05 November 2009

A Surfeit of Seeming by Ihab Hassan

Something from the Georgia Review:

You should read the whole essay HERE


Here's a sample from the text, the concluding segment:


We have reached the last few beads on the wire, and a moment of reflection about my own sense, my own translations, of the topic is due.

Statisticians may come to more cheery conclusions about emergent America, but statistics are not destiny, and in any case I prophesy nothing. I let my bafflement about the present stand; I refuse nostalgia. Thus, my critique of surfaces does not call for a return to mystifying depths or repressive hierarchies. If anything, it pleads the interdebtedness of all things. Buddhists know this, ecologists, cultural holists. Creation is not segregated but immanent. Betty Jean Craige reminds us in Laying the Ladder Down that a flutter of butterfly wings, in chaos theory, may explode into a Caribbean hurricane. So lay that ladder down: there’s no place to climb or descend.

But that does not mean reality is skin deep. Holistic views assume myriad relations invisible to the eye—the self-involved eye. Surfaces do reveal, but they also deceive. (Plastic surgery will not cure us of the human condition.) The Hollywood metaphysician Groucho Marx once remarked: “The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” Sometimes I think we’ve all got it made in that way. Given the tyranny of appearances, how else would the ego act? Is there no way out? Must there be a way out?

Once, at a small, lakeside resort in Wisconsin, sunset calming the water, my wife Sally and I watched children run and splash on the beach with a last, shrill burst of play while Mozart’s “Gran Partita” wafted down from speakers in the trees. Moodily, I said to Sally: “Do they hear it? Do they know what’s going on?” She looked at the children, the darkening oaks, maples, and firs, a patch of pale light hovering over the canopy, and without turning to me replied: “They are what is going on.” Perhaps that is the way out. But perhaps, in her mind as well as in mine, some larger idea waited to break out and take flight in the evening air. An idea lighter than air, an idea of nothing.

Nothing. Lao Tzu says: “Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub, but it is the hole in the center that provides its usefulness.” Likewise, beads and wire trace an empty space on the table, freed from needy fingers at last. Hole and hub, the prayer beads in a circle, zero, the Greek omicron and Hindu sunya and Arabic sifr—these reveal the foundations of the universe. As Robert Kaplan puts it in his wonderful book, The Nothing That Is: “If you look at zero you see nothing; but look through it and you will see the world.” How many of us can see the world through nothing? We understand foolish Lear better when he cries: “Nothing comes out of nothing.” (A slogan for marketers.) Yet it was the old king himself, grief-maddened and heath-wild, who discovered that naked we see reality at last.

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