidy. From that room we entered a small office with a mahogany-colored desk and with a panoramic window that overlooked the desolate bay where the seagulls floated lazily in the air.
On the desk among binders and paper was a photo depicting a smiling curly woman who was more pale than she was blonde. Beyond the smile I saw a fragility, a way of distancing and withdrawing from the world when the pressure was too much or too intimate. She had to have everbody and everything at a correct distance and it was laborious work as the margins of error seemed tight. I suspected also recurrent mood swings or a seasonal grief without objects, I read a lot in her face.
The electricity was off but we found a kind of diesel generator and a barrel of fuel in the garage. One floor down, in a storage room that was also a laundry room, we found to our delight rice, canned food, soap, candles and matches and a box of "Triaca rum haven" slippers. In the distillery's small shop there were lots of towels, t-shirts and shorts designed with the logo against a background of sea and palm trees.
In the evening we turned on the electricity and a string of multi-colored light bulbs was lit around the terrace and a cassette player started to jingle itself into action in the kitchen:
"Galveston, oh Galveston
I still hear your sea waves crashing
While I watch the cannons flashing
I clean my gun
And dream of Galveston"
The phone line from the office was dead and the old computer on the desk did start up but it got stuck in a reboot mode over and over again.
We sat on sun loungers on the terrace and looked out over the sea. Alper lay on a palm logo towel. The cassette player sounded through the kitchen window and intermingled with the sleepy roar of the surf. Rorty drank vanilla rum and I sat with a mug of pineapple rum. We were wordless travelers, and now also burglars. The conversation unfurled under the tapestry of the night.
- disturbed, troubled, confused, ambiguous ... full of conflicting tendencies...Dewey meant that it is the situation that has these traits, we are doubtful because the situation is inherently doubtful. Said Rorty.
Yes, this rum distillery vacation seemed too good to be true, the situation itself seemed too smooth and arranged in advance, like a trap set up by cunning Hegelians, but then again I was prone to bouts of paranoia, my judgment had been distorted before.
Somewhat semi-drunk, and slippery on the pronounciations, we slided into the subject of democracy and Rorty said that "democracy is conflict and an ability to lose" and I wondered to myself if I had lost that ability, somewhere along the way. I poured a small tub of water for Alper and spiked it as he wished with white cane rum juice. The stars shone between dark fluffy clouds, it got colder and we wrapped ourselves in palm-tattooed towels and drank Trioca rum. It was true , without creative conflict there would be stagnation and complacency. It seemed like anti-synthesis. But what kind of institution could help us foster the spirit of creative conflict and safeguard the ability to lose?
I lost concentration and swam away in my mind. I thought of the pale curly woman in the office photo. I imagined her life in the metropolis, hardworking and so busy and distracted that she would never need ,or be able, to think any deeper or outside the habitual pattern. There was work at the women's center plus volunteer work at the Lookout Society Shelter and then training, painting courses and cleaning and renovation at home. But every now and then came the "weakness", as she thought of it, the depression, but then she put in another gear, worked even harder. She thought that - or if it was an unreflected though active Hegelian principle - "if I am more useful and helpful to others then maybe I will eventually feel better myself". She saw an episode of "weakness" as a program one just had to go through, an inhospitable passage to endure while biting the bullet, and she followed, on a friend's advice, the change of mood and its progression by drawing a graph in the calendar every day, even though she thought it was a bit ridiculous. But she was too proud to take psychotropic drugs or to begin talk therapy, pride was perhaps the wrong word: she thought she was unresponsive to such interventions, what was required, she assessed, was to fight and strive further. I wondered if she had the ability to lose.
Rorty had gone to bed on a mattress in the office. I sat on the terrace for a while. Alper had fallen asleep on the wooden deck, his big belly pumping slowly up and down, like a soft rhythm that accompanied his tenacious dream of freedom.
The following night I dreamed that Rorty, Hilary Putnam, me and a fourth unseen person were visiting a restaurant. The dark interior consisted of shrubs, palm leaves and gloomy burgundy curtains and draperies and pink lampshades. The serving staff looked like white-faced clowns wrapped in patterned sarongs and one of them stood by the entrance and insisted that you take off your shoes on the rag rug outside before entering the restaurant. I don't remember much of the conversation, only that Putnam had made me uncomfortable when he said that "there's no neutral conception of rationality to which one can appeal ... when the nature of rationality is itself what is at issue ..". I was afraid that OBS, the objectivists' security police, were wiretapping us and that they would come and arrest us at any moment. But Putnam himself seemed unmoved by such scenarios, he took a sip of Prosecco and said emphatically "we can not make sense of science and rationality without appeal to normative considerations".
Rorty, idiosyncratically aloof, swallowed some green olives and said:
- yepp... we're in the logical space of reasons alright....of giving arguments, of justifying ...of trying to justify what one says.
I could not determine if he was ironic or not or if Rorty and Putnam were speaking in code language above my head, if they were engaging in scheming between the lines and making a diabolical plan in which I was unknowingly involved. The unseen fourth person was still blurred and somehow outside the field of attention as well as, at the same time, being crucial to it. I was going to ask Putnam straight out if he knew how Rorty's flashlight had ended up on the island, but I did not dare. The question seemed charged and outrageous.
When we later stood at the checkout to pay for the food, Ulrika, an old acquaintance, was next to me in the queue. Awkwardly, we tried to find our way back to the loud joviality that characterized our time at the student dormitory a long time ago. I took out a black wallet and was in the process of paying with the credit card and it struck me just then that I had found the wallet earlier in the evening and I knew, crystal clear, that the wallet in fact belonged to Ulrika. A surprised recognizing expression travelled across her face and she proclaimed:
- that's mine!
- yes ..ehm..ehm. I found it ....
But some kind of omission in my being contributed to me still completing the transaction and paying for my restaurant visit with Ulrika's credit card. She was standing there flabbergasted next to me and her once happy face now had evident features of disgust. I gave her the wallet and said, somewhat embarrassed, that I intended to pay back what I owed as soon as possible. But it was too late for reconciliation, or too early. Ulrika put her wallet in her purse and turned around and quickly went out to the rag rug and put on her shoes.
Then I woke up on the terrace, under layers of towels. The stars were mostly covered by dark clouds. I thought about what kind of punishment that awaited us, now that we had commited burglary and settled here at the distillery and supplied ourselves so generously with the rum products and everything. Would the Hegelians punish us by negating the negation of the right that had been created by us, the criminals? Or did Hegel want to show us, make us realize - through bizarre detours and games - that real morality arises only when the judge and the criminal are one and the same ?
A few bland days passed. Indolence. Decadence. Drinking Trioca rum. Resting in sun loungers on the terrace. I saw another small single-engine propeller plane pass across the sky in an easterly direction towards what I perceived as the "middle" of the island, the plane flew over the coconut plantations and groves with pineapple trees towards the misty mountain in the distance.
I spent some time walking along the beaches, "searching" with the Hegel detector. I thought maybe the detector would only work in an unforeseen context and also that it could work on a subliminal level for those who used it: the idea being that under certain circumstances the Hegel detector would transform the user without him or her barely noticing it.
Around the bend, the beach topography continued obliquely to the northeast and a few hundred meters in front of me, right at the water's edge, a flock of squawking seagulls circled around a large lump in the water. When I got closer I saw that it was a massive fish cadaver, judging by the stripes and the dorsal fin one could argue that it probably was a tiger shark. The animal was cut open and intestines and various liquids and half-decomposed stomach contents had fallen out and hordes of scavengers had congregated to dine. The stench and the sight made me nauseous. Crabs crawled freely on the rotting piece of meat and provided for themselves meritoriously, the flies flickered about in a fear of missing out and the gulls cheered and ate, both carcass and inattentive crabs, while also engaging themselves in the bullying of smaller shorebirds.
I backed away a bit towards the palm grove. It all seemed strange, the shark must have been murdered and torn apart by human tools and then left here at the beach. What other animal than man could have cut up its stomach in that way? What necessity had it served? Or contingency?
In a nauseating realization I remembered again the origin of my journey, it had been to look for the "truth", but here I was standing on an island in the middle of nowhere watching scavengers partying on a carcass. I was on the wrong track.
The stench was oppressive so I went and sat down under the auspice of the coconut palms further away from the water. There were still no signs of life from the Hegel detector. I thought of my logical friend and when I followed him to the train station and how we passed the time by walking around and looking at the old maps that were painted on the walls. Classical traditional train lines. And at one point he had erupted:
- maps they are good, because they are objective
His obsession with objectivity, like my fixation on truth, was perhaps a kind of idolatry and a philosophical substitute for a religious belief in a transcendental God. "The last word" so the speak. Rorty, on the other hand, had suggested during conversation the other night that philosophers should stop worrying about objectivity and knowledge and truth and instead make solidarity their major concern. Rorty's remark had made Alper angry and he then claimed that such priorities could come and bite Rorty in the ass someday.
The Hegel detector suddenly signaled something. A large red light flashed on the panel and below the light was a printed strip of text: "Aufhebung". Out at the water's edge, the febrile activity continued unabated. Reality is process, and right there and then, in dazzling sunlight: the unfolding of a negated tiger shark.
I had to calm down and bring myself to some kind of limit so as not to condemn, ridicule and mock the logical comrade and his rigid certitudes. Or was I the one who did not understand, who was being too rigidly categorical? (After all, I insisted on calling him "logical" all the time). Did I need to both change and preserve the concept of my friend in order to save our friendship? It was as if we were symbols of some kind of deep division that was constantly grinding and rubbing, unresolved...as two quite different ways of thinking about human existence. A split, similar to the one Fondane talked about, that had deepened ever since Hegel challenged Kant's version of a kind of platonic idea that philosophy could be like mathematics, that it could offer conclusive demonstrations of truths about structural features of human life. I hoped that the conversation between the two would continue, that we would find new words and formulations and that perhaps these could help us out of various dead ends and achieve synthesis. But no matter what you did, it seemed to me that there was always an incomplete reference to something else: mote in the cup, unforced flowers, spontaneity, whatever.
I returned to the distillery later that afternoon. Alper was dozing in a shadowy part of the terrace. Through the open kitchen window one could hear the sun-soaked jingles from the cassette player.
"you stopped making sense
you forgot about your friends
I wanna come closer
I wanna come closer..."
A straw hat-clad Richard Rorty entered through the kitchen door while munching on a mango-like fruit.
After Alper had woken up somewhat I told the pair about the tiger shark carcass I spotted on the beach and that the Hegel detector had flashed red at the "Aufhebung" mark. Rorty wondered absentmindedly what it all could mean and if there was any internal connection. He mumbled in a spell of introversion:
- the concepts are to Hegel 'germinative'... and pass beyond themselves and into each other... it's the immanent dialectic..
Alper rolled his baggy eyes and said
- here we go again..
- I don't get it. I replied, while pouring up some pineapple rum.
- I'm trying to imitate Hegel's way of thinking, said Rorty... in order to see if these events have any particular significance to us... Hegel's erfahrung.. rhythms of experience, its internal tensions and conflicts ...give rise to a dynamic movement toward integration... which is "aufhebung"...
Rorty tipped his hat slightly to the back of his head and looked out over the blue horizon beyond the palm leaves.
- This suggests that the Hegel detector picked up signals from a dynamic integration or reconciliation occuring in the area...
Alper could not hide his irritation :
- fuzzy airy-fairy pseudo-scientific speculation !...he burst
Triggered Alper tried to regain a more controlled composure.
- have you thought about that maybe it's a tracking device for something else, "aufhebung" might only be a cover name or indicate something else entirely, something that has nothing to do with Hegel, the thing might even register the opposite of what you are suggesting, which is DIS-integration!... we may never know..
- are you dis-sing my idea? said Rorty with mild irony. Unperturbed as ever.
- Or... the Hegel detector could be bugged by the OBS. I said nervously, offering the more paranoid side of things.
After fruit time and rum drinking in the fading daylight, the conversation continued, we tried to reach out to the points of contact where we could critically engage with one another but I felt increasingly uneasy and unfocused and I was thinking that our dear distillery was an easy target for Hegelians, Fondanians or the OBS and in my rum-induced mind I figured that maybe we were going to be safer if we kept on travelling through the jungle. For now, we had agreed that our long-term goal was to try and reach the supposed airfield way out east - at some point in the future - and from there fly back to civilization, legally or illegally.
During the extensive night conversation it became clear though that Alper were by no means interested in returning to a role as a drudge again and argued that we could wait for a while before leaving the distillery. I sensed that this "wait" of his really meant "postpone indefinitely".
We had made awkward attempts to repair the truck up on the dirt road but we had now given up on it and we were thus forced to travel by foot. If we were to go, Alper argued, the burden of carrying would have to be distributed equally, taking into account everyone's ability, but then the question arose as to where would we could find an objective, unbiased and neutral assessor of our abilities.
Alper argued that we should stay at the distillery for a couple of weeks to gather strength, but for safety's sake we should start patrolling the area around the house and some parts of the beach. We would basically become guards who worked in shifts, and our "escape suitcases" would be constantly ready for departure. I felt as if we owed it to Alper to join his line after all he had endured in terms of humiliation, exploitation and non-payment of wages, but at the same time I was of the opinion that the "stay scenario" was really a bad alternative. Rorty did not think the dangers were so imminent and said that we might as well stay at the distillery for a little while and "there's no rush" and from here we could, from time to time, set out and scout the surroundings with the Hegel Detector. At first, Rorty smilingly dismissed idea of guarding and patrolling the premises, but eventually he agreed to it, possibly to appease Alper.
I was tired and lethargic after our long discussions and solid alcohol intake but still I lay sleepless at night. The trees outside rocked and creaked meekly in gusts of wind, like wooden doctoral students in equanimity. I thought of the woman in the office photo, I often did, something seemed to force her into my thoughts. What would she think of me? Sometimes when she appeared in my mind, like a question mark from nowhere, it brought tears to my eyes and I could not explain why.
During the next few days, we began to act as patrolling guards around the premises , but soon it so happened that Rorty and I began to build a simple lookout tower on the flat part of the distillery's roof. It all started as a gag. We nailed and fastened and tied locker room cabinets, ladders, planks, forks, leftover chipboards and discarded oak barrels and soon a crooked collection of things towered on the top of the building: a hybrid between a hut, rubbish heap and lookout tower that was braced and attached to the surrounding trees, fences and downpipes.
We were proud of our creation but unfortunately it was impossible for the four-legged Alper to climb up in the tower and he muttered that it was another injustice to note in the logbooks because this would mean that he had to patrol the area on his shift while we, during our shifts, could sit on our asses in the watchtower and drink vanilla rum.
One night as I sat peeking out from the lookout tower, I saw through the night vision goggles some movement in the foliage next to the dirt road. Soon I discovered a cluster of figures, dressed in monk robes, sneaking along the ditch. The gang carried bludgeons, cameras and binoculars and they snuck in and lurked in the bushes, some distance away from the defective truck, and then they seemed to be scouting the distillery. I crouched down inside the tower and hid as best I could and prayed that Rorty wasn't sleeptalking too loud and that Alper lay quietly and slept inside the house and did not attract any attention. Through a crack in the chipboard, I zoomed in on the group with my night vision goggles and I seemed to distinguish some familiar faces: Wohan Hund and Anders Boj Tropen. They were known mercenaries working for the APA - the anti-postmodern agency - and who most likely were out reconnoitering and looking for new postmodern prey, prey that APA considered to be the root of all evil. I was in any case surprised to see APA operating in these remote regions. For APA, postmodernism was the reason why children in universities were messy and uneducated, and postmodernism taught children that everything was in a monotonous way connected to power struggles and structures, and even truth and knowledge were alienated and attacked by postmodernism, or so APA declared.
I became frightened because I knew that I would have a hard time avoiding their predatory claws since I had been convicted of illegal relativism which to the APA was a salient feature of postmodernism as well, and on top of that I was also on the run from the objectivists' prison, which was another compromising aspect of my resume. Rorty, who was considered a proper pragmatist, for his part, would probably be even more doomed if they would find him given all the overlapping tendencies and common denominators that existed between pragmatism and postmodernism, both of which attacked foundationalism, grand narratives, systems and the metaphysics of presence. It was also reasonable to assume that Rorty had placed himself high up on their death list after he had written that we should get rid of the words "truth" and "fact", and after such heretical claims as: "there were no truths before human beings began using languages".
I tried to sit as still as possible and time passed slowly. The APA team took some pictures with a camera and then snuck away, the same way they had come. I lingered for a long time in a quiet position. The morning light broke out from the east in liquid yellow tones and from the jungle the rising bird-chirping-dialogue song was heard. Finally, I went down from the tower and called the newly awakened to a breakfast meeting.
- He is lying ! shouted Alper after I had told them my story. He went on,
- Of course, it is so fitting that evil agents appear in the bushes on your shift... just in time ...when you needed to find a compelling incentive to abandon the distillery
- but please, I'm not lying, the APA has been here and who knows if they will return more heavily armed and with reinforced troops. Besides, I think they're allied with OBS these days, and if that's the case, Rorty and I are in serious trouble since we are runaways from their prison. I said, pleading to a voice of reason.
Alper stood up with his neck straightened. Eyes gleamed accusingly and a quick salvo of words left his mouth :
- such paranoid nonsense from this cackling hen! Alper said och then he sort of turned to Rorty, as pleadingly as pride would allow.
Rorty sat at the table on the terrace, morning tired, bearded and his hair tousled from sleep. He slowly dissected a papaya-like fruit with a knife.
- Well, I guess we'll have to go up to the bush and the dirt road after breakfast and see if we can find any footprints from the intruders .. Rorty said.
Alper Kropp's hypothesis about my organized lying could be somewhat falsified later that morning when we found several traces of hiking boots and Dr Martin shoes in the mud. At the same time, Alper insisted that it "was not entirely unlikely" that these traces could have been "printed" by birdwatchers, Goth rockers or lost linguist-philosophers who had wanted to revisit the analytic-synthetic dichotomy.
At the avocado lunch that day, after more argumentation and reasoning, Rorty addressed the group but mostly Alper.
- I think it's justified to believe the accounts of what happened last night, now that we have footprints and everything, ... and by the way, I see no reason why he should lie to us ... and I think his sense of solidarity in this case is stronger than his self-interest ...
- Okay! snorted Alper in a clownish borderland between incredulity and disappointment,
- but from now on I think you should consider that this little paranoid benefactor has a tendency to see what he wants to see and to hear what he wants to hear ... he himself has admitted that before ... his perception is wobbly...
I had a lump in my throat and I could not speak and it was obvious that from now on I would be a bit on my guard against the scientific donkey.
Access to vocabulary is sometimes slow, delayed or completely shut down, it is reminiscent of the symptoms in a patient with brain fatigue or aphasia. I then seem to swim through a viscous medium of jelly. It was like that in the dream, I had no clues or reference points to begin with, I was about to be born into something new, and everything seemed strange or out of focus. But then I suddenly walked through fog on a path that led up to a shady rectory. I went inside the house. The spacious foyer was lit by a faint yellow glow. The blinds were pulled down. Me and the other guests gathered in a U-shaped formation, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the host couple. There was something ominous and threatening in the air. We seemed to be waiting for further instructions or the presentation of the rules for a particularly cruel game. My former brother-in-law was there. Pale plump kind face, more boyish than before, he had a bowl haircut and was wearing a crisp black windbreaker. He had deceived my sister, but I still felt a certain gratitude and warmth towards him because he had arranged an internship for me at the local locksmith. Suddenly the stage was disturbed by extraneous sounds, scratching sensations and then a kind of hissing pitchshifting music was heard and then I was pulled out of my sleep by Rorty and I was there in the kitchen at the distillery in the middle of the night. Rorty seemed unusually stressed:
- Wake up! we have to get out of here .. I saw a convoy of military vehicles in the distance and they seem to be on their way here on the dirt road. And I can't find Alper anywhere ... speed up!
We hurried to pick up the escape suitcases and half panic-stricken I made a quick search of the office and snatched cigarettes, batteries, a green notebook and the photograph of the curly woman and then we ran to the north along the shore. The moon shone like a sharp shard in blue darkness. Just as we got to the bend where the beach strip trailed off to the northeast, I turned around for a moment and looked at the distillery and saw it lit by wandering lights and headlights from trucks. Inconceivable shouts were heard in the seaweed-scented air. We continued to half-run along the beach in our Trioca Room clothes and towels. I don't know for how long. Hours. The atmosphere turned gray and hazy. The beach became more rocky and cliffs towered up with leaps, patches and runs of jungle that grew exuberantly and hung over the passages. When the light of dawn sifted out, through twig nets and over rock formations, in peach-colored and yellow streaks, we found a cave and we sat down and rested outside the entrance.
- at least we got a complete change of clothes, said Rorty. I didn't respond, I was too exhausted. The sound of the waves softly caressed the vision of a hazy blue sea. My hands shook while I peeled a banana. Shorebirds strolled across the beach farther away. Content. And less stranded.
The cave seemed to have been some kind of hiding place or a research station for linguistic philosophers and we found again, as in the linguistic village, traces of Quine, Sellars, Carnap, Bergmann and others. These must have worked in the cave in an attempt to find "language minerals" and nuclei - universal common denominators - but had propably abandoned the project when they touched on metaphysics and dialectical dead ends. Chalk lines on the blackboards and graphs on the cave walls testified that the philosophers had not been able to achieve a presuppositionless method or agreed-upon criteria for what counts as success in dissolving philosophical problems (James Something had said to me that "there are no presuppositionsless choices, to begin with", but I didn't know at the time what he was talking about.). Rorty argued that linguistic analysis is vulnerable to the pitfalls of realism and reductionism, and "something tells me that many of these linguistic philosophers have come out on the other side of this cave system as ordinary Aristotelians... and that's nothing to be ashamed of". He smiled evenly and let his gaze slowly wander over the pattern on the walls.
- each system can, and does, create its own private metaphilosophical criteria, designed to authenticate itself and disallow its competitors.
It was mindboggling stuff. I thought of toddlers who seem to have the whole range of speech sounds available from scratch and who then, as language acquisition and speech production gradually commenced, came to lose the speech sounds that are not included in the language, or languages, that they are being subjected to early on, they "lose" the sounds the are not included in their native language... If there was a lost starting point for speech sound production and prosody, could there be one for philosophy? I would have to be more specific if I was to investigate further.
I examined the area inside the entrance with Rorty's flashlight. There was a shrunken backpack, military green, and there was a vase with withered flowers and on the ground lay a pair of cracked glasses. A horseshoe was placed in a bulge above the exit.
These were new circumstances for us. This changed the "rules of the game" but that was also the point in some weird way, it seemed to me that we were actually playing, and were trapped inside, "the game of changing the rules". It was either that or we were a Hegelian concept emerging in the brain of the omniscient blogger; actualizing universals, on the path to the Absolute.
We decided to lie low for a few hours and camouflaged the entrance with palm leaves and uprooted undergrowth. The hours passed in the cave's dusky light. I was thinking of Alper. Had he betrayed us? Had he finally gained his freedom and autonomy? But it seemed strange to think that he would leave because he had been so provincially obsessed with the distillery and had argued strongly that we all should stay there. The questions and the uncertainty piled up, so did the questions about the questions. Outside in the bright daylight, the steel blue breathing sea seemed more secretive than ever. I sat and listened to the soft noise of the waves until I fell asleep on my Trioca rum towel.
The steep slopes above the cave were brushy and overgrown with trees, shrubbery and half-rotten plant formations but I found a bare piece on a ledge and further in there was a niche in the rock wall, resembling a bench to sit on. During sleepless nights, I sat there looking out on the starry sky and the sea. A hooting and cooing sound often rose from somewhere above where the jungle greenery hung out over the mountain walls like sprayed sprawling fringes. I simply called the place "the park bench".
I came to think of the cave where we had settled as both an orifice and an asshole, an indecent vision to say the least, and it became clear quite early on that we shared the settlement with a bunch of bats. How many we did not know but every now and then during the night they could noisily flutter past our sleeping heads on their way in or out. They seemed rather indifferent towards us but we were on the other hand, more often than not, rudely awakened by these nocturnal bloodsuckers. The bats cut my sleeping habits into pieces which resulted in me never feeling really rested and during the days I was mostly tired, sluggish and moody. I discussed the bat problem with Rorty one evening and he, who was less affected and not as easily aroused, had only mumbled about unconscious adoption of assumptions built into the vocabulary itself and that the word "bat" came with its connotations and symbolic meanings which in turn changed somewhat depending on the language and the culture. A whole new concept for our new roommates would clear out "old soot" and free us from certain prejudices: some words had simply become too charged and that made "fruitful conversations more difficult". I nodded without being convinced. This was reminiscent of philosophical problems: they appeared, disappeared, or changed form due to, and as a result of, new vocabulary. What would happen if we could find our way back to these "assumptions" built into the vocabulary and show that they were optional? Was this the beginning of a derridean labyrinth?
The wind changed direction. Mild breeze. The hooting bird sound continued somwhere above the park bench. In the starry sky, I saw a constellation I called "the streets of the rejected", dedicated to those who for various reasons could not stay in the conversation, those who were not allowed to participate. It was difficult to keep up with Rorty's thoughts sometimes, especially when we were drinking rum, this time around he was postulating that "we should assent to the premises which generate their problems and from there we can see some point in playing their game". I tried to stay in the dialogue.
After we both drank a ceremonial mug from the last bottle of vanilla rum, Rorty went down to the cave to sleep. I sat for a while. For me there was almost no point in going to bed at all. Fucking bats.
A mint-like scent emanated from wispy shrubbery along the rock wall and was cross-fertilized with the sight of moonlit shimmering waters far out at sea. I was enveloped in loneliness and the perception of enormous distances made me dizzy. I took a cigarette from the package I had stolen from the distillery's office and lit up. It was the most wonderful as well as the worst cigarette of my life. It was neurochemical epiphany, the jubilant juices of the synapses firing their fireworks, initializing whimsical songs of praise, introducing freewheeling snippets of joy that brought tears to my eyes, producing forms without substances thanks to a substance, just for the hell of it. I was inside a spinning wheel of wonder and I saw a kind of flicker of a figure rushing past, divided into a grid of lights in petrol green, yellow and pale pink, it was examining and moving about, an ancient Greek concerned with things? or a rationalist interested in ideas and judgments or was it a logical empiricist obsessed with words? or was it all three of them intermingled in a rarefied mix? There was something extraordinarily reverent in the vision of this passing figure whose meaning eluded me. The scintillating smoke sensation soon faded to some extent and now I felt that my consciousness was threatened by chaos, incoherence and insane whims and I turned on the flashlight and started to read in the green notebook I found in the office, I tried to lock myself to the written word and its fixed metronome, its rules and pulses - logos, form, scheme, syntax - I thought that if I hung on to the pattern of the letters, like a castaway clinging to a life raft, I might be able to cope, and not lose my mind. A sense of impending doom intensified. I don't know for how long I read without reading, or how long I was thinking without thinking. I was afraid that I had fallen over an irrevocable limit, where I was forever lost to madness. I tried to fix my gaze on the pages of the book without being able to decipher the signs and I suspected that outside the frame there were absolute horrors which would be either deadly or deeply traumatic. It was as if the vegetation around me had turned into carnivorous plants and was ready to attack me as soon as I let go of the text and gave them my gaze.
When my visions of horror had subsided somewhat and I began to regain my visual acuity and could read the characters, I could tell that the notebook was full of lists; inventories and evaluations of distillation equipment; thoughts on logistics; ideas for the distillation process and suggestions for new rum blends: punch vanilla rum, punch ginger rum and coconut special spiced rum and so on. There was also a curious note in the middle:
"On the boat. The barometer's staring black eyes. And then the father, I can see him standing with a pair of oarlocks in one hand, a boat hook under one arm and in the hand of the same muscular arm a basket, from which a pair of rum bottles protruded their sober faces. As far as I can understand, my father was a despot, who loved the outdoors and rum distillation. And then consequently, so did we. We were dumb companions on the boat trips, even when the boat - the cursed boat - ran aground and our father had to undress naked and jump into the water and with herculean forces and moans pushed the boat off the reef. The cursed boat that always ran aground around the time wholesaler Edvin Medvind's yacht whizzed past in the green water. The yacht was full of beautiful girls in white hats and their soprano laughter echoed right into the heart of our Lord. Usually our beloved father had time to undress first, before the yacht drove by, and he could show the abundantly growing hairs on his powerful chest.
As a mantra, I have told myself that I would not sit in the same boat again, or follow in his footsteps, but still I sit here in his gallant office and work in his distillery. I have not been able to break free. But this is at least a better thing than being a shop assistant at Newstreams's Paint and Wallpaper store."
Towards the end of the book, I discovered rhyming poetry fragments and verses penned with a more sensual handwriting. Was it another author or the same person as before? It dawned to me that the notebook writer could actually be a poet who reluctantly worked at his father's distillery, or even that he had taken over the whole caboodle after the father had passed away.
She looked straight ahead - a sweet profile
walking silently, as the night got spent
how many glances I sent, how many loving miles
who knows, if she knew what it meant
I was filled with a certain antipathy and spite towards the poet and the writer of the notebook,: what a pampered, spoiled and ungrateful little bastard! I also felt a strange rivalry or jealousy start bubbling inside because I assumed the curly-haired woman in the office photo was, or had been, his wife or girlfriend, but at the same time it seemed unreasonable to assume that the curly woman was more deeply involved in another human being because her face radiated from the kind of melancholy that requires a debauch of space and seclusion, but perhaps their relationship was a periodic on-and-off thing.
I put down the notebook and poured some vanilla rum into the mug. Suddenly I felt less guilty about plundering the distillery, maybe I was fueled by a tinge of resentment towards the poet. In any case, I could not shake off the sound of his embarrassing and cheesy stilted verses, they sat like glue:
I sell tapestry during the day
at night I'm spinning rhyme
'bout the knight who got betrayed
giving sword blows all the time
Little by little, I was being influenced by the bats, at least when it came to activity patterns: I slept, or was lethargic or drowsy, during the day while I was more active at night and wandered around along jungle-clad mountain passes, signaling with the Hegel detector. In the middle of a moonlit night I could be found scrutinizing the beaches for useful things or I would be sitting on the park bench with a mug of rum and probing the surroundings with the night vision goggles. A little further away in the jumble of the jungle mountain, I found a rippling stream where we fetched water in empty rum bottles. I became less afraid of the dark but I did not become more intimate or friendly with the bats, they remained almost nobly indifferent to our existence.
It was a great feeling of freedom to roam the jungle at night. High above treetops and veiled vines, stars twinkled in the black sky and who knew if OBS satellites and drones were watching us during all this time and in effect were making us less free, but I could come to terms with that circumstance somehow: as long as they kept this distance I could live and thrive in my illusion of freedom. It was like critique, it had to attain the correct distance in order to be effective. Speaking of correctness or rather its opposite: I raided the pineapple plantation away at the distillery and filled a sack with fruit, but I did not dare to go too close to the house complex, even though all the lights were out and the place looked abandoned. I figured that OBS and the APA probably had set up surveillance cameras and transmitters.
One night as I was climbing along the cliffs at the edge of plantation, I saw a campfire burning on the beach near the place where I had previously found the tiger shark carcass. Four figures sat around the fire and poked with sticks and when I got closer, and zoomed in with the night vision goggles, I saw that they ate from cans and from something edible sitting on the edge of sharp sticks. Every now and then a burst of laughter or an exclamation rose from their side and faded away in the wind and drowned in the sound of the waves. I cursed my frivolity for forgetting the Hegel detector. Who were they? a perfect circle of friends, having a laugh, eating and smoking and coining phrases in the sensuous murk of the night? I was eager to find out more about them and their practices, if only I could approach them with an unclouded mental eye, a perspicuous language and with all the friendliness available to me in the human reservoir. But I judged that such an approach on my part could be dangerous and uncertain, the gang of four could easily be APA- or OBS agents on leave. I sat still for a while and watched with the night binoculars, tense and quiet and rigorously methodical in order to not compromise my position. Occasionally I was reached by scents of canned beef, heinz white beans in tomato sauce and whiffs of marijuana smoke which made me even more tempted to abandon my hiding place and approach them. I could not make out the conversation, or the lack of conversation, that took place between them, but from time to time their faces lit up in the yellow glow of the flames and I seemed to perceive a lazy hilarity among them. They were "kicking back".
After an hour or so, one of the four began to wander around the fireplace. The person seemed to limp as if from a sprained foot. And he looked up at the sky, suddenly pointing and gesturing towards it. Inferencing from the sense data that was available to me he appeared to be shouting "goaded ids, goaded ids!". The others in the group looked uninterested and it dawned on me that the limping person was rather different from the others, he was much thinner and had a ravaged bearded face and from my horizon of interpretation he was perceived to be of a more nervous, even neurotical, disposition.
I looked up at the sky and saw a small point of light moving eastwardly and assumed that we had seen the same phenomenon. No rule can determine its own interpretation, but an interpretation can lay the foundation for rule-making. I say this because I had the sensation that this person was a typical class A hyperborean rule-breaker, a plangent iconoclast so deeply and severely ingrained in subjectivity that he would have been the one and the same no matter what epoch, time period or culture he would have lived in. Of course, I was being very speculative, I didn't know what principles, values, rules and norms that really guided the limping man's behaviour or what interpretations and inclinations that were sparked by his temperament. In any case, he limped towards the edge of the forest where I noticed, through the leafage, that he began to untie a horse or a donkey that had been tied to a palm tree. Was it Alper who stood there? A ghostly shiver ran through my body. Son of a bitch! Still, it was impossible to distinguish the animal's identity because the field of view was obstructed by foliage and twigs but I saw, a little while later, after a moment of zooming in with the night goggles, through the aquarium green murky lens, that the limping man was sobbing intensely and had his arms hugging the animal. His lips formated some kind of linguistic utterance, over and over again, I unriddled the message to be: "mother, I am stupid" or "mother, I am sorry". I had a sense similar to that of a diver who has been under water too long which in turn often resulted in the diver not really believing in what he is seeing.
I turned and began to sneak back, towards the cave, treading lightly through the undergrowth and the tangle of trees and branches along the cliffs. Taken aback. Uncertain. Rattled. In a dither. Not sure where I was heading metaphysically or emotionally, I just kept on walking and focused on that formation of steep cliffs with the sprawling fringes of trees in the distance, at least I had a geographical guiding principle.
For the Hegelians, reality was presented with an imperfect conceptualization as if one was looking through a cracked lens without really knowing that the lens was cracked - yet it determined and influenced one's perception - but through further conceptualization and reasoning - reason working itself out through History - one slowly realizes that the lens is cracked, but then it is too late, reality has moved on. I had a related sensation of being a walking kaleidoscope equipped with a somewhat wavering conscience. I told myself that even though the Hegelians were obsessed with the "whole" and the "system" and everything, we nevertheless shared a theme of brokenness.
A neat hazy morning cherished the area around the cave when I finally returned. The sky was mottled as in a watercolor drawing in vague purple, blue and yellow strokes. But I noticed that something had changed when I got to the cave entrance. Small twirls of dust and smoke came from the cave mouth. A pile of stones lay like a tongue out on the ground. Rorty sat out there on a stump, looking steadily out over the sea. Some of our things were in a chunk behind him: the escape suitcases, the Hegel detector, some rum bottles filled with water, the psycho-cigarettes, a sack of fruit and so on.
- There was a landslide this morning, or something like that, parts of the cave collapsed. But it mostly affected the inner parts, and I was awake when it started so I managed to rescue most of our things, Rorty said calmly. Later he told me that the bats had left the cave some time before the collapse in an operation that seemed to him suspiciously coordinated and choreographed.
After a quiet banana and apricot breakfast where only birdsong and the rustle of the waves could be heard, we went into the cave again to probe if there was anything more to save, we went in even though there was an imminent risk that the cave would collapse further. To the left, some distance into the cave, a kind of cairn had been formed by boulders and rubble, like an ancient burial ground, it looked like a monument dedicated to the linguist philosophers. Above the cairn, there was a crack in the cave roof where faint rays of daylight broke through and where specks of dust and flies swirled around. Rorty said something about "that fabled place beyond hypothesis". To my right, to my surprise, a kind of corridor had been formed whose sloping tunnel ended at a cloddy little wall where I could discern a strange pattern. Obscure. Full of intimations. Symbols and signs in a language unknown to me, not even well-read Rorty could decipher the message. Anyway, we took one of the shovels that the linguist philosophers had left behind and started chopping holes in the clay wall and the structure gave way quite easily and collapsed and I peeked in through the hole with the flashlight and saw another tunnel that seemed to end in a larger room further away. We played rock-paper-scissors about who would go first and the lot fell on me, so I crawled in even though the activity went against all security thinking and the idea of clarity and logic. I thougth of a Fondane inscription, "there is something to learn from extreme states of mind ", and this was one of those. For the Hegelians, it was all about the "idea" but this was more of a whim, a flash of foolhardy inspiration. After I had crawled in the dark for about ten meters, I came out into a room where railway tracks ended at a stop block. It looked like an end station in a timbered mine shaft. I signaled to Rorty to come after and that we would haul our things into the room with ropes.
Where would the railway tracks in the mine shaft lead us? To an age oversaturated with irony in regard to itself? To the temple of self-gratification? Or to the Hegelians, once and for all. Oddly enough, next to the stop block there was a Kantian gas tank, with the familiar slogan printed in capital letters on the side: "Where rationality operates freely, in its own sphere". I wondered what rationality would be without imagination and what the bats would be without the loyalty to other bats, but I couldn't make sense of it.
I hauled in our things that Rorty attached to the rope and then he came crawling himself, mumbling "this is a criterionless muddling through". He brushed off soil and mud from his pants and put on his straw hat and looked around.
Slowly and with nerves on edge, we followed the track down and into a tunnel. Just after the "exit" there was a framed glazed fossil sitting in a niche. Rorty went closer to examine and almost pressed his nose against the glass. "Seeing how things, in the larger sense of the term, hang together, in the larger sense of the term", he mused. The fossil resembled a mixture between a parrot and a snake, halfway between. The bone fragments were not bones but, as it turned out, toilet paper dipped in some kind of white-colored clay material or excrements.
- How postmodern. Rorty said evenly, as if the results of his investigation were expected.
- by the way, I think it's strange that the word "postmodernist" is somehow attached to me ", I think I only used that word in one article ever, and then it was meant as a joke, but still, it's an epithet I can't get rid of.
- Perhaps they did a "strong misreading". I said, vacuous and without conviction. My guitar-strung nerves being directed elsewhere. Rorty became more thoughtful:
- Speaking of parrots ... did you know that Konrad of Wurzberg meant that the parrot's feathers did not get wet from rain and that the parrot would therefore be a symbol of the Virgin Mary, who was unsullied by original sin.
- No, that was news to me... but this fossil seems to be a parrot-snake hybrid. I said, referring to the strange anatomical structure.
We continued down the track and deeper into the dark timbered mine shaft. I thought I would have liked to have had a parrot with me now, a lovely chattering bird who would break the silence of the mine with sweet nonsense.
At a flat piece of the tracks stood a small freight wagon and a hand-lever draisine and next to these lay some iron skewers, picks and a bunch of helmets. We put our things, helmets and a couple of iron skewers on board the draisine and continued the journey on this antique vehicle: we tied the flashlight to the bow and then we synchronously pumped the craft forward on the rails. It was a stuffy oppressive atmosphere and it was sometimes hard to breathe and I was in a nervous state of mind: the cockiness of the bat-days was blown away and my temperament really gave me a stronger bias than any of my more strictly objective premises. I was trying to keep myself grounded and tried to phrase our predicament to myself as in a terse telegram: "Draisine traveling. Unknown mine shaft. Don't panic". It seemed to me that the temperament charged the evidence in some way, in one way or another, making for a more sentimental or a more hard-hearted view of the universe, or in this case, the view of a mine shaft.
The track meandered slightly uphill and into the dark unknown, showing no signs of any mineral mining. Bland hours of nothingness passed inside the tunnels. Doggedly pumping the draisine. But just before a steep climb, we discovered a disconnected, atomized refrigerator next to the tracks. It was as if someone had tried to dump precarious evidence here, in an attempt to escape the webs of historical context or something. Next to the refrigerator was a black urn which, on closer inspection, turned out to be filled with ash. I opened the fridge and found disintegrating paper notes, an emerald green pearl and an expired jar of strawberry jam. I took out the shabby notes and read aloud from its only readable fragment, "seems my preconceptions are what should have been burned". I was certain I had dived into a world of nonsense and that it was really difficult to get out of it.
We had a break and ate some clementines and I watched the steep climb of the tracks. It was doubtful if we would be able to pump the draisine all the way up there. Rorty gave me some clementine pieces and tipped the straw hat slightly back on his head. The Hegel detector had started to flash red but I did not pay much attention to it, I was tired, tired of everything, I just wanted to get away from it all.
I tried to gather strength, courage and inspiration. I stretched my arms above my head and pressed against the side of the refrigerator, like an athlete stretching his arms, shoulders and back muscles before the big "push" but this sequence of movements caused the refrigerator to tip over and it hit the ground with a thump and struck up a cloud of dust and particles. Astonishingly, there was a door, in a recess, just behind the place where the refrigerator had stood. The Hegel detector still flashed.
We opened the squeaky door and went into a narrow corridor, equipped only with the Hegel detector, a flashlight and a couple of clementines. On the ceiling hung a rope with light bulbs that led us further in, but we could not find its associated switch. About twenty meters in, inside a door, there was a toilet, nothing extraordinary, just a healthy stack of toilet paper and a few thumbed comic books, "Purveyors of the south", "Agni revelation Zero" and "the Alien organizer veto". Dust, the flesh of time, covered the surfaces.
A bit later we went through a door and stepped out into a large octagonal room where the ceiling height increased markedly. I flipped a couple of switches at the door and flickering fluorescent lights lit up the place and a few fans were set in motion. The room, which was unfurnished in the middle, seemed to be a mix between a high-tech laboratory and a dusty library office. Each corner had its work surface and orientation, like separate stations. A slight scent of red cedar roamed the air. The three lights of the Hegel detector flashed, which had not happened to us before. On a drawing table in one of the corners lay compasses, scissors, pencils, rulers and on a dark blue moth-eaten curtain sat pinned pictures of animals that had subtitles underneath: beer hall auk, asian hum dog, chessboard cow and an unnamed parrot-like creature similar to the one that we had seen earlier in the mine shaft. Another station was more like a chemistry lab. Various colored solutions in glass bottles were lined up behind a transparent plastic screen. A bottle attracted me with its constantly spurring and changing color scheme - ambivalent purple, deep sea blue and emerald green - and as I got closer, images seemed to flash by inside the liquid and after a while it visually mimicked my desires, thoughts and feelings, like it was answering and transmitting to a deeper need from a wound in the soul or something. Rorty quickly handed me a pair of protection goggles and said:
- careful... that potion is probably an ahistorical transcultural matrix for one's thinking... into which everything fits...independent of one's time and place.... you can get really hooked on that stuff I think.
I reluctantly backed away, even though I felt as if the keys to my being lay in that liquid, it could be the cure to my homesickness. I was going against myself.
In a workspace that also resembled a chemistry lab or a biology classroom, dark green aquariums stood along the walls, some covered with moth-eaten drapes. There were blackboards, crayons, lab equipment, a sink, solutions and tools. In armored and reinforced aquariums crawled crab-like animals that also had emulating abilities - like the color-changing liquid - but these were monstrous, infinitely plastic and seemed to be able to metabolize and absorb most things that got in its way, except the aquarium itself, fortunately. These were more eerie than the transcultural fluid, these crabs "lived" in a different way, they wanted to multiply and rule and take over. When I got closer, one of them quickly turned into seagrass and then it presented my own reflection. The aquariums were curiously connected, via hoses and cords, to some frazzled Kantian gas tanks. I took a few steps away and out into the octagon. I had the feeling that if these crabs were released into the world, it would result in chaos and in terrible exploitation.
Rorty, pensive for a moment, nibbled a slice of clementine. I could hear the fans whirring somewhere above our heads.
- we are probably dealing with a metaphysical laboratory of some kind. Rorty said.
- should we neutralize it? we could set fire to the place and after a while the Kantian gas tanks would explode and finish the job for us.
- well .. if this is just a private lab then there is no danger, and not our concern .... if the fanatic is just a fanatic at home, so to speak, then it's okay .... tough question though ... but it's clear that we do not know what the channel between the public and the private looks like in this case ... but on the other hand ... if there is a spread on a massive scale and where one wants to influence public life and its institutions .. then it's another matter.
For a moment we just stood there in the middle of the octagon, amazed, processing the ins and outs and chewing rum-nuts from the distillery while the fans worked languidly.
- We could use the place for our own purposes. Rorty said suddenly, and I wondered to myself if his cognition and judgment had changed due to some leaking gas somewhere in the octagon. He carried on:
- Just as Marx used, and misunderstood, Hegel to serve his own purposes and his own system, we can, in a similar way, use some of the equipment here in the metaphysical lab to create new metaphors and novel vocabularies... and then one can expand the logical space...
- Why would you want to expand the logical space ? I said.
Rorty munched on some rum-nuts.
- when in a narrow space... a voice saying something never heard before may be heard, but it will lack resonances because it falls outside established meanings... this is the limitation of this lab so far I think, it reminds me of universalist philosophers who assume, with Kant, that all the logical space necessary for moral deliberation is now available - that all important truths about right and wrong can not only be stated but made plausible, in language already at hand.
Once again, I felt a certain skepticism and was worried about his mental state. I let the conversation ebb away, like one long fading piano note. I turned around and moved slowly into a corner behind dark draperies where there were TV screens showing grainy movie sequences, a squeamish presenter talked about "the medium of perhaps". I sat down on a chair and watched and ate the last clementine wedges. After a while, the presenter in the TV program was changed and the new one resembled the bearded crying man on the beach. he who had hugged the horse-animal. This might have been recorded a long time ago. He started to speak about "philosophers who in the future would dissolve the hierarchical logic of mutually exclusive opposites that had hitherto dominated Western metaphysics, but who would instead negotiate with the inseparability of oppositional values in a way that would unseat the hierarchy and unsettle its certitudes, and this could now also be provided through the medium of perhaps, for a small monthly fee". I dozed off in the chair and woke up from time to time to snippets and excerpts from the word salad TV show:
"questioning is the piety of thought but all questioning must be preceded by an appeal..a gage, a wager ... to which the question responds". Flicker. Suspended lingusitic apparatus. Color mixtures. Sensations. And new fragments bursting through:
"affirm the possibility of the future ... by opening itself to a certain indeterminability .. join us in the medium of perhaps, for a small fee." Travelling through threads of the suffix. Threshold worlds, a borderland between wakefulness and dream.
"The medium of perhaps marks the difference between the ability to think and the ability to know which in turn entails the difference between 'there is' and 'it is or exists'.... spatial temporal singularity versus space-time transcending generality".... "join us in the medium of perhaps, it is an experience that can never be accessible to theoretical knowledge or to a determining judgment... yet it is not simply the negation of such knowledge or judgment".
I fell deeper into a soft world of endless contourless symbols. Sleep. Dream. Seamless. I don't know for how long. After traveling through pillow worlds, I finally entered a scene with a linguering amber light. I'm sitting on a chair in a dusty locker room. A woman slaps my in the face verbally.
- Wake up Eddie Manslow! ... what the hell are you doing?...you promised me to speak up for the facts! ... what happened to your judgment? ... and why are you traveling around with that puffy relativist? .....this is an important match ... and you have to be able to judge from the stands as well as amidst the action ..". I'm some kind of boxer and the slapping woman is probably my coach. She is smoking incessantly and knocks off the ashes into a glass on the bench.
- You will be lead to the very center of their work...to the fundamental and flagrant contradictions...and there are the most important clues to a true understanding of their problems and new insights.
I'm getting ready for the match. Drink. Strike the gloves together. Some deep breaths. The coach takes some puffs on the cigarette and looks at me with a weather-beaten patience, like an old sail on a boat that has traversed the oceans several times.
- remember, the power of judgment rests on a potential agreement with others....
Standing at the door, hesitating. It's time. Hear the murmur from the other side of the door. The boxing gloves just grow and grow on the hands, becoming awkward. I walk out through a corridor and into the sports field that looks like a basketball court but where people sit in front of computer screens at a cluster of tables and chairs. It seems to be some kind of computer game championship. The small audience in the stands are in an after-party acedia. I go to the secretariat and ask a bespectacled gentleman for my place:
"Manslow, Eddie", I say and feel out of place with my huge boxing gloves. The man writes something into the computer and then he looks at me:
"forgive me sir but there is no one registered under that name".
"well, that's just swell".
Maybe I'm here as a mascot. The man is nice though and says that while I'm here, I might as well enjoy the championship. He hands me a cup of blackberry tea which I decline because of the bulky boxing gloves and then he goes on to tell me about the game of Tarcraft and its imaginary world where players are exploiting finite oil resources on an overpopulated planet and to achieve their goals the players have an arsenal of ugly tricks at their disposal: one can, for example, sabotage for competitors by setting fire to their facilities, hire pirates to hijack their oil tankers, bribe governments to start embargoes or in order to obtain lucrative development contracts for yourself. A third participant in the game is somewhat more vague and works to make the game unpredictable and is controlled by computer bots, these are, among other things, engaged in companies developing renewable energy sources that in turn become competitors to the oil developers, to counterattack and respond to these actors the players can in turn employ fierce oil-lobbyists who will try to influence legislators and policymakers.
The misplaced boxer sank into thoughts while the Tarcraft championship continued feverishly on the tables around him. The coach was probably not happy with how he handled the job at this moment, he was fundamentally off track. In front of the boxer sat a sedentary player who had presumably been knocked out of the championship, clearly bankrupt and his reputation ruined, on his screen flashed the text "There are no free lunches in the energy world", it must have been code for Game Over.
Bored and somnolent the boxer fell asleep on his chair and dreamed that he waded through the water at the beach in his hometown, Dodger Mana, that coastal town they forgot to close down, and the bladderwrack, the seagrass and the teeming simmering life of small fish, shrimp, jellyfish and eels and crabs had all disappeared and in the clear green-blue water he saw how the sea floor spread out in all directions as a monotonous and sterile desert landscape. My whole body must have been screaming no to this vision because I somehow pulled myself out of the dream and out of the chair and threw myself on the floor. Now I was awakening in the working space of computer game developers. The area was crammed with computer screens, cables and wires, groovy neon-lit gaming-chairs, joysticks and pointing devices, keyboards, headsets, message boards, pepsi cola bottles, Grov snus, half-finished packages of chewing gum and candy and whatnot.
The screens were still on and the programmers were obviously making rules of code, models of behavior in imaginary worlds where players could participate, more than merely experience, through the interaction and manipulation of said behavior, but still within the unseen limits set by the game developers. The computer software emulated entire worlds - ancient, medieval, 18th century, present-day with a twist or space time-travel futuristic noir, you name it whatever - so did literature but the computer game had that "advantage", or head start, that the participant/the player could be more active than a reader in the making of the script because one had to operate the game and maneuver about whereas readers where merely interpreting, literature was what it was, the text was fixed save for revisions, only the interpretations (and the translations) of the text changed and differed from one reading to another.
I was thinking that computer games, the code of it, was like philosophy: it was systems of thought that described systems of being. The laws and rules, set up by cunning game developers not unlike Hegelians, introduced and conveyed a certain ideology within, and through, the game. The game developer set up one argument as in a syllogism (which consists of two arguments) and then the player is invited to fill in the missing argument, the player is filling the missing portion of the game-syllogism by interacting and playing the game with actions that are constrained by unshakeable laws and rules, these are unshakeable unless one knows how to cheat or how how to crack the game and alter the code.
Still, a reader of literature had the expedient asset of being able to reply to the text or the code at hand by simply writing a proper response, a response that can fall outside any boundaries set by the author or the game developer, only language and imagination and the degree of openness in the community are then dictating the limits. The reader/writer is in a free society allowed to recontextualize, rehash, reweave and redescribe etcetera, the computer game is in that sense, for the player, more closed, dogmatic and totalitarian, you can't, in most cases anyway, change the code or alter the rules but you can fill in the missing argument.
The sixth corner, or enclosure rather, was little more than a laundry room with a couple of droning washing machines at work. A colourful smell of detergent held the space hostage and on flaky vanilla wallpaper hung a bulletin board, a comment field cluttered with notes, some of them more peculiar than others:
"Beloved user scheduled for tuesday use, I do not know you in person but God knows you. God showed me a revelation when I was on your profile to see things around you, I saw blessings but spiritual attacks holding on to them, I saw a woman in the realm of the spirit monitoring and plotting delay in your life, with an evil mirror, and a motive to destroy....".
I was interrupted in my reading by Rorty who came in through the draperies, whistling out of tune, and he sat down on a chair next to me and said that it was our Trioca Rum towels and bathrobes that tumbled around in one of the machines. He had started a wash program while I was asleep (in the medium of perhaps). In any case, there did not seem to be much more to see in the octagon by now, the only remaining space of the octagon was blank and sparsely decorated with a sign that said "wonder construction" and after that one completed the loop and returned to the door we had entered through when we first arrived. We sat down on the chairs and the story could have ended there, in a laundry room deep down in the bedrock, but as the lazy conversation progressed and detoured and wandered around and tardy time unfurled inexorably, one frantically spinning washing machine turbine began to dig a hole in the medium itself, there was a stormy transformation occuring in front of us where a smoky cloudy cavity was being formed and widened as in a vortex and something, some kind of imperative voice, forced us to enter the cavity and to walk down its hazy round evolving hallway. Soon a bald man appeared from the mists, he had an antenna-like device attached to his ear and spoke to us in a friendly russian accent:
- Greetings fellow apes, don't be afraid ... you are under hypnosis and I have summoned you here in order to warn you. The bald hypnosis doctor pointed with a slow gesture at the Hegel detector and said:
- I have for some time picked up signals from your transmitter, and I have due to certain affinities taken a liking to you and become anxious to help you ...but unfortunately ... it so happens that your transmitter also sends signals to the OBS headquarters and the APA, but with a slightly weaker signal strength, ... they have now definitely found out about your position due to the intense signal flow in the octagonal recently and they are on their way here as of this moment. You must leave...
Apparently, it was the case that a baneful design twist on our so-called Hegel detector made it work in way that it, just like Dewey, tried to serve both Hegelians and Lockeans at the same time and seeked to find continuities between nervous systems and people and between experience and nature, it did so instead of keeping these lines and systems separate. This meant that the Locke-oriented OBS also received transmissions even if the device was dealing with Hegelian findings, such as dialectical tensions, historicisms or cultural contexts. This probably also applied to the reverse: Hegelians, in some high kingdom, picked up signals when Lockeans, in a humid empirical alley, thought that they once and for all stood outside the problems of the day and finally achieved a "plain, historical method".
The hypnosis doctor broke an apple in two halves and gave us each a piece and then said prophetically :
- You will be led through the TV tunnel and at the end of it you will find a computerized room where the toad Nick Tip reigns over the sluice and the pond drainage. He will unfortunately not let you pass without some form of sacrificial gift from your side, but if you manage to get past him, you will be able to travel up into the jungle again via the sluice system.... I think mr Tip would be really interested in your transmitter gadget, said the hypnosis doctor and glanced at the hegel detector.
If the hypnosis doctor was right, that the toad should accept the Hegel detector as a sacrificial gift, it meant that we had to reveal our position to the OBS throughout our journey down to the toad. It seemed rather imprudent.
- you have to excuse me now, I have to go back to my workplace but I wish you the best of luck....just follow the road ahead... intuition and inference will guide you comrades, said the hypnosis doctor and then he disappeared in a cloud of smoke.
The road we came from seemed to clog up for each step forward we took so now it was just a matter of continuing, persisting, and walking onwards without the things we had left in the draisine. For a fleeting doubting Thomas moment I thought of the curly woman in the office photo and imagined a togetherness plagued by communication difficulties, long silences and a small apartment filled with anxious question marks. I also thought of her supposed fiancé, the distillery poet ... and again I felt that sting of animosity. I recognized in him a spoiled mama's boy and a reinforcer of the status quo.
The fog and smoke dissipated slightly and we stepped into a desolate church. An enormous boredom sank into me, permeated me like some kind of mindblowing ancient radiation. It was the kind of boredom that unleashes an intense craving for stimulants: drugs, debauchery, thievery, violence and cruelty, anything that purportedly could transport you out of it. This was where "reason pours you the poison of the enemy" but after an unbearable snippet of time the aggressiveness of it faded and I had the feeling that boredom opened a window to time itself: one could palpate it... pure and undiluted time in all its "repetitive, redundant, monotonous splendor". One felt, with devastating force, the infinity of time and thereby one's own immense insignificance in it. It was here that one changed roles with a speck of dust swirling in the room, it was here that one understood that boredom speaks the language of time, and time came near and said, in a voice of boredom, "you are finite", "and whatever you do from my point of view is futile ". And this grain of dust whispered, "remember me".
Empty wooden benches. Emblems. Commanding crucifixes. Ornaments. Decorations. And in the back, in the western part of the room, stood the church organ. The row of pipes looked like an eerie city silhouette and on the player's side several terraces of keyboards exposed their rows of teeth and around them were accomplices of levers, controls and pedals and I got the strange feeling, all of a sudden, that I had in fact inherited this very organ after grandmother. There was no tangible way to transport the thing with us and out of this medium, this was a once in a lifetime patch, and if I were to play something on it it was only now that I had the chance. "Now is the only thing that's real". I clinked reverently on the keys. There was no sound, but I tried to imagine a vessel of sound flowing out of the gloomy pipes, a transcendental synthesis of some kind. Rorty, who had been distracted, with a door ajar to indifference, pressed a few keys and said:
- what if jarring dialectical discords could be resolved in previously unheard harmonies?
We walked slowly forward, past the chancel and an old piano and into the sacristy, the dressing room, where a tiny square window framed a faintly moonlit city landscape. Long-sleeved white shirts, tunics, chausubles, veils and dalmatics hung on wheeled coat hangers. There was an ancient wardrobe in dark wood and a special wash basin and in the middle of the room stood a solid bench with a blue-green work surface. It was here that they prepared for the services, the priests and deacons, who, like Hegel, wanted a synthesis, a synthesis that demanded the postulation of a cosmic spirit, one who lives as a spirit only through individuals who express this spirit in their thoughts and deeds.
- Once novelists and poets displaced not only philosophers but also preachers at the moral center of the culture. Rorty said, speaking of nothing.
- and now these in turn have faced competition from youtube influencers, gaming culture, twitterers and podcast personalities ....I said, in an attempt to be pungent.
- What is that? said Rorty, vaguely interested and searching the bag for some fruit.
- sorry... those probably had their breakthrough on the internet some time after your death in 2007 ... One could think that western culture has become more orally oriented since then ... more people listen to audio books and watch movie clips and I guess there are fewer than before who actually read novels ... for better or worse.
Rorty raised a leisurely eyebrow.
- well that's a pity, I think the novel is the democratic toolbox or genre par excellence, it is the genre most closely related to the struggle for freedom and equality ... and the conglomerate of narrative, detail, diversity and accident in the novel is also a way to subvert the essentialism grounded in traditional philosophy.
- what do you mean? I said, loosing track and also thinking that Rorty was unaware of the complex web of narrative, diversity and accidents that could, for example, also be offered in today's variegated computer games, but it was no wonder that he could not see this, he grew up in a different time, without the all-encompassing presence of video games and computers and the internet.
- well... traditional philosophy is privileging theory, simplicity, structure, abstraction and essence.. and on a similar note I think a society which took its moral vocabulary from novels rather than from, say, ontotheological or ontico-moral treatises would not ask itself questions about human nature, the point of human existence, or the meaning of life.. Rather it would ask itself what we can do so as to get along with each other, how we can arrange things so as to be comfortable with one another... how institutions can be changed so that everyone's right to be understood has a better chance of being gratified...
I thought it sounded too essentialistic, but I let it pass uncommented. We looked around and took a few solemn steps on stony floor towards the back door. Eyes were spotting sober decor arranged by a conscientious deacon. Ardent job person. I didn't want to disturb the order. Rorty pushed down the handle and opened the door. Cold air flowed in. A spooky city in pixelated video game graphics lay in front of us. The whistling of the wind accompanied his speech:
- to take us out of our old selves...by the power of strangeness...
The video game was rigged in such a manner that you had to jump - like Super Mario - between rocks, ledges and precipices and over passing geese, hedgehogs, turtles, carnivorous plants and more and you were at the same time solidly busy ducking for fireballs, flying thistles and stone chips. But it was suspected that these obstacles in turn represented - in depth - all the cheap joints and fallacies, illogical transitions and trivial conclusions and platitudes present in the narrative of the omniscient blogger. One had to jump between all his unplausible segways and gaps.
There were ravines; secret passages; steps and ladders materializing in empty air and there was an immense postmodern self-awareness exposing itself as one traveled through the pixelated video game world. At times one plunged into underwater worlds in order to return stolen quotes and passages to their rightful owners while simultanoeusly being chased by scary, but slow, copyright sharks.
Overall, it seemed to me the common thread was one of avoiding logic and reason.
It struck me as I swung over a precipice that the difference between postmodernism and pragmatism was moral, pragmatism appealed to a community of inquirers, to cooperation and dialogue: what is useful to us here and now, and how can we understand the past with what we have now and vice versa. And this game was the opposite, it was trapped inside the fragmented postmodern omniscient blogger and there was no community that the player responded to - maybe there was someone one wanted to impress but that was a different story -, there was no major community that one worked for and perhaps it was the loneliness embedded in that realization, combined with the glaring Nintendo graphics, that gave me a melancholy that was both oceanic and claustrophobic. It was one huge space of "I", alienated from all "we".
I had a vision of a grey apartment building where everyone sat alone in their room, playing the same game, but still we were separated from each other, we told ourselves that there were no deeper connection, "you're on your own now Tommy", we were the atomized generation.
But still, the game was about creating some kind of coherence: by avoiding, skipping, jumping, overleaping, ducking and escaping... it was like one long epic game of changing the subject. I tried to get through the program. It was a single player game so Rorty had to settle for being - like Luigi - player two and thus had to wait somewhere behind the scenes. When I finally beat the game, thanks to an abundant supply of extra lives, I was catapulted out into the streets of the ghost town and I walked around while waiting for Rorty to complete, and survive, his game round.
If the previous game was about dodging, ducking and jumping between the omniscient blogger's (Obie) mistakes and logical oddities, you were now stuck inside Obie's writer's block or melancholy, or both. It was certainly frustrating for Obie not being able to transcend Rorty and not being capable of building a hopeful bridge into the future and instead now only offering readers ruins and desolate urban environments where his lone protagonist limped around discouraged. Here hopelessness prevailed, this was tp populate the epistemology of the depressed, one where it was almost impossible to imagine an alternative to the depression and see beyond its gloomy horizons and the hopelessness of it was so strong, so penetratingly rock solid, that it was thought to be an objective representation of reality.
The city was like a rupture in a sail. Old cracked brick buildings and deserted streets lined with abandoned buggered cars and all sorts of scraps, rubbish and debris. Graphically speaking, everything was back to normal, the world was at least three-dimensional again. If the Mario Bros-like game conveyed a sense of something pre-programmed and linear, Obie certainly wanted, through this new environment, to try to convey something else that was a bit more organic and imbued with chance and dialectical changing concepts. Or something like that.
Further on I discovered more of roadblocks, barbed wire, DIY barricades, gas masks and broken glass and stones and the messy street environment testified that some form of strife or battle had taken place here and it made me think of the story of the "lambs". All brew melinite. The lambs had not been able to organize in a united front but had mostly torn each other apart during internal battles of pure doctrine and pointless orthodoxy and the enemy had of course benefited from this. In fact, the enemy had also themselves contributed to the lambs' internal discord by planting sabotaging secret agents inside the lambs' enclosures. The police, for their part, had over time become more and more corrupt and allied with the wolves.
I walk past a half-collapsed gas station where a solitary fluorescent lamp flickers deep inside the store, as in a visual equivalent to the hiccup. And wasn't that the case, I recalled, that one of the lambs' cars, with the party's name painted on the side in half-meter-high letters, once stopped at a gas station. A man gets out of the car and he then robs the station for a hefty sum of cash. The car was later stopped by the police and it turned out that the perpetrator was a convicted criminal on parole. It would have been wildly stupid and self-destructive if the lambs' party leadership had planned the act, but a less paranoid person than myself could also have assumed that the criminal was in collusion with the police, he was yet another infiltrating police provocateur among the lambs.
The city itself seemed to be an entity, a living mass, one that slandered me and held me responsible for everything that had gone wrong. And that was a lot. I walked on between piles of paving stones, scattered furniture and craters and, here and there, relatively undamaged houses. I saw, in addition to an upside-down monument depicting Descartes, monuments and statues of my old friends, solidified in malicious and accusing facial expressions. Besmirched. Bedamned. I be damned. I was reminded - again biting of inner wit - that I had failed to stay in the dialogue, that I had closed too many doors, burned too many bridges and all that and what I longed for now was a mutuality, genuine two-way communication, a collaboration with something outside of myself, I wanted to travel from an "I" to "you" and back again, from an "I" to a "we" and so on... and I wanted to find an ability to abandon the slanderous voice behind the scenes. But here comes the gravitational field of the narrative and one sinks into a languid mud of melancholy - "that dream state of egoism" - where one is unable to mourn and consequently incapable of moving on and instead lingering self-gratifyingly at the paradoxical mother teat of pain. This had clear points of contact with the postmodern writer who in a similar way lost himself in a kind of inward-looking hyper-self-consciousness, as if having locked oneself inside an eerie palace full of mirrors. Instead of action, forward movement, dissolution and catharsis, his book became a deep dive into the anthill of identity. Navel-gazing instead of world building, the postmodern writer, like the melancholic, had stopped believing in the future because it had, according to him or her, canceled itself out. It was impossible to imagine anything that could transcend the current order. Such disruptive behavior was of course something that the APA wanted to eradicate. Personally, I believed that the postmodernist writer had taken an overdose of that drug called skepticism when instead he could have just settled for a good enough dose of it.
Stuck on one persistent note. The barking of a bulldog harried me out of muddled and daydreamy speculation. Rung bad el John. Shook me to my foundations. Luckily, the angry dog was tied to a lamp-post and because of its manners I made no attempt to untie it, even though I badly needed some company. I continued onward through hazy hugger-mugger. The barking petered out in the increasingly dense fog and by now it seemed tricky to find your way back to the unloading site. I was walking and evaluating the small brick houses that emerged from the fog and hoping for a suitable refuge for the night. An old bent hag crossed the road carrying a bundle of keys jingling silvery and "laden with hints". Suddenly she was up close and squinted at me and said:
- well well, here comes the great blasphemer ...
She took another rocking step. Chuckling scornfully.
- you're a bit of a cunt Paddy....You can't have your cake and eat it too...
Surprised, unresponsive, skeptical, I was searching the anthill of the mind for proper comebacks. She continued.
- I don't think the coach is happy with you Paddy ... you've missed too many important checkpoints. She said and started walking with a swaying gait down the road.
Most likely a heavy smoker, she spoke with a nasty gravelly, low-pitched voice typical of patients with Reinke's edema. She had taken a few steps away and then she stopped and turned to me again. Spiteful.
- you know Paddy, sometimes you can be a bit of a twat ...you won't overcome the dualisms of modern philosophy... sooner or later you'll end up accepting a set of even more rigid dualisms, like that between the theoretical and the practical for instance, or between man as moral agent and man as natural being. You're heading for a blind alley.
The hag spoke as if she was gargling Lucifer's black porridge or something and it felt like she had uttered a spell that I did not fully understand. Spiteful and satisfied with the state of affairs she swayed on and slowly disappeared into the fog.
I was not overly upset, after all, the hag was, despite her vividness, just a pre-programmed supporting character in Obie's shady narrative, designed to appear at this very moment to deliver just these sets of gestures, words and whatnot. Or, I wondered, was the hag a repressed but still autonomous, free-spirited aspect of Obie's psyche? that made the whole thing a little weirder, what if she was a neglected part that Obie did not control - a kind of subconscious organic outpouring - constantly evading his control?. It somehow reminded me of Fondane, with his moss green beret, who broke free from Hegel's system building to form a guerrilla unit on Hegel's island. Fondane would ask: "Was Man made for the Law or was the Law made for Man?... and he revolted when Hegel had stated that "the idealism of philosophy consists in nothing else than in recognizing that the finite has no veritable being".
I waited for a while and then continued in another direction. At a crossroads I stopped. Due to the deep boredom, I thought about smoking one of the psychosis cigarettes but I let it go when I more clearly remembered the horrendous flipside of its bliss. I let a whim of fate determine the way forward, I threw a cigarette up in the air and deciding I would go in the direction the filter pointed. Boulevard Trev una. The sign was misleading, it was more of an ordinary street than a boulevard, still lined with these small two-story brick houses. And down this tapering street I dragged my feet. Knackered. Soon I could make out a dimly lit neon sign there. "Hotel". Looked cheap. I went in. Depopulated. Brown dusty interior with arabesques on the tapestry. Ferns and areca palms in large pots on the floor and by the windows. It took some time before someone showed up at the front desk. The bell had a long lingering tone. A sleepy busty woman in a dark suit asked "Can I take your name please?"
- Manslow, Eddie...
Later, in the room, lying on the bed, the world spinning around, or was it me, I felt the confusion of my life, all the questions that seemed to blow my mind. "Hit him like a freight train moving ...". Phantom flee prettily.
Fast asleep in that fluffy bed, I dreamed I was a cleaner with responsibility for a couple of small apartment buildings out in the suburbs. The work consisted mainly of mopping stairwells, attic corridors and basements. I appreciated the secluded physical work and I enjoyed the smell of detergent and ended up building a whole vocabulary around it. On this very occasion, I was elated after having been in contact with philosophy professor Brien Gubs the previous evening, I finally summoned enough courage and called him up. After the conversation, which I vaguely recalled as being about making arguments clear and the like, Gubs had played the song "the Great beyond" on the livestream of his youtube channel and I again could not determine if it was some kind of coded message impregnated with scorn. I suspected that he was making fun of me because he knew something I did not and that there was something obvious and really easy to understand that still eluded me. In any case, that very day in the dream, I also saw the woman in the office photo as I was walking between the houses I was cleaning. A light blue dreamy sky above us. I was about to pick up a forgotten bucket in a "finished house". Oddly enough, I would also mop outdoors. She shuffled past me and I had my chance but I did not have the stomach to introduce myself, moreover the woman was also involved in a rather loud and upset conversation on her cellphone and I didn't want to interrupt. I hypothesized that she was talking to her mother, with whom she was too entangled. "I will move far from here," she said in a voice that carried a shade of menace and blame and also something of the ill-conceived ultimatum. A little while after she passed me, I was caught thinking maybe it was for the better that no contact had taken place, she might not have appreciated that I was just a grubby cleaner and she was, clearly, in a different class.
When I woke up, it bothered me that I could not figure out Brien Gubs' role in the dream, and if his participation and actions had any connection to the woman in the office photo, or if they were separate stories entirely, stories that could not, or had not had time to, develop into a synthesis or anything that resembled shared resonances. A Freudian could probably see the connection or create one on the fly, but an OBS agent on the other hand might dismiss it all as nonsense: it was random neurological imagery, one might as well play the roulette or work the slot machine.
All around the room stood flamboyant flowers, they were on the bedside table, in front of the TV-set and on the window sill, obscuring the view. At a small table lay a chessboard with the pieces properly placed on the squares. Correspondence chess? Someone had abandoned their rooks, these were lying on the side of the board, and the queen looked vulnerable in the middle of the playing field. Beginners tended to overuse the queen at an early stage of the game, leaving her open to ambush and surprises. I washed my face in the bathroom and then went downstairs.
In the dining room, which was bounded by an obscure glass door, I later sat down to breakfast and looked out through a plant-adorned bay window. Had tea and eggs, scones and strawberry jam. The room was deserted save for a neat man in a blue blazer and tie. His black hair was glossy and combed back. He thoroughly examined a newspaper with outstretched arms and his head slightly tilted back. The screaming headline on the front page read "Ric Dosh has given up on America!".
I had a long day ahead of me, I had to find the TV tunnel but first I would return to the unloading site to see if I could find Rorty, or at least some traces of him. I tried not to think about the fact that I was deep inside an improbable tangle of loose ends. The waiter came by and I ordered a fruitcake. Sipped tea. Considered pointilism paintings on the walls: a man in clichéd profile; a party on a picnic; something resembling a turtle, and everything was created with small distinct dots in patterns, dots of color to a surface so that from a distance they blend together, and from further away forming images. Suddenly I felt a slight panic and dizziness because I realized I had no money to pay for breakfast. I was a fraudster with inadequate experience of dining and dashing. The waiter had just arrived with my fruitcake and I must have looked at it with a brooding face.
- Is there something wrong with your cake sir? Is something troubling you sir?
I didn't know what to say. Hesitantly, I squeezed a listless "no it's alright" out of my mouth and then after an awkward pause I said "I've been having second thoughts about cake recently". Then we heard a voice from behind us.
- Sounding like Kant is a fate that will overtake any systematic account of human knowledge which purports to supplant both physiological Lockean accounts and sociological Hegelian accounts by something still more generic.....
It was Rorty who was entering the dining room. He obviously misheard and misinterpreted the gist of the exchange that unfolded between me and the waiter, but nevertheless, and despite all annoying tendencies, it was good to see him again. He looked relatively fresh and had somehow managed to bring about a complete change of clothes: pastel green blazer, gray polo and khaki trousers. In his hand he held a rolled-up newspaper which he flicked lightly in the air. He laid it on the table and it rolled out partially. Irish Times. The even-faced waiter asked Rorty if he wanted to order something and Rorty replied "If you can find some glassy essence, I'll take that". The waiter took the bait and whizzed on over fuzzy carpets and out through the glass door.
- how did it go in the game, I asked.
- yeah ... I tried to go by St Thomas' advice. Rorty said and hung the blazer on the back of the chair and then sat down.
- when you meet a contradiction ... make a distinction ..
He went on.
- as far as I could see the game tactic was largely a matter of proliferating as many distinctions as were needed to wiggle out of a dialectical corner.
It was unclear if we had even played the same game but I was nonetheless impressed that he had managed to survive unscathed. He could not have had much previous experience of video games and computer games, after all he was practically already an old man when video games were popularized in the 1980s.
- I have learned, he said, that when trapped in such a corner, it is a matter of redescribing the nearby intellectual terrain in such a way that the terms used by one's opponent would seem irrelevant, or question-begging, jejune.
As the conversation forged ahead, it seemed more and more as if Rorty had been playing a different game altogether. Nevermind. It sounded as if Rorty had gone a match against analytical philosophy itself, which in a way had once been like a mother to him.
- ....they were committed to the construction of a permanent, neutral framework for inquiry, and then of all culture ....they were trying to eternalize certain contemporary language games... and seeing language as a mirror rather than a tool.
He leaned slightly across the table towards me, lowered his voice and said with a tinge of irony,
- I tell you these traditional philosophers are trying to escape from history ... is that a responsible thing to do?
Rorty seemed to me, there and then, as a kind of woodpecker of philosophy and other people could settle in the holes that he had drilled, and he was mostly only pecking on dead wood anyway and thus making his approach therapeutic rather than constructive, or that was his intention at least, the crux was that he occasionally drilled holes in something that was a living entity, like a community or a tradition, it was similar to when real woodpeckers were pecking holes in the walls of houses where people actually lived. To use his pragmatic vocabulary: it was not always useful social practice, but it could introduce a new perspective and expand the scope of the conversation.
The receptionist from the previous evening also did the work of the waiters. The hotel seemed to be the kind of small business where everyone does a little of everything and where noone is particularly specialized, except possibly the manager. I wondered if all employees received a decent salary. The receptionist came close and picked up our plates, cups, glasses and jugs and whatnot and placed them on a silver tray. I read the nameplate on her jacket, "Florentina". I thought about the payment again and asked Rorty bluntly if he had any money on him and he replied "of course", it turned out he had received a financial reward after finishing the game, "didn't you get anything?". Typical. It almost proved we had played different games but it nonetheless meant that Rorty could pay for breakfast.
Rorty went scouting for orchids in the flowery garden and I sat for a while in the dining room. Eyed over the front page of the newspaper. Irish Times. I had a woozy flashback from some dream where we, in a similar setting, toasted "for Ireland!". And that was all. We held up our glasses. Davidson was there too. Upbeat but still serious, as if the occasion was symbolically charged. There was some kind of pride or hope perhaps, a warm feeling at least, among toasting friends. The ice cubes clinked peacefully in the drinking glasses. What caused the toasting, and what followed it was lost in memory, inaccessible as the smile of the sphinx or the queen of Sheba.
Later in the morning, when we were getting mentally ready to go out into the city and look for the TV tunnel, or some kind of portal, I wandered around the hotel. It was fuzzy, stuffed with books, flowers, plants, bibelots and cabinetry, if the place had been a gastrointestinal tract, it would have been critically close to a constipation. A fragile phrase from Proust sprung to mind, "he suffered from constipation, the affliction of the prophets". In the lounge room there were glass doors that faced the densely grown garden where orchids, hollyhooks, London pride, roses, pansies, Canterbury bells, larkspurs and so on flaunted in a motley mess. The room itself was covered with flowers and bookshelves, some sofas, a TV and large butterfly palms in pots on the floor. A quartet of white-haired elderly people sat and chatted away at a table. I botanized among the books. Many books seemed partially erased, as if the text had faded or withered away. I flipped through a dream encyclopedia and while doing so I could easily imagine Alper contemptuously condemning its contents, "charlatanry! quackery! nonsense! put that away!". I searched for Ireland and found information that stated that Ireland, in a dream, represented a way of thinking "relaxed and calm" and symbolized "to pass life well". Moreover, encountering Ireland in a dream might reflect feelings about being immersed in a situation that insures that you're enjoying yourself. However, dreaming of Ireland could, on the negative side, also reflect emotions about situations where nobody is helping you or symbolize the feeling that you are surrounded by bastards who like themselves too much and that these bastards does not want to return a favor because it costs them too much happiness. I was not convinced. No direct and useful connection to my current situation presented itself. For lack of anything better to do, I also read the next entry in the book, Iroquoian dream cult. These north American Indians had no deity or divine being they turned to for guidance or worship. What they had instead was the dream and dreaming itself. They had described the conscious and the unconscious as early as the 17th century, a couple of centuries before mister Freud had done so, and they believed that hidden or unconscious parts of the psyche were played out in dreams and made its desires visible. The Iroquois developed a system of allowing the dreamer to act out their dreams socially. Although a moral and disciplined group, during such acting-out the dreamer was allowed to go beyond current social boundaries. This included receiving valuable objects or making love to another persons spouse. This was to allow unconscious desires to be expressed, thus avoiding sickness of body or mind. Such hidden desires were seen as the basis of social as well as individual problems.
Florentina walked slowly through the lounge room. Arranged flowers. Placed some books on the bookshelf. Removed a small crumby plate from the table. Nodded dutifully and smiled kindly and professionally at the guests. Then buggered off. Positively stunning. The quartet of pensioners must have seen that I cast lustful glances at Florentina because they soon began to comment on her in a backhanded way, tossing a few considerations into the air.
- they say that she lives alone..and maybe she wants to keep it that way....creaked person number one.
- nah ... for all that she wants is another baby, yeah... said person number two with a soft hoarse voice and a distant something in her eyes. Person number three put his chin against the cane and said summarily,
- she's taken her time, I convince you she's fine ... but why does she hide emotions, why won't she say she needs you? I know she's not as strong as she seems.. ..
It was followed by a certain relative silence. Sighing. Noise from the pipes. The elders continued to drink tea and nibble on biscuits and soon they conversed again, in a manner reminiscent of cooing pigeons. I leafed further into the dream lexicon. "Cleaning: Dreams about cleaning usually mean that there are a lot of negative emotions in your life, so it may be necessary to get rid of them. You must change your own attitude and start a new chapter in your life. Sometimes it can reflect the moral cleansing necessary if a dreamer has a bad conscience. If you dream that you were cleaning a building it is a sign that very soon you will have an unexpected visit from someone".
To be continued