Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Behind The Wall

I'd like to think of my work simply as a cradle in which philosophy could rock itself to sleep, thumb in mouth.

Lawrence Durrell
Last Saturday night I went to check my mail box and found a letter from a law firm telling me I had defaulted in my negotiated agreement to pay so much a month on one of my credit card debts and that therefore they were going to begin steps to sue for the entire amount. I knew I wasn't in default but it was Saturday night, all day Sunday and half of Monday before I could make the inevitable three phone calls to clear up the mess. It was very stressful. It wasted a lot of time and gave me a headache.

One of my great pleasures in life is to read philosophy. I read as much as I can from before Plato to after Parsons. It thrills me to come upon a philosopher I haven't visited before and follow his or her thoughts into and out of life's dilemmas. And every idea I read I hammer on the anvil of my own experience to test its strength.

Distilled from all the books, essays, dialogues, critiques and monographs, and measured by my own wisdom, such as it is, my personal philosophy of life can be summed up in three words: "Never give up."

Carl Sandburg wrote about a group of wise people who were ordered to reduce all of human wisdom to a single word. They did, and the word was "Maybe."

It is that uncertainty that has made us create theories of art, science, religion, government, education, economics, medicine, and philosophy. The big question remains unanswered in any proven, practical way: Do we really ever know what we are doing? Every now and then we get something right, like the proverbial stopped clock. And with that encouragement we keep on repeating ourselves until the next happy accident comes along.

I've made two important observations in my studies. One is that brilliant original thinkers have come up with very practical answers to some of life's most perplexing problems with good sound suggestions as to how we should conduct our lives. And the other is that basically nobody ever pays any attention to them.

Through our ignorance of life's lessons we do things to mess ourselves up, as I did when I got into debt, or we will mess up someone else's life, as the law firm did over my debt payment to them. Then life becomes untangling the mess.

When I was in school I enjoyed learning how to parse a sentence. That's an exercise in grammar, sentence structure and so on. As an actor I had to learn scansion. That's an exercise in verse and how to speak it. Now I study semantics which delves into truth conditional statements and implicatures. It's a philosophical study of a more refined grammar, dealing with what is meant and what is not meant by what is said.

There is a meaning behind the words I write which is unknown to me. I keep on writing and never giving up until the meaning or meanings surface for me. Meanwhile I'm like a cat staring into a fish tank.

Once I understand what my words mean or don't mean in their true and beautiful music, I hope and believe philosophy will then be able to rest in my arms, thumb in mouth.

DB - The Vagabond


pacifica62 said...

You can understand what your words mean to you, but they could mean something quite different to me. Does the process of understanding not come from past experiences, memories and thoughts? I think it would be very difficult for me to understand something if I could not relate it to something in my life, no matter how small. I do like the practical answers. I think we make life too difficult when it was not intended to be that way.

Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

We are forever doomed to repeat the mistakes of those before us because as a species, we are to full of ourselves to learn from the past. We believe we are not as naive as those that came before.

Beth said...

"Meanwhile I'm like a cat staring into a fish tank."

I love that line!